Retire To Granada or Leon, Nicaragua

Why I’m Long Nicaragua

Retiring overseas may be a more accepted-by-the-mainstream idea today than it was a quarter-century ago when I began covering this beat…but retiring to Nicaragua?

In all these years traveling, living, and doing business around the world, a handful of countries have gotten under my skin. Nicaragua is one of them. From my first visit about two decades ago, this troubled country captured my imagination.

Nicaragua appeals to the romantic. It is a land of pirates and martyrs, heroes, warriors, and poets, fighting each in his way for what he believes. Leon is at the heart of many of the country’s struggles, historically its quixotic center. As Correspondent Michael Paladin explains in his feature report on Nicaragua in this month’s issue of my Overseas Retirement Letter.

“Leon is proud to be known as the place where the last of the Somoza dynasty finally ran out of bullets, bombs, and power in 1979. The red and black flag of the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) waves proudly over the monuments and the city hall, where, still, vendors hawk souvenirs of those valiant, bloody times…”

Geographically, Nicaragua is blessed, with two long coastlines and two big lakes, plus volcanoes, highlands, rain forest, and rivers. In this regard, it’s got everything Costa Rica’s got, all less discovered and developed and available for the adventurer and eco-traveler at bargain rates.

Architecturally, too, Nicaragua is notable. Its two sister colonial cities, Granada and Leon, vie for the title of Oldest City in the Americas. Whichever story you believe (that the Spanish conquistadores settled first on the shores of Lake Nicaragua at Granada or, perhaps, a few months earlier in Old Leon), Nicaragua is the big winner, with impressive colonial-era churches, public buildings, and parks to her credit.

Nicaragua is a colorful land, from its red clay-tiled roofs to its powder blue church steeples…from the yellow, green, red, and blue facades of its centuries-old haciendas to the pink and purple bougainvillea that cascades down its inland hillsides.

Perhaps, though, what struck me most that first visit 20 years ago and what has continued to draw me back to this country all these years since is the spirit of the Nicaraguan people.

My first visit, I met a young Nicaraguan man, maybe 20 or 22 years old. “When I was very small,” he told me one afternoon, “the soldiers came for my family. It was the middle of the night. We were all asleep inside. The soldiers were in a pick-up truck. They stopped out front and came to the door. They woke us all up and told us that our house was needed for the revolution. In the name of the revolution, they told us, we had to get out.

“We all climbed into the back of their pick-up truck, and the soldiers drove us into the mountains. They left us there, my whole family. We had nothing with us. But my father made us a place to live…and we survived…

“That is our past,” the young man told me in perfect English. “But it is not our future.”

He had taught himself to speak English by watching American television (“mostly MTV,” I remember him explaining).

Fast forward to today, and, unfortunately, Nicaragua continues to struggle politically. The civil war ended long ago, but ghosts from that era haunt still. Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, re-elected four-and-a-half years ago, says he’s running again in the next presidential election, taking place this November. He’s worked to adjust the country’s constitution, which had disallowed a president to serve consecutive terms.

Again, still, investors are nervous. What if Sandinista Danny is re-elected yet again? Could it possibly make sense to consider an investment, or time or of money, in a country at risk of continuing at the mercy of this guy?

We’re not fans of Ortega, and we were surprised when the Nicaraguans put him back at the command post in 2006. Rhetoric aside, though, he hasn’t done anything to cause any real trouble. Michael Paladin has some further insights into Ortega’s track record in his report in this month’s ORL issue.

My take on Nicaragua at this point? Don’t count it out. This is a land of potential, thanks to its abundant natural treasures and, mostly, its tested, battle-weary population.

I made my first property investment in Nicaragua about 16 years ago. I’ve made several others since. I continue to hold them all (true, the market in Nica is not very liquid at the moment…but I’m content in my position), and I’m open to investing further if the right deal comes along.

I’m with Nicaragua for the long haul. I hope that Michael’s Overseas Retirement Letter review of three of its most interesting destinations will help you to understand why.

Kathleen Peddicord