Retirement Choices In Granada, León, or San Juan del Sur.

Three Affordable Retirement Choices In Central America’s Most Misunderstood Country: Nicaragua

Earlier in the week I introduced you to Nicaragua, a frontier land with a troubled past that is an increasingly appealing option for the low-maintenance retiree. I promised to follow up with recommendations for where, specifically, the would-be retiree might consider settling in this beautiful, affordable, and misunderstood little country.

Nicaragua offers three primary retirement lifestyle choices, as follows…

Granada, Nicaragua

The Spanish first landed in Nicaragua in 1522. Two years later the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba founded Granada. The city, which considers herself the oldest in the Americas, was intended, by the Spanish, to be a statement of elegance and a reflection of the original Granada in Spain.

New World Granada has suffered a long cycle of destruction at the mercy of buccaneers and earthquakes, but she continues to dust herself off. The Sandinista revolution largely spared the city further indignities, and today she shines. The once-cobbled streets have been largely paved over, but Granada’s colonial splendors remain and in fact look better today than they have in a long time. The city’s renaissance is thanks to private and public funding. Spain has restored some of the major thoroughfares with palms and paving. The rest of the rehabilitation is being carried out by wealthy Nicaraguans and retiring expatriates from around the world.

Granada is a user-friendly expat retirement choice, home to at least a few hundred full-time expat retirees. I first visited the city nearly 20 years ago. At the time, the Alhambra was the only legitimate hotel in town. Granada has grown up in many ways in the two decades since, but the Alhambra’s long, open porch overlooking the central square remains the best perch in the city and a central meeting spot.

With her romantic soul, historic architecture, and beautiful situation between Lake Nicaragua and the extinct volcano Mombacho, Granada is an easy and certainly an affordable place to settle in and settle down.

León, Nicaragua

Granada’s longtime rival, León, is in the northwest of the country, about a 35-minute drive from the Pacific coast. Though bigger than Granada, both geographically and in terms of population, León is less discovered, both by tourists and expat retirees. León has the Spanish-colonial architecture of Granada, plus universities, museums (the best in the country, some time capsules of Nicaragua’s long civil war), and the largest church in the Americas (along with at least 30 other ecclesiastical monuments) and is a proud showcase of the country’s history, defender of the country’s heritage, and center of the country’s Sandinista movement. Granada, on the other hand, quietly goes about her business. León is edgy; Granada cozy.

The cost of living and of real estate both are lower in León than in Granada—though the cost of living everywhere in Nicaragua is absolutely affordable.

León is also hotter and more humid than Granada. The mornings and evenings can be pleasant, but the midday temperatures are probably the biggest downside to life in this city. If you don’t like it hot, León’s attractions may not compensate for the climate.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s third retirement lifestyle option is the town of San Juan del Sur, built in the 270-degree arc of the bay of the same name. To the north are forested hills and a modest mountain topped by a large statue of Christ. Below the statue, the slopes are dotted with large multi-story private homes that run down to the beach. Continuing on a semicircular perambulation, you come to a few high-rise buildings and the rest of the town huddled by the seashore.

San Juan de Sur is generally recognized as the most tourist-friendly destination in Nicaragua with some of the best of the country’s beaches. At least 14 beaches here have names, but many haven’t been tagged. The town, with a population of about 13,000, is a mixture of modest, brightly painted, rusty tin-roofed wooden buildings. Set here and there among the smaller properties are older plantation-style houses with gingerbread trim and wide verandas, the perfect places for lolling in the cool of the evening. The beach has a small cluster of popular restaurants, good for watching the sun set or the gringas in bikinis lounging on the sand. The surf is tame, and children play and swim safely. The area is friendly to budget tourists, with more hostels than hotels and signs advertising laundry services, surfboard rentals, and Internet access points.

San Juan del Sur is an appealing choice for the retiree who enjoys the simple beach life. An artist or painter might find his home and heart in San Juan, but you’d have to enjoy small-town living, the beach, or sailing to be happy here. The area has the flavor of Costa Rica 15 years ago or Puerto Vallarta 25 years ago.

Kathleen Peddicord