Nov 13 2014

Retire for Less Newsletter – November 13, 2014

Welcome to our Newsletter!

Paul and Gloria

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue:


Retire for Less Goes to Nicaragua

After 24 days traveling in Nicaragua, we’re back home in Costa Rica. Why Nicaragua, you might ask?

  1. First, they are Costa Rica’s neighbor to the north and it’s inexpensive to travel there.map_of_nicaragua
  2. Second, it is a country that developed very differently from Costa Rica and we wanted to get to know it’s history, culture, and people.
  3. And third, it is popping up as a popular expat destination and we wanted to investigate.

Are we planning to move to Nicaragua and leave Costa Rica?? No. We love our lives in Costa Rica and have no plans to leave here. But at the same time, never say never. One of the reasons we have always rented is it gives us the freedom to move should we decide to do so — to another part of Costa Rica or even to another country in Latin Amerca, like Nicaragua, Panama, or Ecuador.

So, for our Nicaraguan adventure, we started out with six days in Matagalpa at a hostel, then continued on to Estelí. We chose those two towns because both Matagalpa and Estelí are in the northern highlands of Nicaragua, with weather similar to our town of San Ramón in Costa Rica, though with less rain. We took private Spanish lessons at Spanish School Nicaragua in Estelí for just under two weeks, and then ended our trip with a glorious four days in Granada.

So, can you “retire for less” in Nicaragua? The answer is absolutely yes! Take a look at our October cost of living expenses below to get an initial idea of what things cost. We’ll be writing more about this in the near future, so stay tuned!

And in the meantime, here are a few photos from our trip:

Cascada Blanca, near Estelí, Nicaragua

Cascada Blanca, near Matagalpa, Nicaragua

One of the many murals in Estelí, Nicaragua

One of the many murals in Estelí, Nicaragua

View of Granada from top of La Merced Church Bell Tower

View of Granada from top of La Merced Church Bell Tower

Us, at the top of the La Merced Church bell tower

Us, at the top of the La Merced Church bell tower


Our October 2014 Costa Rica & Nicaragua Cost of Living Expenses

October was an unusual month for us as far as our Costa Rica expenses are concerned. We only spent two days out of the entire month actually in Costa Rica. But we’ll do our best to explain things, below.

Part 1: Las Vegas

We spent the first five days of November traveling to and from Las Vegas to talk to folks at the International Living Fast-Track Your Retirement Overseas Conference. Though we are not paid by International Living, they do reimburse our travel expenses, therefore any related expenses are not included in our cost of living report. The main way this impacts our cost of living is that we did not have to pay for food those first five days of the month in Costa Rica.

Part 2: Costa Rica2014_Oct

Though we were only in Costa Rica for two days in October, we still had all of our basic bills to pay. We had house-sitters for a total of five weeks — they arrived a couple of days before we left for Las Vegas and stayed until a couple of days after we got back from Nicaragua. While they paid for their groceries and weekly housekeeping, we paid the following (which are included in the “Rent/Phone/Utilities” total for Costa Rica..

  • Rent
  • Electricity
  • Propane (hot water and cooking)
  • Internet
  • Phone
  • Alarm monitoring

We also paid our monthly Caja and the one prescription we pay for privately, both of which are included in the Costa Rica Healthcare total. One interesting item of note: our monthly Caja payment went down in October by 1591 colones (about $3.00). We’re not exactly sure why, but every little bit helps!

Part 3: Nicaragua

Transportation: $220.04

Taking the bus – Matagalpa to Estelí

We spent a total of 24 days traveling in Nicaragua, by bus and cab which cost a total of $220.04 USD. We took Tica Bus from San Jose to Managua, though we were able to actually get on the bus in San Ramón instead of having to travel to San Jose, which saved us two hours of travel time. Our tickets were $30 each way, per person, plus the Costa Rica exit tax which was $7 per person in advance. At the border, we paid $14 each to enter Nicaragua, though the receipts we were given only showed $10 each. In Managua, we took a taxi to the local bus station ($7), about 20 minutes away, then took a “chicken bus” to Matagalpa for $3 each. Were there chickens? Yes…unless what I saw were two small turkeys.

Traveling by bus and taxi was extremely inexpensive and easy. With the average exchange rate we were given of 26.1 córdobas to $1 USD, bus fare was per person was about 15 cents each way. In Esteli, for both of us to commute to Spanish school round-trip, the bus cost us 60 cents each day. Traveling from town to town was slightly more expensive:


Nicaraguan Córdobas

  • Matagalpa to Estelí:  30  córdobas ($1.14) per person for the just-under two hours ride in an old yellow school bus
  • Estelí to Granada (changing buses in Masaya):  116 córdobas ($4.39) per person

Cabs were a bargain as well. The drivers charged 10 córdobas (about 38 cents) per person, and if we were traveling with luggage, it cost an additional 10 córdobas. Our one splurge on taxi fare was hiring a driver to give us a two-hour tour of the neighborhoods of Estelí. We wanted to see where and how the rich, poor, and in-between folks lived. This cost 500 córdobas ($19.16).

Meals Out & Groceries – $324.80

These categories, which together total $324.80, are a little complicated to explain. First off, here is what they DON’T include:

Huevos Rancheros for breakfast in Granada

Huevos Rancheros for breakfast in Granada

  • Our hostel in Matagalpa and our hotel in Granada both included breakfast. We included these lodging costs in the “Travel” category.
  • Our home-stay in Estelí included three meals each day. Our home stay expenses are also included in the “Travel” category. As far as the meals were concerned, we ate a lot of rice, beans, and eggs. The only fruit we were served was fried plantains so we bought our own fruit (see “groceries”). Nicaraguans don’t seem to eat a lot of vegetables either — mostly onions, peppers, squash, cabbage, and cucumbers.

What they DO include are:

  • Meals in restaurants. (Even though our home-stay in Estelí included meals, for a change of pace, we opted to eat out occasionally in restaurants and treated ourselves to ice cream cones and fresh-baked cookies from the bakery next door.)
  • Bottled water (I learned from first-hand experience that it’s not safe to drink the water in many parts of Nicaragua)
  • Smoothies, fruit, ice cream and other snacks
  • Miscellaneous grocery items over the course of 24 days

PedialyteHealth Care – $86.44

In our quest to give you the most complete information possible, I got sick in Matagalpa so we could share some healthcare costs with you.  That’s me…always sacrificing. (LOL) Seriously though, I drank the water in Matagalpa. Or maybe it was the salad I ate at the Mexican restaurant. Whatever it was, my stomach was a mess and I spent most of three days in bed.

Paul went to a pharmacy and brought me back medications for diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain for several days (at a cost of $12.84). I was starting to feel better but we thought it wise to see the gastroenterologist who had an office right across the street. It cost us only $20 USD for the office visit. He prescribed an antibiotic for the bacterial infection and more medication for diarrhea, plus some Pedialyte, which cost a total of $53.

While the medications were not cheap, the doctor’s visit certainly was. We asked several people, including a doctor, about the public health system in Nicaragua and everyone told us that it wasn’t very good. So it’s good to know that private healthcare seems to be affordable there.

Phone – $9.83ClaroChip

The only expense we had in Nicaragua in the “Rent/Phone/Utilities” category was for telephone service. We brought Paul’s unlocked cell phone with us and bought a Claro phone chip from a young woman, while at the Customs stop at the Nicaragua border. The cost was only $6 USD and included about 30 minutes. The young lady was very helpful and activated the chip for us. Towards the end of our trip, we added some minutes for an additional cost of 100 córdobas ($3.83).

Cute sandals, huh?

Cute sandals, huh?

Personal Care & Clothing – $30.22

We got a lot for our $30.22 spent in this category:

  • Toiletries: 70 córdobas ($2.68)
  • Haircut (Paul): 60 córdobas ($2.30). The cost would have been only 50 córdobas however he got the haircut in the evening when there was a surcharge. It also included a beard-trim at no extra charge.
  • Sunglasses (Gloria): 150 córdobas ($5.75 – negotiated down from $10)
  • Pedicure (Gloria): 300 córdobas ($11.49)
  • Sandals (Gloria): $8.00 USD. These were an impulse buy at the Nicaraguan border. Smart vendors set up their wares to take advantage of the wait time travelers experience while crossing the border. You can buy shoes, leather belts, purses, and crafts, along with sodas and snack foods.

Entertainment & Travel – $742.89

This is, by far, the largest category since this is where our lodging for 24 days in Nicaragua falls. Here is the breakdown:

Lodging – $663.25

Typical Nicaraguan Breakfast at La Buena Onda

In Matagalpa, we stayed at the Hostel La Buena Onda which included breakfast each day as well as purified water and coffee throughout the day. The first five nights, we stayed in a private room for $30 each night. The 6th night, we stayed in a dorm room, however we did not share the room with others. The cost was $27 for that night.

In Estelí, we had arranged for a home-stay through Spanish School Nicaragua. We lived with a Nicaraguan Family at a cost of $60 per person, per week. This breaks down to $17.14 per night for the two of us. The total cost for 13 nights was $223. As mentioned above, this included three meals per day. This was very basic lodging and very basic food. We had our own bedroom and sitting room on the second floor of the house but spent time each day talking with the family and sharing meals together.


The pool right outside our bedroom door at Hotel Casa San Francisco

In Granada, our lodgings were a bit more upscale. We stayed at the Hotel Casa San Francisco and loved every moment of it. Since it’s much warmer in Granada than we are used to, we reserved a room with air conditioning. This raised the room rate from $65 to $75 per night. However, the hotel had a special offer of a free night’s lodging if you paid for at least two other nights. Our total cost for four nights was $263.25, including taxes, which averages out to $65.81 per night. Breakfast, which was included, was our choice of 10 different options — choices like a bowl of fresh fruit with granola and yogurt, huevos rancheros served with gallo pinto, and french toast with fruit, all served with your choice of hot, fresh-brewed coffee or tea. Delicious!

Tours: $70.83

Other than hiring the taxi for two hours in Estelí (included in the “transportation” category), we took three tours:

  • The first day in Matagalpa, we met a man from Bolivia who owns Cascada Blanca, a waterfall eco-lodge about 20 minutes outside of town. He offered to show it to us and drove us there in his car. We paid nothing for the transportation but did pay the modest entry fee of 50 córdobas each ($3.83 total).


    Our driver, Salvador, and his horse-drawn carriage

  • In Granada, there were many tours to choose from. Our first day, we took a horse-drawn carriage ride around town. The 1 hour and 45 minute tour cost $15 and we tipped the driver $5.
  • We liked our carriage ride so much, we arranged for a trip to the Isletas in Lake Nicaragua the next day with the same driver. He picked us up at our hotel in the horse-drawn carriage, took us to the lake, and accompanied us on the tour of the many small islands clustered in the lake. After the tour, he dropped us off on one of the islands which had a restaurant and swimming pool where we swam in the pool and enjoyed a fresh fish lunch. He came back by boat to pick us up two hours later and returned us to our hotel by carriage. The tour (not including lunch) cost $40 with an additional $5 tip.

Services – $31.33

Even though we were on vacation, life goes on — clothes get dirty and things break or wear out. That’s where this category comes in.

  • Laundry: We had our laundry done once in each town we visited and came home with mostly clean clothes. In Matagalpa, we paid $7, in Estelí we paid $11.34, and in Granada, we paid $5.75, for a total of $24.09.
  • Shoe repair: the sole of my old walking shoes came apart and the man at the zapateria charged 100 córdobas to repair them.
  • Optical: Paul had his eyeglasses adjusted at an optical store in Estelí. There was no charge, but he tipped the technician 20 córdobas.
  • Watch repair: Paul’s favorite watch broke and he was lost without it. So we found a relojeria in downtown Estelí who fixed the watch as good as new for 60 córdobas ($2.30)
Rafael, the owner of Spanish School Nicaragua & Paul

Rafael, the owner of Spanish School Nicaragua & Paul

Spanish School – $432.00

In considering Spanish schools in Estelí, Nicaragua, price was only one of the important factors to us. We chose Spanish School Nicaragua because they offered great prices ($6/hour of instruction) and an interesting approach to teaching. They teach one-on-one, so Paul and I each had our own instructor. They also personalize the classes to each student’s level of experience — we took placement tests before arriving at the school. And the school uses an “active methodology,” meaning that students are taken out into the community to learn and practice Spanish with the locals instead of spending the whole time in the classroom. We also liked the fact that Spanish School Nicaragua’s owner and principal teacher, Rafael Castillo, uses a portion of the school’s income for social action. Each week they prepare a hot meal and share it with up to 60 poor people living and working at the dump. Paul and I got to help to prepare the food and take it to the people at the dump.

We each had 4 hours of class a day for a total of 5 days (20 hours) the first week and 4 days (16 hours) the second week. We also paid the the School for the home-stay and they took care of paying the family. Since we’ve included the home-stay under “lodging,” this category is for our Spanish classes alone. The cost of 20 hours of classes per week (5 days of 4 hours each) was $120 per person. So, 36 hours of one-on-one Spanish lessons for two people came to $432.00, a bargain in our book.

Bank Fees – $8.71

We intentionally tried to limit our ATM and credit card usage while traveling in Nicaragua to save on bank fees. Our bank in the U.S. charges $5 every time we use a non-affiliated ATM and they don’t have any affiliated banks in Nicaragua. We brought cash with us from Costa Rica and only needed to use an ATM once. We also used our credit card to pay for a meal out and part of our hotel stay in Granada. That way we were able to keep the fees down to only $8.71.

We’ve also taken measures to prevent bank fees in the future. We ordered a “travel” credit card from our bank which does not charge fees on out-of-network banks and has no annual fee. We’ll be sure to use it on our next trip. Thanks to the one guy at Bank of America who suggested it!

As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months. If you want more information about a particular month, just click on the graphic below:














Monthly Weather Report for San Ramón, Atenas, Nuevo Arenal, & Quepos – October 2014

Costa Rica Rainfall Map

The rainy season continued with more heavy rainfall in parts of Costa Rica. We missed most of October’s rain as we were only at home for 2 days the entire month of October, spending most of the month in Nicaragua. Our visiting meteorologist (house-sitters) did an excellent job of maintaining the weather data – thanks Jim & Diana!

You’ll notice that we show rainfall and temperatures for four towns in Costa Rica. This isn’t weather forecasting. We report after the fact to give you a much better picture of the weather in each of these areas.

You can still click on the map to the right to enlarge it and check out the average rainfall for the towns you are interested in. Remember that the areas shaded in darker blue tend to be higher and also the places most expats choose to live.

Paul’s San Ramón Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for October:

  • We live in a very rainy spot in Magallanes de San Ramón de Alajuela. On October 20th, we had 10.6 inches of rain at our house, the largest one-day total since we’ve been tracking the rainfall these last six years. Most of it fell within a period of less than four hours. There were also 7 days with over 2 inches of rain!
  • The town of San Ramon most likely gets less rain than we do in our area.
  • Our total rainfall for the year, as of September 1st , was only 28 inches! You can see that most of the rain fell during September and October.
  • Total rainfall in 2013 was 110.95 inches in our area of San Ramón.

Lance T’s Atenas Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for October:

  • October 2014 was slightly warmer and wetter than the same period last year. The nighttime average low temperature was 0.3 °F higher than in 2013. The daytime high average temperature was 2.2 °F higher. Total rainfall in October 2014 was about 2.2 inches greater than in 2013.
  • The hottest daytime high was 84.7 °F. Combined with a humidity reading of 64%, the corresponding heat index or “feels like” temperature was 90.0 °F.
  • The coldest daytime high was 74.8 °F but, the “feels like” temperature was less than that — only 73.3 °F. This is because the humidity remained unusually high (over 90%) throughout the day and imparted a chill to the air. High humidities are typical overnight but there is normally a substantial drop during the day.
  • Total rainfall in 2013 was 63.84 inches in our area of Atenas.

John’s Nuevo Arenal Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for October:

  • Birds return every year from up north.  They are early this year. An early winter must be on the way!
  • Also, strangely, our Poinsettas are blooming now.  They usually bloom at Christmas.
  • Total rainfall in 2013 was 164.75 inches in our area of Nuevo Arenal.

Lance M’s Central Pacific Observations, Facts, & Tidbits for October:


  • Well it is hard to believe that it is November already. It just seems like we celebrated the beginning of 2014 and now we are beginning to close the year. The one thing that there is going for us, is the fact that we won’t have to live thru BLACK FRIDAY. Sorry to all you folks that still live in the U.S and have to work in that madness.
  • My wife and I have started volunteering at Pets of Aguirre Welfare Shelter (PAWS). We have a spot at the Feria on Saturday mornings. It is a great organization to be associated with. There is another great organization here called Kids Saving The Rain Forests (KSTR). There mission is to preserve the rain forest in Costa Rica but they also take in hurt or orphaned animals and take care of them until they are ready to be released back into the wild. Both can be found on Facebook.
  • We made a trip to Pasa Canoa to do some shopping since we both had birthdays and our anniversary was in October. Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving and be safe in your travels.
  • The Quepos area of the Central Pacific receives approximately 140 inches of rain per year.

Click to enlarge



Our San Ramón Weatherman, Paul Yeatman

Meteorology has been Paul’s lifelong hobby.  As a child, he devoured books about the weather and earth sciences vigorously. Later, he took a few college courses in meteorology, and still later, he served as a meteorologist for the U.S. Army in Vietnam.  Now, Paul gets to practice his avocation in Costa Rica, albeit on a very small scale with just temperature and rainfall data, probably the two most important factors regarding the weather. He wanted to include weather info on our website to help people decide where to live, although weather is just one of many factors to consider in determining where to relocate. Current weather data is from our current home at about 3,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón. Weather data prior to December 2012 is from our previous home at about 4,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón.

Our Atenas Weatherman, Lance Turlock

Lance and his wife, Diana, moved to Costa Rica about 2 years ago after living 30+ years in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (Vancouver and environs). They live in the Central Valley near the town of Atenas and are at an elevation of about 2700 feet. They have no need for air conditioning or heating. Overnight low temperatures are comfortably cool (low 60’s). Daytime highs can be relatively hot (high 80’s, low 90’s), but rarely uncomfortably hot.Lance started to keep track of daily temperatures and rainfall in order to have factual ammunition to help disabuse friends, relatives and acquaintances of any misconception that the weather must be like that of a tropical jungle.

Our Nuevo Arenal Weatherman, John Nicholas

After many visits to Costa Rica, John and Cathy Nicholas moved from New York to Costa Rica in 1991.  They chose Arenal for its sacred, majestic beauty, its lush wildlife, its relaxing lifestyle, and its proximity to activities and sites such as the Volcano Arenal and the beaches. They own the B&B, Chalet Nicholas, which has been in operation since 1992. Temperatures and rainfall are measured at Chalet Nicholas which is located at approximately 2,200 ft. elevation and 1 mile west of the town of Nuevo Arenal.

Our Playa Mantapalo Weatherman, Lance Miller

LanceM2I was born in a very small town in northwest Iowa and raised on a farm. When I was 18, I joined the service, in which I spent 22 years before retiring in 1990. For the next twenty three years my family and I lived in south central Pennsylvania. After having a stroke in 2012, I was unable to work and that is when my wife and I began talking about retiring. Thanks to your newsletter and a website we found about San Isidro, we began looking at Costa Rica. We came down in March 2013 and looked around for a week. Went home, packed up, and moved here in April. We settled in a small village called Playa Matapalo which is located between Quepos and Dominical. We later moved to Quepos. The word Playa means beach. It is so nice to lie in bed and listen to the ocean. Pura Vida. We will continue the weather info next month.

Related Articles:


Our Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica

Our newest tour is the Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica. When asked what he liked best about June’s healthcare tour, one of our guests wrote, “the wide variety of places we saw, the experts that Paul HCTOUR_030arranged for us to meet and talk with, and an emphasis on all aspects of health, not just doctors and hospitals. Mental health is just as important as physical, if not more so.” HCTOUR_008 We’ve lived in Costa Rica for over five years and have used the Caja, Costa Rica’s public healthcare system extensively, as well as the private system, when needed. We’ve learned the system and have been referred up the ladder to see specialists in the maze that is the Caja system. Gloria’s even had surgery here. Our blend of personal insights and on-the-ground experience combines to answer your questions about whether or not Costa Rica’s healthcare system could meet your individual needs.

HCTOUR_004 But, while it is focused on healthcare, you will learn a lot more about living and retiring in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Most of the second day of the tour takes place in the town of San Ramón where we live and use the services. And you will come to our home for lunch that day to listen to two of our featured speakers. Our tour is designed to save you both time and money, packing a lot of information into a short period of time. Our goal is to show you the possibilities and to try to demystify Costa Rica’s healthcare system. Our tour lasts two days and 1 night and includes lodging, transportation, meals and non-alcoholic beverages.

Sample Itinerary: You’ll visit:

  • At least two private hospitals in San Jose area
  • Hospital Mexico, the largest and best public hospital (they even do open heart surgeries there)HospitalMexico
  • An insurance broker for a presentation on the various supplemental health insurance options, including public, private, and international plans
  • A senior living retirement community
  • CPI language school for a presentation about how learning Spanish increases your options for healthcare and some basic medical Spanish.
  • Our local hospital here in San Ramón
  • A local EBAIS (community clinic)
  • A local private medical and dental clinic
  • A local Seguro Social office where you would sign up for the Caja (national healthcare coverage)
  • A pharmacy
  • A health food store (macrobiotica), and more!

EBAISStaffYou’ll learn:

  • If the Costa Rican healthcare system could meet your needs and put your mind to rest, once and for all, about this sensitive subject.
  • About the public system and how it works, about the private healthcare system, and how you can use a combination of both to your advantage.
  • About the EBAIS – where healthcare starts in Costa Rica.
  • Approximately how much you would pay for Caja.
  • About medical tourism in Costa Rica.
  • About home health care in Costa Rica.

Introductory prices: $550 for a couple, $450 for a single.

Please contact us if you are interested in booking this tour. Space is limited.

Related Articles:

Community Action Alliance – November 2014 Newsletter

In our town of San Ramón, we are lucky to have the Community Action Alliance, ”an organization of expats and Costa Ricans in the greater San Ramón area, volunteering together for community enrichment…It enables members to realize a personal opportunity to redefine and recreate their lives.” The Alliance has volunteer opportunities available in many areas.

To read about what’s happening with the Community Action Alliance, click on the graphic below. You will be able to read the latest newsletter (November 2014), subscribe to receive future newsletters, as well as read past issues.


Featured Property: Cozy, Fully Furnished Home in El Cajon de Grecia-$137,500

Property ID#: 302032

a302032_mini wall

Price: $137,500 USD

Year Built: 1995

Bedrooms: 2

Baths: 2

Living Area 1000 Sq. ft.

Lot Size: 2713 Square Ft.




  • Appliances
  • Fully furnished
  • Hot water
  • Electric gate
  • Fiber optic cable and internet
  • Added security fence
  • Washer/Dryer
  • Valley and mountain views
  • Phone line

a302032_garage going into bodega

  • Fruit trees


Update August 2014. This home now includes furnishings. It is turn key and ready for you!

This home features 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with a modern kitchen, granite counter tops, spacious pantry and a view of the central valley. (Furniture negotiable with sale of the house)

The carport houses a small garden center and spacious storage bodega which can encompass exercise equipment, a game area, workshop and washer and dryer.

a302032_our favorite place the ranchoA sliding glass door from the living room opens to the gardens and the outdoor patio perfect for dining, entertaining, reading, and just hanging out enjoying the great weather. Herbs and avocado and lime trees are in the easily maintained yard.

Many improvements have been made to this home during the past two years including:

– added volcanic rock wall on side and along front

– waterproof entire home

– refinished the bodega

– new electrical services

a302032_front door– new exterior paint

– new interior paint

– ceramic walkways and garage

– new kitchen sink and plumbing

– landscaping


a302032_Jesse 1

Click here for more photos and to contact the realtor for this property.

Click here to check out our other properties under $150,000 and read about what to do before you buy.


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