Several years ago when we first started thinking about moving to Latin America, Nicaragua was high on our list of places. In fact, we began to refer to the concept of living in Latin America for a time as our Nicaragua Plan. So while we didn't end up living in Nicaragua, we still thought it would be fun to take a trip there to see what we were missing.
We largely ended up living in Guatemala by chance (which is the way things like this often work) because we happened to find jobs here and a city that we wanted to live in. But as noted above it could have been Nicaragua for us instead so we spent much of our time there asking the question "would we have been able to live with this?"
The first item in this question category was answered nearly as soon as we landed and saw the propaganda related to Nicaragua's upcoming presidential election. There is certainly a lot of election propaganda in Guatemala, but the Nicaraguan version stood out as it was all promoting the works of (current president) Daniel Ortega. We didn't see a single poster, rally, t-shirt or anything related to an opposition candidate.
Guatemala certainly has its problems in the areas of democracy and governance, but Nicaragua seems is in another category with Ortega's domination of the political sphere. This (and the fact that he decided to shut down several NGOs when we were thinking about where to move) are why we don't live in Nicaragua. We were worried that this unstable environment could cause a problem if we worked for non-profits in the country. Oh, and no one offered us a job there... But none of that stopped us from taking a short trip there.
Since Jed has spent some time in southern Nicaragua, during his time living in Costa Rica, we decided to start in the north part of the country in Leon. It was a good place to start since as a university and cultural capital, Leon is very much a Nicaraguan parallel to our home of Xela in Guatemala. There are, however, a few differences of note between the two cities.
On the minus side, Leon is a lot hotter, a little more rundown (some of this due to the adverse effects of tropical humidity), and a little less scenic (no mountain views). On the plus side, Leon is much closer to the beach, has colder beer (which is a necessity in the heat), and has a lot more pretty churches. Well, I guess Jack didn't think the extra churches were such a bonus:
Taking advantage of Leon's proximity to the beach, we headed off for a day on the Pacific ocean and Jack's first time in that body of water. He was a little bit more excited about that:
After that, since no gringo's trip to Nicaragua would be complete without it, we headed down south to the tourist hub Grenada. Grenada is the equivalent of Antigua, Guatemala: good architecture, good tourist infrastructure, and population of foreigners. On the plus side, Grenada is a little touristy than Antigua, which makes it feel a little more authentic. On the minus side, it is more run down (that darn tropical humidity again). And it's a draw on the scenery, while Antigua is surrounded by stunning volcanoes, Granada has some smaller volcanoes and Lake Nicaragua:
Other factors that we ran down as part of the Nicaragua/Guatemala comparison include:
- sports: they play baseball in Nicaragua as opposed to only soccer in Guatemala
- cost: while both are relatively inexpensive countries, the dollar seems to go a little bit farther in Nicaragua
- rum: this is a draw as Flor de Caña and Botran are both world class brands
- culture: Guatemala has a vibrant indigenous culture, which is non-existent in Nicaragua
All in all, while we enjoyed visiting Nicaragua, we're happy that we live in Guatemala- though Jack's still contemplating his preference: