After leaving the Azuero we went back to Panama City to use it as a base to explore some of the smaller towns surrounding it. We took day trips to El Valle de Anton – where we did the zip line, Gamboa, Veracruz, and we explored other areas such as the Amador Causeway and Balboa. By this time Panama was celebrating Independence Day(s), Flag Day, etc. The celebrations and parades in November are many. We found that the local television stations were mainly reporting on the day after days of parades! We also got horribly lost in the downtown area cementing our certainty that we didn’t want to live there.
At end of our three weeks in Panama we both agreed that we were probably wasting time with the trip to Nicaragua. After much discussion we decided we’d go anyway because then we would have a benchmark for comparison. We could look at Nicaragua as a vacation and not part of our investigation.
Upon our arrival in Nicaragua it was clear to us that the country was at least ten years (if not more) behind in infrastructure. The country is still recovering from years of instability and we knew the first day that it didn’t feel “right” for us. We agreed to carry on with our trip as tourists and explore some of the locations we had seen on the internet that appeared to have homes that would be suitable for us.
We explored the country visiting the crowded, bustling city of Managua. It wasn’t unusual to see ox carts instead of cars transporting people and goods on roads that were badly in need of repair. After Managua we visited the colonial city of Granada and climbed a church tower to get the most fantastic view of the city and the surrounding lake. We stayed three days at Laguna de Apoyo at a hillside resort, it was one of the most beautiful places that we’ve ever been.
From there we went down to Rivas and the Tola Coast. The area was lovely and there was a bit of development going on along the coastline. We also visited San Juan del Sur from our base in Tola. While doing research San Juan del Sur kept popping up as
one of the places to retire and surf in Nicaragua. The town itself is beautiful as it sits on a lovely bay where the views from the surrounding hillsides are breathtaking. It seemed to live up to its pictures on the internet, but the real estate prices for anywhere but out in the country were very high for what Nicaragua had to offer. There is a healthy abundance of amenities mostly geared towards visitors and ex-pat residents. We spent a week in the Tola area relaxing and enjoying the beach and then went on to León.
León is a beautiful little university city full of colonial homes and churches. The city was full of young people because of the universities. There is a huge marketplace in the town centre. We likened it to a Nicaraguan WalMart where you could get almost anything that you would need. We didn’t need to use the vehicle at all in the city and it has many interesting cafés and restaurants and a couple of modern supermarkets.
We used León as a base for exploring the north beach areas. We really had high hopes because we had seen houses on the real estate websites that seemed to be quite nice and reasonably priced within our budget. We visited the Poneloya and Penitas beaches and a few smaller areas a little more off the beaten track.
We concluded our trip to Nicaragua by returning to Managua and taking back our rental truck. We took the last few days before we returned home to relax at a hotel close to the airport. Our conclusion was that Nicaragua itself is a land of contrasts; volcanoes and beaches, haves and have-nots, twenty-first century and eighteenth century.