Central America offers much in the way of a relaxed life where you may find fresh foods, plenty of pleasant weather, and a variety of options to choose from for your vacation or
relocation needs. While I did not live in Panama, I did visit several times and found it to be too hot and lacked mountains – though, the bus ride back to Sereno, just across the border from Sabalito, presented incredible views from the the very tall mountain range between Panama and Costa Rica. David, Panama is a sprawling city with many people and businesses. There are several nice hostals in David with easy access to shopping.
Some say Nicaragua is what Costa Rica used to be twenty years ago. Essentially, both
countries may offer what you seek, with a few primary differences. Costa Rica is more
expensive with prices on most items mirroring prices found in the United States, though
certainly less than European countries offer. Nicaragua, being less developed is rougher
but, from my perspective, more charming than Costa Rica. The land north of Managua, the
capitol city of Nicaragua, is primarily agricultural – at the open markets multiple vendors
offer a wide range of mostly organic foods (most farmers can not afford chemicals) and it is
not uncommon to find many tall stacks of cacao beans, many bushels of beets, carrots, and other common and exotic vegetables and fruits. If I were in a different financial bracket, I’d establish an export business for foods from Nicaragua. Perhaps you may –
the farmers need access to the global market and that requires some political finesse
on your part and education for the farmers in choosing popular foods to grow, process, and market.
It is easy to find a place to live in Nicaragua, though like many developing countries, the housing may not be what you would hope for, but the price is decent. In both Costa Rica and Nicaragua, through friendships with locals, you may find a place to rent for anywhere from $50 USD per month to $300 USD per month. In Costa Rica there are many vacationers who stay in plush accommodations for much more. Be sure you are very clear about expectations in Costa Rica when renting from locals – my experience was that many people with rentals imagine the value of the property to be more than it is really worth. Buying land is less expensive in Nicaragua than Costa Rica.
Should you experience disputes with landlords, be aware, the police are likely to side with the locals in Costa Rica irregardless of the situation. Some communities have established good expat relations with police in communities such as Uvita on the coast. Nicaraguans tend to be much more easy going – I never had any trouble there. Though, my idea of a quiet neighborhood did not match my landlord’s whose modern house in Matagalpa is located on a very busy street – local life is energetic with the sounds of vehicles passing by with large speakers in their truck beds or attached to the top of cars announcing the latest deaths, marriages and special product sales. Fireworks are popular in both countries and there is no need for a special occasion to light them up.
Theft in Costa Rica is much more of a problem than in Nicaragua. It is not uncommon for expat homeowners to return from trips out of country to find the copper has been completely stripped from their buildings or all of the furnishings gone. The local perspective is – if you have more than they do, it’s okay to take from you.
In Nicaragua there is a campaign to rid communities of mosquitoes, if you see, or hear, the mechanical spray units coming your way, find a safe place to hide out until after they have passed and the chemical spray has fallen to the ground. I was bothered by the fact that adults and children did not take refuge while the spray unit dispersed the foggy chemicals in the air. It is not uncommon for men with spray units to enter some homes and flood the home with the spray.
There are other resources online for expats to learn about both countries, though more expats are in Costa Rica than are in Nicaragua. At Tour Esteli there is more information about life north of Managua.