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Posted by Jessica on Sep 28, 2010
Our Daily Budget in Nicaragua

Prior to heading to a new country, I often do a google search for that country's daily budget. Specifically I'm looking for a backpacker's daily budget. Generally this information is usually pretty hard to find in one place – people prefer to write about their experiences than tally their numbers.

(If I'm being perfectly honest, I wouldn't take just one other traveler's numbers to heart too much anyway. There's just too much variation between how people like to travel, how long their trip might be, and what "extras" came up along the way to get a truly accurate feel from someone else's numbers and then extrapolate from it what you might spend.)

But still, I search because any number is better than none at all. And more often than not, I'm usually piecing together loads of information before I can figure out what a daily budget might be for us.

A bean counter at heart

When I'm figuring out a potential daily budget, my conversations with myself usually go something like this: "Okay, it looks like hostels in the capital usually cost around $x but hostels outside the city are half that much. That one travel blog mentioned paying around $y for street food and $z for sit down meals, but I think they really enjoyed fancier places. And the main attraction's website said the cost of admission is $w."

Somehow I'm able to add x, y, z, and w (and a few other things too, like transport costs) and come up with what our daily budget might look like. And generally I've been pretty spot on.

(Tip here – I usually come up with our daily budget, and then I pad it a bit. We generally find ourselves at the lower side, but it's nice to know we have extra cash to splurge with if we wanted to. And it's always fun to discover you've spent less than you had available to spend!)

Now Tim and I enjoy nothing more than to weave tales about the places we've seen, the people we've met, and the adventures we've had traveling the world together. But what we haven't done much on HedgehogsWithoutBorders is share our daily budget in each country.

Hell, we still haven't tallied up the grand total of our round-the-world trip. And we've been home for four years now!

However, even though we haven't written posts and created spreadsheets for every country we've visited, we are incredibly meticulous about keeping track of what we spend when we travel. If we spent it in a foreign country, I have a record of it. Everything from meals and lodging, transport and internet, souvenirs and admission fees, and yes, even the cost of using the bathroom at a bus station. I've got it all.

The daily budget ground rules

We'd like to start sharing our daily budgets from all our travels, both our RTW trip and our travels since then, in the hopes they might prove useful to someone else.

But there are a few things you should consider, ground rules if you will, while checking out our daily budget for each country we've visited:

  • Our daily budget will include everything for that country, and I do mean everything.
  • We will not "tweak" our numbers to make our budget look smaller (you know, to gain "backpacker street cred" or the like). So if we splurged and grabbed a private taxi instead of taking a public bus, we'll leave that number in the calculations even though it'll throw off the daily average.
  • We will, however, make note of any odd-ball outliers so that you can take those into account when trying to understand our numbers.
  • Without question, we spend more per day on our shorter (3 day to three-week long) trips than we did on our 18 month RTW trip. I guess you could say we're more "flashpackers" on our shorter trips than the backpackers we were on our RTW trip. There's a number of factors at play there. On our RTW, we self-catered more and opted for more backpacker lodging. On our shorter trips, we generally eat out every meal and can justify spending more on lodging every night because we don't have that many nights to spend there. (Though our choices in restaurants/street food, types of excursions, and public transport remain the same.) Therefore...
  • For our non-RTW trips, we will try to guesstimate what we might have spent at our RTW backpacker budget.

Okay, now that we've gotten that bit of bureaucracy out of the way, it's time to look at the numbers!

Nicaragua by the numbers

We visited Nicaragua for 8 days/7 nights in May of 2010. (Note: the daily budget below is calculated based on 7 days because our eighth day was just a brief morning before boarding our flight home.) Of those seven nights, we spent three nights in Leon, three nights in Matagalpa, and one night in Managua. We also took day trips via public transport to the beaches of Las Penitas and the mountains of Jinotega.

We found Nicaragua to be incredibly affordable (and super friendly), but we definitely splurged while we were there. We spent an average of $110 per day on this trip to Nicaragua. If we were on a long-term trip around the world, though, we believe our daily average would be closer to $65 per day for both of us (or around $32 each).

Overall view

Airfare: $437.70 each or $875.40 total for two round-trip tickets from Boston, Massachusetts to Managua, Nicaragua

Amount spent in Nicaragua: $771.80 total for 8 days/7 nights

Average daily budget: $110.26 per day for two people

(Our guesstimated budget for a longer trip:$65 per day for two people)

Minor outliers:

  • $10 ($5 each) for pay-on-arrival visa fees
  • $24 for pharmacy purchases ($7 travel-size suntan lotion, $17 to stock up our supply of doxyclcine for this trip and future trips)
  • $38 for alcohol (What can we say? We enjoy our beer, mojitos, and Nica rum)
If you took those numbers out, our daily budget would have been closer to $100 per day.

Major outliers:

  • $74 private transfer from Managua to Leon

We spent about $74 (including tip) for a private transfer with Paxeos.com from the Managua airport to Leon shortly after we arrived. Although we don't regret going with Paxeos (they were wonderful and we had quite a memorable interaction with the family who drove us), in hindsight it was definitely not necessary to use them. We arrived in Managua in the morning and, normally, we'd just grab public transport to wherever we're headed next. However for some reason before this trip, we played into all the "you will die" hype online about Managua and public transport, and so we opted for the private transfer instead. After spending a week in Nicaragua (including taking public buses just around Managua), we feel confident that the public transport in Managua is just as great as everywhere else in the world. Ah well, a $74 lesson learned.

If we took out this private transfer, our daily budget would have been around $100 per day. If we took out this private transfer and the above-mentioned minor outliers, our daily budget would have been about $89 per day.

Breakdown by category

Lodging$375.21 total$53.60 per night
We definitely splurged a bit on lodging in Nicaragua. Again, we find this much easier to justify on our shorter trips ("Well, it's only for three nights, what's another $15?"). Had we been on a longer RTW trip, I imagine we would have paid closer to $25-$30 per night.

  • Leon – Three nights at $52.50 per night for a private room ensuite with a/c (and a gorgeous view of the Cathedral of Leon) including breakfast at Hotel Los Balcones De Leon. (Note: the English version of their website doesn't work, you have to choose Spanish.)

  • Matagalpa – Three nights at $39.85 per night for a private room ensuite (with not one but two balconies overlooking the valley) at Hotel Lomas de San Thomas. (Sadly they don't have a website, but the views are well worth the walk up the huge hill to the hotel.)

  • Managua – One night at $97.50 for a private room ensuite with a great swimming pool (and the most convenient location to the airport in the world: about 150 meters away) at the Best Western Hotel las Mercedes. Yes, we're backpackers who stayed at a Best Western. But you know what? This location saved us the cost and inconvenience of a very early morning private taxi from one of the hostels in the city center, making the cost of this hotel versus the cost of a hostel plus a transfer roughly the same.
Public Transport$14.87 total$2.12 per day
This is excluding that ridiculously expensive private transfer mentioned above so as to provide a more accurate view of public transport in Nicaragua.
Restaurants/Street Food$148.22 total$21.17 per day
If this had been a longer trip, we would have spent less on eating out and done more self-catering.
Water/Fruit Juices/Fruit Shakes$18.80 total$2.69 per day
We can not resist the fresh fruit juices!
Alcohol in Restaurants/Bars$38.40 total$5.49 per day
If you're going to be in Nica, we highly recommend a few mojitos and a few tumblers of Nica rum.
Groceries$30.07 total$4.30 per day
Groceries include everything from sandwich makings to candy bars to water to beer. (The alcohol costs mentioned above only included alcohol at restaurants.) If this had been a longer trip, we'd have spent more on groceries per day and less on eating out.
Souvenirs$23.62 total$3.37 per day
Some of these souvenirs were purchased at a really neat non-profit that provided a library on wheels for children.
Donations$4.68 total$0.67 per day
While visiting the library on wheels, we bought a few of the above-mentioned souvenirs which helped out the organization, but we wanted to give them whatever extra we had in our pocket too. (Which, it turns out, wasn't much...but hey, every little bit helps!)
Internet$2.48 total$0.35 per day
We found that internet cost around 20 cords or $1 per hour in Nicaragua.
Pharmacy$24.23 total$3.46 per day
This includes the aforementioned travel-sized sunscreen (which was harder to find than you might think!), as well as our stocking up on much-needed doxycycline for malarial areas.
Admission Fees$5.61 total$0.80 per day
This was entirely spent in Leon on the terrace tour of the main cathedral and also at the Museum of Traditions and Legends.
Bathroom Fees$1.22 total$0.17 per day
(For those really keeping track.) Most of the public banos at bus stations in Nicaragua charge around 3 cordobas.
Visas$10.00 total$5.00 each
This is for our visa-on-arrivals in Nicaragua.


So, could we have done Nicaragua for cheaper? Absolutely. (But do I regret having some incredible rooms with stunning views? Heck no!) We'd say Nicaragua is a great backpacking destination for those on a budget. There's a wide variety of street food available, there are great options in terms of hostels (or hotels if you do want to splurge a night or two), museums are either free or basically free, and the public transport is inexpensive and vast. As a backpacker, you definitely won't go wrong in Nica.

Deb
September 28, 2010 at 2:44pm
Thanks for all this great info Jessica! I'm definitely going to refer to it when we go to Nica – hopefully next year!
I must admit that I too usually keep quite detailed records of expenditures while traveling (including bathroom fees!), but then never get around to adding them all up after the trip…oops.
September 28, 2010 at 2:53pm
No worries, Deb, it's my pleasure to help!

…I must admit that I too usually keep quite detailed records of expenditures while traveling (including bathroom fees!)…

LOL! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who enjoys keeping track of bathroom fees…er, I mean, all the little details. :)

September 28, 2010 at 6:29pm
I was in Nicaragua in 2007 and we also stayed at the Best Western at the airport. It's worth the money just to be able to go out of the hotel, cross a street and be at the airport!
September 28, 2010 at 7:14pm
Hi Jenny! Thanks so much for your comment! :)

It's worth the money just to be able to go out of the hotel, cross a street and be at the airport!

Absolutely! It has to be one of the best located hotels in the world. The only downside I could find about it was the food was definitely at marked-up hotel prices even though it was just regular (nummy) Nica food.

So our solution? We walked across the street and grabbed dinner at the airport late on Saturday night after a bit of sightseeing and shopping in Managua. It might be the only place in the world where eating at the airport was cheaper!

September 29, 2010 at 1:44pm
110 $, that was about our daily budget for two people in Paris/France :)
Hotel 45 EUR (double room, shower outside)
Transport 8 EUR
Museums 12 EUR (average)
Groceries 12 EUR (water, wine, cheese, bread, icecream from supermarkets)
Restaurants 18 EUR (strictly junk food)
September 29, 2010 at 3:07pm
LOL! I know, right? It's crazy that we were spending $110 per day in Nica…but it was really, really fun too! :)
September 29, 2010 at 3:47pm
We will probably splurge in Egypt too… renting a couple of camels, or paying to use the swimmingpools in a 5-star hotel as non-guests :)
September 30, 2010 at 9:30am
You should see if you can rent a couple of cameras to use at the swimming pool. Now that would be a good trick! :)

We can't wait to see you guys in Frankfurt (and hopefully Munich too)!

Tamara
February 5, 2013 at 4:36pm
This is amazing blog! I am going to Nicaragua in April. This is awesome!

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