Let’s Get Real about Time Management in Nicaragua

All that really belongs to us is time; even he who has nothing else has that. ~Baltasar Gracian

Living in Nicaragua requires a different mindset of time management. I used to pride myself in the ability to plan and control how I spent the hours in my day to effectively accomplish my goals. I had mastered the skills of planning for the future. setting goals, prioritizing tasks, and monitoring where the time goes. THEN…I moved to Nicaragua where mañana could mean today, tomorrow, sometime in the distant future, or never… where I am constantly reminded to slow down and be present. What I’ve learned about time management in Nicaragua may surprise you. It’s not all bad.

Let’s get real about time management in Nicaragua.

How many times have you been left hanging?

How many times have you been left hanging?


1. Most Nicaraguans are better at single-tasking, than multi-tasking.

This makes sense to me because, first, most Nicaraguans aren’t plugged into technology every minute of their lives. I don’t know anyone that wears a wrist watch, has an alarm clock, or crosses off a to-do list everyday.

Research shows that we are more efficient when we attend to one thing at a time. Since I am a recovering multi-tasker, I have tested this theory and find it to be true. I’ve accepted the fact that it is impossible to keep a daily to-do list. When I make plans to do my laundry while checking my email, the electricity goes off, or the welder down the street sucks all the power and my spin cycle drags to a grinding halt. Then, if I do make it through a wash cycle, when I’m hanging the clothes outside to dry, there is an unexpected downpour.

Or, if I want to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies while reading a good book (neither of them need electricity, so I think I’m safe), either the propane tank runs out of propane, or my neighbors are running around my yard frantically trying to catch a chicken for supper, or the horses and cows have knocked down our gate again and I am interrupted causing my cookies to burn and my Kindle to need to be recharged.

2. Nicaraguans live in the present.

My mind was always a day ahead of me. I never really learned how to be in the present until I moved to Nicaragua.  I used to mow my lawn in the states with my iPod attached to my ear, either listening to an audio book or music. But, yesterday, when Julio helped me clean the beach, he identified every plant and bush I cut down with my handmade weed wacker. I learned which plants were toxic to cows and horses, in which plants the nasty biting ants made their homes, and the medicinal uses of the yellow flowering weed growing prolifically on the beach.

He taught me to bring full awareness to each chore, noticing the sense of smell, touch, sound, and sometimes taste. I was gently redirected back to the task at hand and I learned so many new things!

The raspados vendor takes a siesta in the park.

The raspados vendor takes a siesta in the park.

3. Get enough sleep.

Some days, I was scrambling around frantically trying to accomplish my tasks, and I would tell myself, “There isn’t enough time in the day to do everything.” I’d complete one task, then my mind would race on to the next thing. Meanwhile, the tropical sun was high overhead and my neighbors were taking their daily siestas in the hammocks strung under the shade trees.

Most of my Nicaraguan friends go to bed early and rise very early in the morning to complete their chores before the heat of the day. They are very productive early in the morning, and they know that when they are tired and sluggish it is time for their daily siesta. It used to annoy me when I would go to town at noon and all the stores were closed…sometimes for two hours. But, now I understand the reason for siestas and an early to bed, early to rise time management skill.

4. Always arrive late.

When someone invites me to a birthday party, or a parade, or a meeting, I am always the early bird. I arrive 15 minutes before the time on the invitation. But, no more! I have learned never to show up to an event on time because nothing…absolutely nothing starts on time in Nicaragua.

Last year, when we attended Jiaro’s third birthday party, we showed up exactly at three o’clock, and no one was there, no chairs were set up, no pinata hung…nothing. Yesterday, we arrived at four o’clock and the party was only getting started.

Always arrive late…except for a scheduled flight on or off Ometepe Island. I received this notice on our expat group the other day.

I had the lucky fortune to take the flight from Ometepe to Managua. La Costena has apparently made some changes to the route and flight which seriously impact a person’s travel plans.

They will change the pattern and timing of the flight based on demand and to/from where the travelers want to go, taking into consideration bookings between Managua, Ometepe, San Carlos and now San Juan on the Caribbean.
My flight was ticketed for a 2:45 departure, 20 minute flight direct to Managua. The flight actually left half an hour early at 2:15 (we’re just dumb lucky that we can hear the plane fly in and are only a 10 minute drive to the airport. We hustled to the airport when we heard the flight overhead). Instead of going to Managua, we went to San Carlos, and then on to San Juan, and then from San Juan to Managua. Aside from the fact that I very easily could have missed the flight entirely, the whole trip took 2 hours 45 minutes, and I would have done just as well timing-wise for a heckuva lot less to take the ferry and bus or taxi (although it was arguably very beautiful to be up in the air).

The captain on the plane recommended that all travelers should call La Costena the day before in the afternoon to verify the route and times of the flight you hope to catch to make sure it works for your schedule.

WHAT???  I shook my head and laughed. Only in Nicaragua.

Waiting for the parade

Waiting for the parade

5. Be prepared to wait…a lot!

I swear, I spend half of my life in Nicaragua waiting…waiting…waiting. It used to be so frustrating and annoying, but I’m learning to be patient and not to expect efficient time management skills in Nicaragua.

For example, three weeks ago, I designed and ordered a wooden cabinet for my Pre-Columbian pottery collection from a master woodworker. He told me it would be ready and delivered at the end of July. The night before it was to be delivered, Herman walked to my house to tell me it wasn’t ready. “Herman”, I asked, “Why didn’t you call me instead of walking from town?” His reply was, “I didn’t have any minutes on my phone to call you.”

Gotta love Nicaragua!

Take time to be in the present and enjoy the sunsets.

Take time to be in the present and enjoy the sunsets.

I don’t know why the Nicaraguan perception of time management is so different from mine. Maybe it has to do living in the tropics where the pace of living is slower because of the tropical heat. Maybe it is because there aren’t as many technological advances, or the infrastructure, such as electricity, is unreliable.

Whatever the reasons, my perception of time passing has changed considerably while living in Nicaragua. I’ve learned to savor the moment…soak it all in. I try not to take the small moments for granted, for those are the ones we look back on the most with fondness.

My perception of time is more malleable because all we really have that belongs to us is time.

What is your perception of time management and has it changed for you?

25 thoughts on “Let’s Get Real about Time Management in Nicaragua

  1. Well, i am nicaraguan and try to be as punctual as posible.i like the way how you describe your experiences here in our beautiful country. i agree when you say we live in the present.i recognize most of us are not punctual. it is something cultural. and you know i found out this article doing some researches about nicaraguan culture managing time and reading about your percepcion helps me to do a contrast between nicaraguan and american culture.

  2. I dumped a few girlfriends in Costa Rica who were always an hour or 2 late, even though I told them that punctuality was important, and that is was insulting to be so late Took me a while to realize I was the problem, not them. Yankee punctuality culture simply doesn’t work in Central America.

  3. Even though we moved to a “laid back attitude of a place”, I spent my days driven to get things done. Now, I have learned to slow down, accept the absurdities, be flexible, and enjoy the moment. Enjoyable post and responses, Debbie. ⌛️

  4. Loved your phrase “a recovering multi-tasker” because, in my former life, I was always excited when I could find three or four things to do at the same time -and yes, listening to an audiobook on my i-pod is still something I do as I mop a floor! However, I’ve slowed down considerably to appreciate those NOW moments in time and, eventually I may acquire this skill. Of all the things in a different culture to experience, the time management is the most difficult to understand for us frantic US expats! Anita

    • I really dislike the feeling of being frantic. Occasionally, I feel that way here, usually when we have a Chayule attack of aquatic mites and I dread cleaning the house after the 3 day attack. But, the stressful times have almost totally vanished. I know you can identify with this post, Anita. 🙂

  5. I was married to an Argentine for 22 years and travelled extensively through out south america so know the time thing , but it even takes place where I lived in Miami for 30 years. There are so many people living there from south and central america I was always waiting for someone to arrive , not show up at all, plus heaven forbid …. of course … never ever get to some function on time! So I have a feel for whats happening there and understand it . Looking forward to my move soon to Granada , it won’t be too much of a surprise and personally I love not having to always multi task and to be conscious of a chilling vibe. Of course I’m older now too and bask in the glory of doing nothing ,,,sometimes . Thanks for the great insight tho and I hope to meet you someday in the lovely , slow paced , authentically gorgeous Ometepe .

    • Heidi, I think this is something with which we can all identify. I know what you mean about basking in the glory of doing nothing. I used to feel so guilty doing nothing, but now I really look forward to my afternoon siesta. 🙂 I am sure we will meet when you move to Granada. I have quite a few friends there, let me know when you arrive and I’ll introduce you to them. Thanks for responding to my question.

  6. The biggest problem in American society is that those of us that embody the Nicaraguan type world view are usually regarded as slackers. I’m a type A that envies those who aren’t!

  7. On Sunday I was booked on a shuttle from San Juan Del Sur at around 9:30 a.m. I say “around” because I know that typically they go around town picking up passengers and I was on the route out of town so might expect to be the last or next-to-last to be picked up. But being from the U.S.A. where I have to bill my work literally by the minute, I was pretty antsy by 9:45 when no-one had showed. This, even though I had no particular reason to be in Granada at my arrival time and there is a shuttle later in the afternoon, so I wouldn’t be stranded even if I had been completely forgotten. My host kindly called the shuttle company, who explained that they work with another company for this run and that the driver was already in town picking up passengers, and by the way, the shuttle would be going via San Jorge to pick up ferry passengers arriving from Ometepe. I was assured that I was not forgotten. A few minutes after 10:00 a small SUV drove right by the house. I looked at my host, saying “could that be it?” “No,” he said, “it’s more likely a minivan that holds more people.” A few minutes later the SUV pulled up outside the house and the driver asked for me–it was my ride. Aside from a man in the front passenger seat who appeared to be a friend of the driver, there were no other passengers, and no, we weren’t going to San Jorge! I actually had a private taxi door-to-door for the price of a shuttle ride, and the shuttle company with whom I booked had obviously no real idea what was going on with that shuttle!
    This is my 5th trip to Nicaragua and I still can’t get rid of the anxiety around time, and apologize to my dentist if I arrive 2 minutes late! Even the dentist is emailing me to “relaxxxx!”
    Deborah, I hope I will eventually acquire your mellow acceptance–and take siestas in the afternoon!

    • Claire, I love reading your stories. I think the greatest lesson I learned about time management is that if I live without expectations of when someone will arrive, etc., then I am usually pleasantly surprised at the way things turn out…like your shuttle service.
      By the way, I’m still waiting for my new cabinet. lol

  8. “Hurry up and wait” is what we called it during my first visit to Nicaragua many years ago. Glad to read that it hasn’t changed much. 🙂 That said, much of what you describe isn’t really unique only to Nicaragua; it is Tropics ‘thing’, and it makes perfect sense. As for the siesta, blame the British for its decline in the north. Our bodies naturally plead for a rest in the middle of day but the Brits decided that afternoon tea –and subsequently coffee– would lead to more productivity. Whenever possible, I try to indulge in both, a siesta and afternoon coffee. 🙂

  9. Once a Nicaraguan wanted to visit with me. I let him name the time and place. He never showed. I never could figure out the attitude.

  10. I think this outlook on time is universal in Central America! It’s been an adjustment for us, too. At the very least it’s making us slow down and smell the roses a little more 🙂

    On a different note, I was doing some research for a work project and came across this – and I thought instantly of you:

    Looks like a great bunch of reporting by Arizona State journalism students on many current happenings in Nicaragua. I haven’t had a chance to read all the articles yet but I thought you’d be interested.
    – Susan

    • I agree, Susan. It is a universal ‘thing’ in tropical countries and takes a little tweaking of our perception of time.
      I have to tell you that I removed your link. Here’s why: I went to the website and I saw many interesting articles about Nicaragua. One of the articles had an interview with close friends of mine, so I posted the link on my Facebook page for them…without reading the article. After I posted it, I read the article and they were alarmingly misquoted. They were horrified, so I deleted the Facebook link and this one as well. They are going to contact the young journalist who wrote the article, because it could present some problems for them. Lesson learned. But, thanks for the link.

  11. Debbie, I’d be in the same boat, so to speak, as you if I moved to or visited Nicaragua. I could see myself in almost your entire post. Like you, I firmly believe that you can only really do one thing at a time well, something people don’t like to hear, but that I’ve seen demonstrated over and over again. Even though I’m mostly a Type-A person, I’ve learned to slow down at least some of the time and to take time to relax, savor, spend time with people. I get outside for a walk as often as I can and even though I walk fast, for exercise, I stop for photos or to admire nature as well. I think I’ve achieved a much better balance than when I was younger.

    Enjoyed the post and the glimpse into Nicaraguan life.


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