Let’s Get Real About What to Bring to Nicaragua

Last month’s post in the Let’s Get Real series was Let’s Get Real About Packing and Moving to Nicaragua.

Yet, what do you really need to bring? We were lucky because we lived in Nicaragua for a year before our permanent move. We had a good idea of what we needed and what we didn’t need. However, in our six years of living full-time in Nicaragua, so many things have changed that when we return to the states our lists are shorter and shorter.

The lists of items below are especially helpful if you are moving to an island or a rural area.

Some of the expats in Nicaragua will say that many of the items on my list are available in Managua. However, we have to take into consideration that we live on Ometepe Island and it is a long, full, and expensive day of travel to get to Managua.


A list from 2013
Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 7.32.06 PMTo make it easier, I have organized the lists of hard to find items into several categories. These are items that we cannot find in Nicaragua or are very expensive to buy here.

Let’s Get Real About What to Bring to Nicaragua

Travel Gear
We love to travel. Our lists usually have one travel item, but sometimes more depending on where we go.
1. Travel guides for countries we plan to visit. We order them from Amazon and pick them up in the states.
2. Light weight backpacks or suitcases that have wheels and can be used as backpacks.
3. Head lamps and extra batteries for our headlamps
4. A portable external battery pack that can charge  smartphones, iPads, and Kindles.
5. Small bungee cords to wrap around suitcases, etc.

Don’t bring too many clothes. The second-hand stores have lots of t-shirts, sundresses, and shorts.
1. Socks – the socks in Nicaragua are poor quality and never fit correctly
2. Bras and cotton underwear again, poor quality
3. A lightweight Gortex jacket for the rainy season
4. Good sandals and light weight tennis shoes
5. bathing suits


1. Fitted sheet sets
2. Fluffy bath towels and beach towels the towels here are thin and nonabsorbent
3. Dish towels and pot holders
4. A good quality thick mattress cover – vacuüm pack it


Electronics are expensive to buy here. Not only that, it is difficult to find the newest brands of electronic equipment. For example, we bought a flat screen TV on Ometepe Island at twice the cost as the same model in the states. Plus, it was two years old and advertised as the newest model.

1. A good tablet, laptop, or iPad with extra charger cords
2. Kindles
3. Good quality power surgers
4. A Universal Power Supply for brownouts and blackouts for electronic equipment
5. An unlocked smart phone with extra charger
6. A small portable printer and lots of extra ink supplies
7. 10-20 ft. USB cables to connect modems to laptops ( only if you use a modem stick for the internet)
8. camera

The first suitcase I packed when we moved to Nicaragua contained my art supplies. They are available in Managua, but it is a long trip for us, so I buy in the states and bring them back with me.
1. Watercolor paper, good brushes, and all the supplies you need if you like to paint or draw.
2. A Dremel and all the attachments – We found Dremel kits in Sinsa, but they lacked all of the attachment kits.
3. Woodworking tools
4. Drills and good drill bits

Food Items

The selection of spices is getting better all the time, but it is still difficult to find a few of my favorite spices.
1. Dill and pickling spices
2. Horseradish
3. Pretzels sometimes I can find my favorite pretzels, but it is rare.
4. Licorice
5. Earl Grey tea
6. Jelly beans
7. Molasses and Corn syrup
8. Oh, and I wish I could find Cool Whip, but I have to make my own whipped topping


1. An umbrella that folds into your backpack or purse
2. Small solar garden lights and extra rechargeable batteries
3. LED string lights
4. Rechargeable flash lights or solar lights for power outages
5. Round locks that cannot be cut
6. Sunblock and Deet- it is very expensive here
7. Quality water bottles
8. Garden and flower seeds check to see if the climate and amount of sunlight will germinate the seeds.
9. A microfiber lightweight mop head.
10. Child safety plugs for electric wall sockets. You are probably wondering about these because we don’t have any young children, but they are great for keeping ants, geckos, and other small insects from making their nests inside the wall sockets. You would be amazed at how many times we have to take the wall socket covering off and clean out the inhabitants inside!

Games and Entertainment

1. Card games Uno, Phase Ten, Monopoly Deal, regular playing cards, Skip-Bo
2. Board games Checkers, Chess, Jenga, Boggle, Yahtzee, Risk, Trivia

Kitchen Supplies

1. A good quality sharp knife and sharpening tool ( My Dremel sharpens all my knives and machetes, too)
2. Copper bottom pots and pans
3. Heavy duty can openers
4. Measuring cups
5. Cookie sheets and muffin tins

A Few Helpful Hints

1. If you find something you need in the stores in Nicaragua…buy it immediately. I can guarantee it probably won’t be there when you return. Once, I found a used kayak in the second-hand store in Rivas. We couldn’t take it with us, so we returned the next week to buy it. Of course, it was gone.

2. Prioritize your needs when packing. There are many things I brought and wish I hadn’t. I wish I would have sold all my leather purses, belts, and shoes, instead of hauling them to Nicaragua. Leather gets moldy the rainy season. My beautiful handmade leather purse I bought in Brazil turned into a smelly, green and blue moldy mess. If you aren’t sure whether to bring something or not, then leave it behind. Chances are, you can find something similar in Nicaragua, have it made, or substitute.

3. Less is better. If you want to bring antique furniture, fancy clothing, handmade quilts, expensive gold, diamond, and silver jewelry, first editions of old books, or anything of sentimental value…remember it is Nicaragua where the climate is harsh and the people are poor.

In the rainy season, the bugs ate Grandma’s handmade quilt and devoured my Betty Crocker cookbook. Termite trails run up my walls and they ate through my water colored paintings hanging on my wall. All vinyl material cracked and flaked off my couch.

In the dry season, the glue holding an antique nightstand together dried up and the legs fell off. The wind blew so much dust into my house, my bedspreads disintegrated from daily washing and hanging out in the hot sun to dry.

I think you get the picture…less is better.

In our time living in Nicaragua, I know we initially brought way too much stuff.
We’ve discovered that…
…it is much cheaper and easier to have our furniture handmade by local craftsmen.
…that substitutions, especially in recipes, lead to tasty surprises.
…we enjoy shopping in small pulperias and local markets. It is like a day of treasure hunting, and we usually find what we need hidden among the disorganized wares.
…we support our local community by buying locally.
…more and more items we originally thought were rare in Nicaragua are popping up on store shelves throughout the country.
…we are more creative and love to think outside of the box when making things for our house.

Feel free to add to my list and Happy Shopping!

If you live abroad, what items do you bring to your host country?

24 thoughts on “Let’s Get Real About What to Bring to Nicaragua

  1. Hello, I hope you are safe and well! My family of 5, 2 adults and 3 school age children are traveling to Nicaragua for 3 months starting at the end of January. Do you have any new suggestions of what we should/should not bring due to Covid? If CoolWhip traveled well I would bring you some!

    Great article, thank you very much for the info!

    • Thanks for commenting Rebecca. We left Nicaragua during the 2018 Civic Rebellion and do not have any plans to return. Nicaragua is a chaotic country and with the elections this year, I feel it is a risky place to live. Everything has gotten so expensive and supplies are limited. The crime rate is higher because of the pandemic, now. No tourists= high crime. If I were you, I would wait to see what happens in the election. In my opinion, it is a risky move with your family.

  2. I just read the intro to your “Four Places” article and noticed the van/driver rental – does he/she do the all day tour for general tourists like ourselves? (there are just 2 of us and I would much prefer a driver to having to drive myself! when we visit Ometepe Island) — if so, I would like to arrange something for a day tour May 6th or 7th. Also, where do you recommend staying on the island?

    • Hi Doug,

      Sorry I am late in responding, but I was in Cuba and had very little access to the internet. Now, I am in Mexico and the internet is much better. We always use Franklin when we have friends visit and want to take them around the island. He lives in La Paloma and his phone number is Claro: 8846 2254. He will pick you up at your hotel and take you all around the island for $50 for the day. My favorite place on the Concepcion side of the island is Hospedaje Soma in Moyogalpa. They can also arrange tours for you. I hope this helps.

  3. What a great detailed list and advice for people moving abroad. That took a lot of time, I’m sure. I can see life would be a BIG change.

  4. Deborah… Liza and I are both in the sorting/ clearing/ packing mode.. right now for the upcoming move in September. Your information is so very helpful – thank you for sharing it with all of us It will certainly help when we get to those “Nicaragua boxes”. Hoping someday our paths will cross. Safe journeys in Columbia. Enjoy.

  5. “8. Oh, and I wish I could find Cool Whip, but I have to make my own whipped topping”

    Oh, the horror! Why, Debbie, why artificial synthetic whipped topping?
    From WikiPedia.org:
    Cool Whip Original is made of water, hydrogenated vegetable oil (including coconut and palm oils), high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, skimmed milk, light cream, and less than 2% sodium caseinate (a milk derivative), natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, and beta carotene (as a coloring).[5] Only in Canada is Cool Whip produced and is available in an aerosol can using nitrous oxide as a propellant. Cool Whip was formerly marketed as non-dairy, but in Jewish dietary traditions, Cool Whip was classified as dairy rather than parve (non-meat and non-dairy) because of the sodium caseinate (which is derived from milk). Cool Whip now contains milk and cream.

    Don Cuevas

      • Once in my bakery in Mountain View, AR, as a sort of joke, I made “Twinkie Pie”, which consisted of layers of Twinkies plus instant vanilla pudding with Cool Whip folded in. Those who were privileged (!) to eat it, loved it. Ya gotta know your clientele!

        Don Cuevas

  6. Thank you! This is very useful and timely as I am working to downsize and dump a life-time’s worth of possessions.
    Something that would be helpful on your list of useful things to bring would be links to specific items where you’ve researched the most suitable product for the job, e.g., the headlamps. They make lots of sense for when the power goes out, but without a link to your chosen item, I would have to start researching all over again, so if you have an item you’re pleased with, could you link to it, please?

    • Claire, I would be glad to insert links for the items, but I ran out of time. We are heading to Colombia today, and I wanted to get this post finished and ready for March. Maybe when I return, I can link some of the items. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  7. Thanks ,,,loved the info,,,and super helpful!
    FAB restaurants in Bogata….
    Have fun!!!!!!

  8. I’m so glad we traveled for several years before setting up house in Portugal because we learned a lot of lessons about what we needed versus what we could do without but wanted. Other than a few things it makes total sense to me to buy your goods in the country you’re settling into. I totally agree that we can never find the same quality and fit in underwear, sock and shoes and petite clothing sizes don’t seem to be common outside the US. We buy all our portable electronics in the US as well because the prices are usually less and the selection is much better. Other than that there are just the little items like you mentioned (Lawry’s chili powder!) and things that are just part of the US culture like games. I may talk about the US as the land of “too much” but I sure enjoy finding what I need when I’m looking! Anita

    • Growing up in the land of excess really makes me appreciate the little surprises I find in Nicaragua. I was thrilled when our little pulperia started selling dill pickles. I find that shopping in Nicaragua for hard to find items is like eating a box of assorted chocolates. You never know what you will get. Lol

    • Oh boy, I can relate to that. I carry my list around in my wallet just in case I see someone that offers to mule me back a little item that I can’t find in Nicaragua. One thing I really wish that I could find is Scotch fabric protector for my patio cushions. It is only sold in aerosol sprays and we can’t bring spray cans back with us.

  9. I opened your latest post with a bit of trepidation as we are in the final stages of sorting, selling and packing for our move to Ometepe. I must say I breathed a sigh of relief after reading your post as we are taking pretty much everything on your “good things to bring” lists. That being said, we’re also bringing too many clothes and books and art, but I think we’d rather let the island eat them than leave them behind.
    Have a fabulous time in Columbia! I look forward to meeting you in person very soon!

    • Sarah, I was thinking of you when I wrote this post and hoping that you would read it. It is going to be a BIG change for you, but if you need anything special, I can direct you to the best places to look for those hard to find items. Can’t wait to see you. Safe travels.

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