San Juan del Sur is a port on the Pacific coast of southwestern Nicaragua. It's probably the best base for surfers to explore the surrounding beaches.
From Rivas take a taxi or the bus (C$25) directly to San Juan del Sur. It is about a 1 hour ride. "Colectivo" taxis cost C$35 (córdobas) per person, no matter how full the taxi is. However, that means the driver might try to fill up the taxi before leaving. Taxi drivers are honest as to whether it is a colectivo or not. The easiest place to find taxis from Rivas is from the bus terminal.
Beware of a potential scam where someone at the station may intercept you saying the bus only goes to San Juan Norte, and that you should pay much more for a more direct ride to SJDS.
In Rivas, there are buses south (to the Costa Rican border), and north to Managua.
San Juan del Sur is a relatively frequent stopping point for cruise ships in the area and often the only stop in Nicaragua.
Walk. The town is small. There are also constant offers of "Taxi, Sir?". Some hotels have shuttle service to other beaches, or call Carlos Rivera taxis private phone +505 86180261. There are a number of beaches north and south of town. Shuttles or pangas can be arranged through surf shops, or rent an ATV (roads are dirt and frequently in bad condition).
If you're thinking about making San Juan Del Sur your home base for exploring the surrounding area, a motorcycle can be a great choice. Motorcycles also mean you can arrive at and depart from any of the nearby beaches whenever you want without having to time your day around the group shuttles. Note that while the roads in the town itself are decent, and the major north/south highway you'll take to most nearby beaches is great, a lot of the side roads are not. Some of the beaches can be a bit harrowing to get to with flooded out dirt roads, extremely steep terrain, and interactions with fully loaded beach shuttles. These are all doable even for those who have never ridden a motorcycle (manual transmission or otherwise) before, though not without some risk. Also no need to get a surfboard mount, just rent surfboards at the beaches. Many of those roads would be nightmarish with a surfboard strapped to your bike.
The brighter side is that traffic is pretty reasonable within the city center itself. The main road into town is usually clear but does sometimes back up, usually when all the beach goers and residents return home for the day.
There are many brightly colored houses which land on every tourist's camera but that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to San Juan del Sur's beauty. The waterfront is a joy and small boats bob at anchor in the harbor as pelicans swoop down to perch on their bows. The walk up to the cross overlooking the harbor is an arduous 20-minute trek, but the vistas of the harbor are spectacular. A zip-line canopy tour can get you up into the treetops, and spider monkeys and other natural life abound in the region. There are dozens of spectacular remote beaches both north and south of downtown where pounding surf and dramatic rock formations await the intrepid shutterbug.
Hang out, talk, drink, eat. It is very laid-back here. Move a bit and you might find a good beach to surf.
Rent bicycles and explore the smaller beaches to the south and north. They cost $5 per day to rent, but are not in very good condition.
Learn Spanish in the local Spanish schools in town, Spanish Ya and Nica Spanish. All of them with very competitive prices and good experience in organizing the Spanish programs.
Take a day trip water taxi to Playa Madera, north of San Juan de Sur for US$8. Sign up at the stand in front of Hotel Estrella. It leaves about 10AM and returns at 4PM. The boat ride is about half an hour. Playa Madera can also be accessed via taxi, that costs around US$10-$15 for two people. The drive can be difficult, and you may encounter hills where your cab driver will ask you to get out and walk up the hill. In addition to the beaches to the north of San Jan del Sur, there are some great beaches to the south (including Playa del Coco), which are less accessible but afford more privacy.
There is a light house that no longer resembles a light house. But the point is not the destination, rather the journey. The view of the coast and the bay of San Jan de Sur is amazing. To get there, pass through the small port entrance, find the overseer of the property where the light house is and convince him you won't take pictures of anything. If he lets you pass, keep your promise.
- Beach Front Rentals in San Juan Del Sur offers ATV guided tours through the mountains and to the beaches. If you'd rather go by sea try their 2008 3-seater waverunners. If you have kids, pull them along on their tubes. What a blast! You may contact them at 568-2030. Across from the Eskimo Ice cream.
- Bodhin Adventure Services. At www.bodhin.com is a local group that provides Wellness Inspired Adventures, "Green" Yoga Retreats/ Yoga Teacher Trainings, and Aquatic Getaways such as SCUBA diving, snorkeling and surfing on the best surfing beaches to kayaking or kite surfing on one of the largest fresh-water lakes in Central America. They serve as a local concierge and also offer budget-sensitive itineraries as well. Bodhin also produces the largest mountain bike race in the region, called 'the Howler' www.sanjuanhowler.com with 100% of the proceeds going directly to local charities.
- Rancho Chilamate Horseback Adventures, Escamequita (10 km south of San Juan del Sur), ☏ +505 8-755-6475. A private, solar powered ranch with happy, healthy horses and good tack, includes English guide and a photo shoot of your ride and a contribution to the local community fund is included. They specialize in guided horseback tours through rural Nicaragua to the spectacular nearby beaches.
- San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Movil, adjacent to the church and park, ☏ +505 568-2338.
- SJDS Mobil Library. The SJDS Biblioteca Movil is the first lending library in Nicaragua, providing books, information, technology, and community center services to the people of San Juan del Sur and its surrounding communities. Books available in Spanish and English. Spend time volunteering in the library or with the mobile book van; check at the library for activities.
- NSR Surf Shop, 50meters Nort del Texaco (walk 50 meters north of Texaco station off main road upon entering town.).
- Spa del Sur, 1/2 block south of the municipal mercado, ☏ +505 8381-7671. Full service day spa offering world-class massage therapy, manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing, body scrubs and more.
- Surf Ranch Paintball (Surf Ranch Paintball). 1 acre jungle paintball course, gear rental, snack shop at the Surf Ranch Action Sports Resort. Drop in or join weekly paintball competitions to win cash prizes.
- Chicabrava Surf Camp, Edificio Chicabrava, calle frente al mar (1/2 block north of Eskimo Ice Cream, beach front road), ☏ +1 713 893-5260, +505 82853569. Elite surf camp for adventurous women who appreciate comfort and a challenge. Daily surf lessons, board rentals, and a variety of surf/travel packages, which include surfing world class waves, spectacular accommodations, authentic local cuisine, yoga, soothing massage, and a variety of exciting activities in a safe environment. US$30 and up.
- SanJuanSurf (San Juan Surf), Beach Rd (in the NicaLifeRealty building). Beach Road (in the NicaLifeRealty building). This is a shop for surf gear and apparel - The SanJuanSurf T-shirts and caps have become a popular souvenir.
- Airbag Freestyle Drop (at the Surf Ranch Action Sports Resort) (surf ranch action sports resort), ☏ +505 8816-8748. 1-5PM. Nicaragua's only tower drop to giant inflatable air bag for jumping, flipping and skateboarding into. 12ft and 20ft drops. Mini mega launch ramp for skateboards, bikes, snowboards and skis (artificial snow)...coming soon. US$10.
- Zen Yoga Nicaragua (San Juan del Sur's Yoga Studio), next to the Park. Across from Pizzeria San Juan (kitty corner to the park and church square through the bamboo gates of the plant nursery), ☏ +505 8465-1846. 7 to 7 Monday through Friday and 9-noon Saturday and Sunday. San Juan del Sur's first yoga studio, with a view of the church and town from above on the second level. Zen offers multiple classes daily with highly trained instructors. Drop in classes include a cup of tea and use of a yoga mat. Class packages are available and can be shared among groups. Inquire about private and small group sessions. Also offers Thai, Swedish, deep tissue and Reiki massage by certified massage therapists. US$8 drop-in/class packs available.
This is a small town. There are increasingly more and more shops, and a market area that is aimed both at locals and at tourists with increasingly "American" prices. There's an English bookstore with a café in it, wide range of all kinds of different books, just ask your way around, it's not hard to find. T-shirts of varying quality saying something along the lines of Surfing San Juan del Sur are sold at many touristy places.
There are a string of open air cafe/restaurants along the waterfront. They serve excellent fresh seafood. You get local breakfast offers in the market where there's a few little Sodas in a row.
- Pelican Eyes Piedras Y Olas Resort, De la Parroquia 1½ cuadras al este, ☏ +505 2563-7000. 7AM-10PM daily (bar is open until 11PM). Serving unique international and Nicaraguan gourmet fare, guests are invited to dine al fresco by the pool or at a candlelit, ocean-view table in the open-air dining room overlooking the cobalt-blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner features signature dishes using only the freshest local ingredients. Enjoy fish and seafood fresh from the sea, locally grown garden vegetables, freshly-baked bread, and delicious local and imported meats, handcrafted pastries and desserts. A poolside menu for snacks and light lunches is offered.
- 1 Chabad Nicaragua, Frente de la casa de la cerámica, ☏ +505 8678 2629. Jewish food, from a rabbi's family that emigrated from Europe.
- La Veranera Pizza, Playa El Coco (30 minutes South of San Juan), ☏ +505 8328 6260. This new pizza pick-up and delivery is the place to go when you are longing for a tasty Pizza that minimum feeds 2 people. As it is part of a guesthouse ask for Luise when knocking on the door.
- The Beach House Nicaragua, Paseo del Rey, ☏ +505 8775 7140. Quintessential beach restaurant, with sushi, lobster, happy hours, and sunsets.
- Rockys Dough, del mercado municipal, 1/2 c. al oeste, Avenida Mercado, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, ☏ +50558699563. Artisanal donut shop.
You are in Nicaragua, so drink Flor De Caña if you like rum. Drink Victoria or Toña if you prefer cervezas bien frias.
- Iguana Bar (near terminus of Hwy 16 at Paseo Del Rey on beachfront), ☏ +505 2568 2085. Daily 8AM - 2AM. Happy hours, parties, music, ocean sunsets, food including breakfast.
- Bar y Restaurante Brisas Marinas, Calle Paseo del Rey, ☏ +505 2568 3014. Drinks and fine ocean views.
- Simon Says, Avenue Vanderbilt, 1/2 block north of Avenue Mercado, ☏ +505 8444 4379. Daily 8AM-4PM. Subdued, relaxed environment.
Rates more than triple during semana santa (easter week) and accommodations quickly book out. If you want to (or have to) come during this peak time it is wise to have reservations. For most of the rest of the year (maybe excluding Christmas and New Year's) you can reasonably expect to get a room upon arrival after two or three tries.
- 1 Hostel Esperanza, ☏ +505 8325-5279. Inexpensive hostel, great location across from the beach. Owned by a Canadian expat. Dorms are right next to restaurant/bar though so can get noisy at night. US$7-15.
- 2 Hotel Estrella, ☏ +505 2568 2210. Right on the beach, but the balconies are accessible from each other, and the doors are only lockable from the outside. Some have had to put a stone in front of the door just to keep it shut. There are stories of other people that said they had bats coming in the window, banging against the walls and falling on their beds. There is a very comfortable common room and the bedrooms are clean and with beautiful views of the Pacific. Don't forget breakfast. US$8 per person per night,.
- 3 Aventura Lodge, firstname.lastname@example.org. There are 5 Jungle Suites available from US$50 per night, 1 Canopy Apartment from $80 and 4 Tree House beds from $15. Breakfast is included and wireless internet is available. Cable TV and air-conditioning feature in all Jungle Suites and in the Canopy Apartment.
- 4 Bahia del Sol Villas and Condominiums, ☏ +505 2568 2828. Villas and condominiums are within walking distance of the beach in the best residential neighborhood in San Juan del Sur with spectacular views of the bay. Rent by the day, week, or month all of them fully equipped. The two story villas are the epitome of luxury and space. Three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a big dining table and large terraces let large families or a group of friends spend time together with comfort and privacy. The complex includes a private pool and full hotel service.
- 5 Hotel Gran Oceano, ☏ +505 2568 2219, email@example.com. Del parque, 2 c hacia el mar. Among the nicest. They also arrange boat trips.
- 6 Hotel Villa Isabella, Diagonal Norte Iglesias Catolica, ☏ +505 2568-2568 (Nicaragua), +1 970-744-2082 (USA). Check-in: 3PM, check-out: Noon. Hotel with nine bedrooms and four 1-2 bedroom condominium apartments, with full breakfast included. Free Wi-Fi, free phone calls to the USA and Canada, a courtyard swimming pool, window screens and quiet air conditioners, private baths, hot water showers, and bath tubs. Cable TV and VHS/DVD with a large selection of movies in English and Spanish. Secure parking. Handicapped access. US$65-150.
- 7 Pelican Eyes Hotel & Resort, from the Parroquia, 1½ squares east, ☏ +505 2563-7000, firstname.lastname@example.org. US$150 and up.
- 8 Rayito de Luna (middle of the bay, one block from the beach), ☏ +505 86587797, email@example.com. Check-out: noon. Private home with rooms for rent. Included in the price: swimming pool, secure indoor parking, Wireless Internet, A/C, breakfast etc.
- 9 Surf Ranch Hotel & Resort (Surf Ranch Hotel & Resort), San Juan Del Sur (3km from downtown, free shuttles), ☏ +505 8816 8748, firstname.lastname@example.org. It offers a choice between standard, villa, deluxe condos or deluxe penthouse condos. Hot water and air conditioning available. Breakfast, WiFi and shuttles to and from town are included in the rate. The resort features include Nicaragua`s largest skateboard park, jungle paintball course, tower drop into a huge inflatable airbag, volleyball court, rock climbing wall, world class restaurant & bar, swimming pool & swim up bar, and poolside cabanas. The resort also offers a range of activities such as surfing, skateboarding, sailing, fishing, yoga, scuba diving, paintball and rock climbing. US$25 per person.
Playa el CocoEdit
- 10 Parque Maritimo el Coco (18 km south), ☏ +505 8999-8069, email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. Offers billas from four to ten guests. Right on Playa el Coco a quiet and secluded beach. Also has a restaurant, Puesta del Sol. US$92 for four persons.
- 11 La Veranera (firstname.lastname@example.org) (18 km south), ☏ +505 83286260. Boutique guesthouse designed like an old Nicaraguan ranch house, equipped with all modern conveniences. The wide veranda with dining area, billiard table and private bar, wraps around a pool.
Possible destinations from San Juan del Sur include:
- Isla de Ometepe - island with two volcanoes
- Playa Madera - small beach town
- San Jose (Costa Rica) - the Costa Rican capital
To leave, head to the market to get a bus or taxi to Rivas. From there buses go either up to the North (Granada, Managua) or south to Costa Rica. Some of the beaches are only accessible by water taxi. Your surf-rental-shop or hotel should be able to point you in the right direction or arrange things for you.