San Juan del Sur, on the south coast of Nicaragua, started life as a quiet village centred around fishing. Today, the biggest boost for its economy is undoubtedly tourism. Few visitors to the country fail to make a stop here and most overstay the time they initially allocated.
THINGS TO DO IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR
There are many reasons San Juan del Sur appeals.
The term ‘there’s something for everyone’ is rarely so apt. Nature lovers, sports enthusiasts, hammock dwellers, foodies and party animals will all find their place here. Below are some of the best activities available.
WALK TO THE STATUE OF JESUS
One of the things you absolutely have to do when you’re staying in San Juan del Sur is visit the statue of Christ on the hill.
Among the biggest in the world, it provides amazing views of the bay, the town and beyond. To hike there, you’ll need to cross the red drawbridge on the beach before making your ascent.
Entrance costs $2 per person. The hike can be pretty tough in the midday heat, so take plenty of water and wear lots of high-factor sunscreen. If you have a car rental, you can drive most of the way there.
Stand directly below the statue and look up, and you might be surprised at how closely Jesus suddenly resembles someone heiling Hitler. This statue can be viewed from almost anywhere in town and looks especially impressive at sunset.
WATCH THE SUNSET FROM CASA DE OLAS
Casa de Olas has to have one of the most spectacular settings of any hostel in the world and rivals most luxury hotels too.
Its dorm rooms are situated in a U shape around the side of an infinity pool. Thanks to its location high on the mountain side, you can sip an evening cocktail while watching the sun disappear behind the statue of Christ. In the day time you can see as far as the beach.
To reach the town centre, most people hop on one of the free two-hourly shuttles arranged by the hostel, but it only costs a few dollars in a cab if you get desperate or don’t feel like waiting.
Casa de Olas is a brilliant place for meeting other travellers. Everyone’s encouraged to join the weekly Sunday Funday party, but there’s something happening any night of the week, including an optional family-style meal. It’s also worth coming here to meet the resident rescued monkey.
As their website proudly proclaims, one guest left a TripAdvisor review to say ‘I would recommend this hostel to God Himself – Better than Heaven’, and I’d have to agree.
GUIDE HATCHLING TURTLES TO THE OCEAN
Wildlife lovers won’t be able to resist Casa Oro’s tour to La Flor wildlife reserve, which is one of only seven nesting sites for Olive Ridley turtles in the world.
Beginning with a short video and presentation in the hostel’s reception room, you’ll learn about the plight of this endangered species before taking a bumpy shuttle ride in the dark to the beach, which is located 22 km south of San Juan del Sur. The tour costs $15 plus $8 for the park entrance.
When you reach the beach, you’re given a red spotlight, which, from a distance, provides just enough light to prevent you from walking over nests, but not enough to confuse hatchling turtles, which use the light of the moon to help guide them towards the ocean. Working in pairs, you have the chance to guide your very own hatchling towards the surf by shining your light just ahead of it.
GO SURFING AT PLAYA MADERAS
Shuttle buses leave Casa Oro hotsel in the town centre a few times a day and cost $5 return.
You can rent surf and body boards either at the hostel or on the beach, or take your own. They have plenty of storage racks. If you’re an accomplished surfer, this is the perfect spot to show off your skills.
If you’re a beginner, you can take lessons, but you might find the swell and wave frequency a bit much to deal with.
There’s also the option to stay in beachside accommodation overnight, guaranteeing that you’ll be one of the first – and last – to hit the surf each day.
PARTY AT SUNDAY FUNDAY
At $30, the ticket price of this weekly ‘pool crawl’ party seems a bit steep for Nicaragua – especially when you consider that drinks aren’t included. Despite this, the event has no trouble pulling in a large crowd every single Sunday and, alongside volcano boarding in Leon, it’s a Nicaragua backpacker’s rite of passage to take part.
Tickets are sold in town at Pachamama on the day and you should arrive soon after 9 am to avoid disappointment. Tank tops and shuttles between venues are included with the ticket.
Drinking usually commences shortly afterwards at hostels across town, before everyone congregates and the party officially kicks off at around 2 pm at a particularly swanky hotel pool overlooking the bay. Stop number two is Casa de Olas’ neighbour Naked Tiger, where you can purchase a burger for an additional $5. The crowd thins out a bit as the party continues at Pachamama, and the fun continues until the last people collapse either from exhaustion or inebriation.
It can get a bit messy, but you don’t have to be a massive party animal to enjoy it. The pools are in stunning locations and you’re very likely to bump into people from your travels elsewhere in Central America.