San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua is best known as an up and coming surf spot for its great breaks and secluded beaches. The town itself is set on a bay with a broad beach overshadowed by a large statue of Jesus set on a mountain cliff.
The beach is lined with restaurants and bars and is generally pretty tame during the day. Most people opt to make their one to one of the surf beaches such as Playa Maderas or Playa Hermosa, leaving the calm waters in town virtually deserted. At night it’s a much different picture with many of the restaurant bars turning into nightclubs with loud music, tons of people (locals and backpackers), and dancing into the wee hours of the morning.
There are an abundance of hostels and hotels throughout town and dotting the hillsides. I chose to stay in the hills overlooking the bay for the great views and the mellow vibe.
Aside from the areas main draw, surfing, there’s a lot more to do. You can charter a fishing boat and go deep sea fishing with the possibility of catching yellow snapper, marlins and more. There’s a turtle reserve not far down the coast towards Costa Rica. You can also go sailing, rent motorcycles, and even play paintball.
The area is also being discovered by American developers and new construction homes are rapidly going up. Property prices in the area are still pretty affordable but I don’t see long before that will change in a big way. Anyone looking for a nice escape or a retirement destination should put San Juan Del Sur on your short list to check out.
Flips on the Trip
I finally saw baby turtles hatch
On the trip I have had a couple of almost sightings with turtles in Belize and again in Honduras. This time I finally found the little ones and in a big way. The La Flor Reserve sits on a large stretch of beach on the southern border of Nicaragua. It is one of the better locations in Central America to see hatching turtles and I can vouch for how amazing the experience is.
Two months after the mother returns to the beach of her birth to lay her own eggs, the baby turtles begin to hatch. This begins their multi hour journey from egg to ocean. Buried in the sand the turtles hatch and begin to climb and fight for the surface of the sand with around 100 of their siblings. This process takes an hour or more and leaves the freshly hatched turtles exhausted. The next phase of the journey often lasts 2-3 hours add the babies make their way down the dry sand, across the wet sand, and finally into the ocean surf.
It’s one of the most amazing things I have ever seen and an event everyone should witness at least once in their lifetime.
Hanging out on one of the best surf beaches in Central America: Playa Maderas
Playa Maderas is known as one of the best surf beaches in Central America and is generally packed with polished surfers as well as those attempting to conquer the waves. There are a couple of restaurants that are a bit pricey but offer really good food. I spent a day there attempting to surf and taking pictures of the surfers catching waves.
Finding a less discovered surf beach: Playa Hermosa
Playa Hermosa is a bit further from San Juan Del Sur but is more than worth the drive for surfers and beachgoers alike. This beach stretches for more than a mile and is typically not crowded with people. On my couple of days there the most people we saw was probably in the neighborhood of 40-50 and one day there were less than 20. We had sections of the beach virtually to ourselves. I found this to be a much better place to practice surfing since there is less competition for waves.
I stayed at a gorgeous hostel on a hilltop overlooking the sea: Casa Del Olas
Sitting high on a hilltop overlooking the bay of San Juan Del Sur, Casa Del Olas is a hostel that was recently converted from a couples retreat. This means that the hostel is designed and finished better than most hostels and offers a magnificent infinity pool with full view of the bay below, not to mention some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.
It’s also always full of people and I enjoyed the crowd as it’s mostly a slightly older group (20s-30s) looking for a more laid back environment. The party hostel is right next door so the partiers find their way there but the close proximity is great for the evening with the ability to come back to crash without the craziness.
An amazing view from the Jesus statue over the San Juan Del Sur bay
One morning a group of us hiked to the top of the ridge around the bay for a magnificent view of the town and the ocean landscape. On the way there we walked from the beach climbing an almost worn away concrete staircase up the rock face of the ridge and then hiked the hill. Not one of us thought to bring water so by the time we arrived at the top I was certainly feeling dehydrated and happy the walk was through.
Celebrating Halloween in Nica
On my first Halloween abroad, we had a great time. After our usual family style dinner at Casa Del Olas, we headed out to the town below. Since we’re a group of travelers we didn’t have too much in the way of Halloween costumes but one week long vacationer brought fangs, masks, and most importantly paint. We spent the evening dancing at the Green Iguana and painting our own and other peoples hair. I woke up in the morning with red hair!
Day of the Dead
A few days after Halloween in most Central American countries, The Day of the Dead is celebrated. This is a time where families and friends remember those that have passed before them by decorating the cemetery and spending the day there eating, drinking, and celebrating.
Flops on the Trip
A couple of skinny dippers got their clothes (and everything in them) stolen
No matter where you are in the world you always hear that you should never go on the beach at night. The temptation with the beach in San Juan Del Sur seemed to be too much for more than a few people. About halfway through my week there one of the more rambunctious travelers didn’t return from town the night before. We all wondered what happened to him until he showed up late in the morning in new pants.
Apparently he had ventured onto the beach from the bars and had gone skinny dipping with a new friend. While they were in the water their clothes and everything in them were stolen. He had found a donated pair of pants and finally made it back to the hostel.
He wasn’t the first either. Only days before the exact same thing had happened to another couple. Moral of the story…..no matter how much the ocean is calling you after a night of dancing, find another place or you’ll end up broke and naked too!
I need more practice surfing!
I was excited to surf again after I’d had pretty good luck in Costa Rica a couple of years prior. Sadly I didn’t do near as well this trip and took a pretty good beating from the waves. I hear one of my next stops (Peru) also has great waves so I’ll be ready to go again!
I got bitten by a bipolar monkey
A pet monkey, Buzz, calls Casa Del Olas home which at first I thought would be really cool. It might have been with another monkey but this one was just crazy. Sometimes she would be as sweet as could be cuddling up with travelers but at other times she would just snap and go into fits attacking passersby. While her incisors are filed down and she has all her shots, I can speak from experience that it’s still pretty scary when she comes at you and just won’t let up.
One morning I was passing by with my toiletries bag. She grabbed my toothbrush and I instinctively grabbed it back. That seems to be what set her off (I was told later that you should never grab something away from a monkey). She wrapped her tail around my ankle and began biting my leg feverishly. The owner came out as little Buzz had her teeth sunk into the flesh just above my elbow and began fighting to free me. She then became the focus of her attack and also suffered bites.
So while it seems fun to have a monkey, and I always wanted one, it’s definitely not best for the monkey or the backpackers to have one tied up right in the middle of a hostel.