You might be reading this because you are planning on going to Nicaragua and don’t know where to go, or you know that you are going to San Juan del Sur (SJDS) but want to know more about the place. And maybe in your research you have already asked people about SJDS and most likely you got either one of these answers: ‘I don’t really like it’, or ‘I love it’. So what’s up with the haters? Well, the people I spoke to mostly referred to the event San Juan is ‘most famous’ about. It is called: Sunday Funday. And those people only came to San Juan over the weekend to experience this event. Probably they got very drunk and felt sick afterwards – hence, did not experience SJDS the way they should. If you want to know what than Funday is about, read the last paragraph of this post. Either way – don’t trust the ‘haters’, because they just have not experienced the real San Juan ;-). For now I only want to talk about the positives because.. well, I absolutely LOVE San Juan del Sur, and most people I met join that viewpoint! So this post incorporates my totally unbiased (…) favorites and tips. I also added some links to some of the restaurants/hostels with a website, in case you find that helpful 🙂 .
SJDS is a small town, with everything in the center within 5 minutes walking distance. There are quite some businesses owned by foreigners (many Canadians), but it is a nice mix with the locals that live there. A place to experience that is the local fruit and veg market. San Juan is the perfect spot to hang around for a bit longer, especially if you plan on taking lessons in one of the Spanish Language schools there – It is cheeeap.
For active travelers there are many amazing beaches around that are perfect for surfing and there are a few (small) hikes in the area. It is therefore also a great spot to take surf lessons. I highly recommend the teacher(s) at Hola Ola hostel and Coconut Surf. Coconut Surf hostel also has a shop in town, separately form the hostel, from where you can book your lessons or just rent boards. There are also some Yoga Schools in town, Zen Yoga being my favorite – with awesome teachers, a good variety of classes and an outdoor-2nd level- city overlooking – porch as your yoga area. Can life get any better. Another day activity many people do is Horseback riding & hiking up to the Jesus Statue to get a beautiful view from the town and surrounding areas. It is absolutely stunning.
San Juan has a good nightlife scene (Besides Sunday Funday, which I told you about earlier 😉 ). The pub crawls of The Loose Moose are becoming quite famous and on other evenings it is a great small bar to just hang out with your friends. For amazing craft beers and the best mojito’s (personal favorite: passion fruit mojito) go to the Cerveceria. The vibe there is very chill with open mic sessions on Wednesday, live music on many other nights and they have an on point food menu as well. It is great to end your day here around 5pm or go after dinner for a chill evening. The nice thing is that you don’t have to make it a ‘late night’ but still enjoy yourself at a bar – in contrast to many other places in Central/South America I visited where there is basically nothing to do between 8-11 pm, so it is either go late or go home, eh.. ho(s)tel.
On chill days you can do some nice shopping in town. I’ve met people all over Central America wearing bikini’s and tops from AURIC Surf. You’ll want to have everything they sell for sure (women & men). Other stores I highly recommend are: SanJuanSurf & SJS Women (across the road from and next to AURIC). Another store that I cannot find on any website and I don’t know the name anymore unfortunately is in the street of AURIC, on the end site opposite of The Taco Spot. They’ve got amazing swimwear and beachy dresses and tops. Other nice thing to do is to still your sweet tooth at La Fuente de Chocolate and try different types of Nicaraguan chocolate or go to the Saturday morning farmersmarket in front of Big Wave Dave’s with many different vendors offering goods, sweets, snacks and breads (some are raw/vegan 🙂 )
And what about FOOD?
San Juan made me pretty happy. Here a list of my favorites:
- Simon Says:
- All day breakfast & lunch + awesome smoothies.
- Must try? Their all inclusive breakfast and a salad
- El Gato Negro:
- All day breakfast & lunch, huge menu
- Must try? Their fresh springrolls and doughnuts.
- Buddha’s Garden:
- The first only Raw/Vegan/Vegetarian restaurant in South-Nica
- Must try? Their smoothie bowl!
- Awesome food for lunch/snack/dinner, amazing for brunch in the weekends
- Must try? Their taco’s and nacho’s + dips –> to die for!
- Dale Pues:
- Dinner! Easy good food and awesome staff.
- Must Try? Their salads (add more toppings) and wraps!
- The Taco Spot:
- Lunch/Dinner/Snack – Anytime really
- Must Try? Well, this place is probably known by many people as the place they had the best taco’s ever. And people that like taco’s normally eat a lot of taco’s in their life.., so that says something.
To sum everything up:
- How long: Anywhere between a few days and a few weeks (depending on your goal)
- Hola Ola Hostel (bit more out of town, but great pool and best view, parties and the most amazing staff! Also there is a local store down the road with the cheapest groceries – cheaper than the city centre – and it is pretty close to the Jesus Statue)
- Coconut Surf (Good location, modern & clean + apparently they have a very good restaurant, but it was closed when I was there 😉 ),
- Surfing Donkey (Awesome staff, a pool, yoga sessions, a nice bar & one of the few places with a communal kitchen!)
- Food & Drinks:
- Simon Says (Breakfast/Lunch & Smoothies)
- El Gato Negro (All day breakfast, huge menu – super yummy)
- The Taco Spot (for great taco’s, eat on the street 🙂 )
- King Curry (for great curry….)
- Cerveceria (for everything food & drinks related and awesome people as a bonus)
- La Fuente de Chocolate (For chocolate – hence the name)
- The Loose Moose Canadian Pub (THE San Juan pub crawl)
- Do: Surfing, Hiking, Beach Days, try beers at the Cerveceria, take Spanish lessons, visit the Saturday market, Practice Yoga, Horseriding, Saturday Farmer’s Market. And lastly one insider tip, only for the people that actually made it to the end of this post, dress up “unbackpackerish” and use the infinity pool at the luxury Pelican Eyes Resort.
Two iPhone pictures of me enjoying myself at Simon Says and El Gato Negro.
So what is Sunday Funday? I don’t want to sound pessimistic – and I so love a good party – but basically what it is, is: paying a lot of entry money, to have a party – with drinks you still have to pay for – with many foreigners, who get to bizarre levels of drunkenness, to end in one bar by the sea at night which is open to everyone, La Iguana. But you don’t want to go there if you’re not drunk. I tried it.. well.. it was interesting ;-). The other thing with Sunday Funday is that many locals don’t particularly appreciate the Sunday to Monday nights where groups of drunken tourists make a scene in the streets, often not whispering.