San Juan Del Sur, southwestern Nicaragua. Here lies an exquisite pearl – a Central American gem. Loved by all manner of traveller, from older Canadian couples to young, French backpackers, this Pacific coast surfer’s town eagerly awaits any outsider.
A wide bay, forms a semi circle from San Juan’s famed cliff top statue of Jesus Christ to the lush, green hills on its opposing side across the water. Small boats, yachts and jet skis appear upon the surface in between. Along the large, spacious, sun-kissed and autumnal coloured beaches (golden, brown sands with streaks of dark orange) an international crowd is to be encountered. Tall, blonde haired German surfers to groups of young, North American tourists, Australian backpackers and even Brazilian yoga enthusiasts patrol this zone. The local Nicaraguan moves humbly amongst them.
San Juan may be laden with all manner of tourist related establishments (restaurants, hotels, bars, clubs etc…) yet it does however gracefully retain the cultural heritage of a Nicaraguan coastal community. From the intriguingly sporadic hanging of pro ‘Sandinista’ flags to corner-spot tacos stands, one finds a charming tranquility within the streets of San Juan Del Sur.
How to arrive
If arriving via the Costa Rica border by coach/bus (entering southern Nicaragua), you simply couldn’t go wrong as to finding your way to San Juan. On being granted entry into Nicaragua, all one does is cross through the security zones whereupon an onrush of taxi drivers and local ‘chicken buses’ await. Most taxis drive tourists solely to San Juan as it’s no more than a forty minute ride and the main destination amongst travellers. Be prepared to share rides with other backpackers and also for the need to haggle the prices right down.
Buses will take you there from both the border crossing and the Nicaraguan capital Managua. Very economical and always an experience, the chicken buses are to be recommended. I mention the border crossings, as swarms of North American and European backpackers/surfers enter San Juan this way. There are no nearby airports so the bus systems prove to be the most popular mode of transport.
What to do
The famed statue “Christ of the Mercy” stands high and mighty. Jesus gazes quite majestically upon the town with his position being at the northern end of the Bay. El Mirador del Cristo de la Misericordia is one of the tallest ‘Jesus statues’ in the world. Reaching the spectacle is either achieved by climbing the hideous hilltop trails (not to be done at midday as I did – for the sheer heat!) or by taxi ride. Taxis in fact patrol the entire town shouting ‘Jesús!?’ at anyone white-skinned or ‘gringo’ looking. No problems are to had getting there. A small museum is up there as well – focusing on the many Jesus statues worldwide.
The beaches of course, are a main attraction apart from seeing Jesus. Especially so, for the droves of surfers that they attract; nationalities as far ranging as New Zealander to Dutch. There exists the main beach which offers all from the wide range of exotic beach bars/restaurants to the stunning bay view. Other recommended beaches are las playas hermosas and las playas maderas – located further outside the town’s centre.
The Black Cat café
What an enchanting place. American ownership, this wonderful spot located in the centre of San Juan is without any doubt the best coffee joint that I’ve ever entered. A book lovers paradise, it’s inner decoration consists of bookshelf upon bookshelf thus creating a bohemian library cum writer’s den. The food and beverage is far flung and utterly exquisite. From “Aztec Mochas” to local delicacy dishes, each dish or beverage has a quirky, memorable name. “El Gato Negro” is to be hunted down and explored. No doubt.
What not to do
As with all places there are going to be unwise things to do or situations which should be avoided. I witnessed a few young European tourists getting into drug deals with local rogues. These characters patrol the streets in search of (forgive me) – foreign idiots. If the ‘dodgy’ looking individual approaches you and further invites you somewhere to go drink, smoke or who knows what… don’t oblige. In Central America getting involved in drugs is a careless choice to make. Criminals here don’t play games, many a tourist has been hurt, robbed or worse – through these kind of encounters. The broken-English speaking, swarthy street dweller who wants to know where one comes from and furthermore what one does for fun… is not an amigo to make. Keep your wits about you, if partying is your ‘thing’ – San Juan is teething with nightlife. The party hostels for starters! This is a safe town and few of these fellows exist. Don’t seek them out. Stay safe!
This was written as part of a diary I kept back in 2016.