San Juan del Sur is a very popular destination in Nicaragua, for good reason! It is a small, colorful beach town that hosts many locals, expats, and lots of backpackers. It is a GREAT place to meet like minded people, or just to have fun and enjoy yourself in a social setting.
For many travelers, the town is used as a place to pass through. For others, it is a home base. I believe the reason that SJdS remains to be a popular place to visit and stay is because of the sense of community it has to offer. Upon arriving, you will immediately feel welcomed in by the bright and lively atmosphere of the town, and the people who call this place home.
Arriving to SJdS
I always love arriving to new places at night. Although it’s important to have some sort of plan or pre-arranged accommodations, it always makes the first “real” day so much more exciting when you wake up.
However, arriving into the Managua airport past 7 PM really limits your options in terms of transportation to other cities, so it is important to have your wits about you and not plan on just hitting the hay.
You can choose to strike up a deal with the local drivers at the airport, or you can book transportation in advance, planning for around 2-2.5 hours of travel time to get to San Juan del Sur. This option tends to be slightly more expensive, as no buses run past 7 pm and most drivers are not out and about past that hour.
For a private transfer from MGA airport into San Juan, it’ll cost you anywhere between $70-$85 at night. During the day you can easily take a shared shuttle, costing around $30, or if you’re up for an adventure, you can take a local “chicken bus.”
The buses will be the longest routes, seeing as they will make many stops along the way, and it is nowhere near the most comfortable option. BUT, if you’re looking for an experience and to save some cash, the chicken bus is the best option for you.
Where to Stay
In terms of places to stay, there are many accommodations centrally located in the heart of SJdS. Ranging from resorts, hotels, local home stays, to hostels. Although SJdS often has many touristy activities and events, the streets tend to quiet down after 10 pm, with the exception of a few areas along the northern end of the beach, so I didn’t experience any problems with noise staying in the city center.
I stayed at Casa Oro my first few nights in town. This is a hostel with dorm rooms as well as private rooms, centrally located 1 block from the beach. It is open and inviting, and is constantly hosting travelers staying long term or just passing through. The restaurant offers fantastic food, as well as nightly happy hour specials on drinks in the bar. There are also daily yoga classes every morning at 8 am, and every evening at 4:30 for sunset yoga.
If you want to explore the nearby beaches, Casa Oro has shuttles that will take you to and from the beach. Playa Maderas is a beautiful coastline and is great for surfers or those just wanting to get away. Being only about 15 km away, you can easily spend just a few hours in Maderas, or you can spend a couple of nights there to get out of the “city.”
I stayed in a homestay that was listed on Airbnb called Casa Dunia. It was a lovely cabin with a loft and 360 views of the trees. Providing a full kitchen as well as a hammock and a giant king bed upstairs. It was a 4 minute walk down to the beach, and a few minute walk up the hill to another great, fancier spot – Maderas Village.
A little out of my price range, but a very affordable commune on the hilltop, with ocean views, a full service restaurant and bar, and a yoga shala.
Although wonderful to be able to have such a nearby, secluded place to enjoy – there is also no need to “escape” the city of San Juan del Sur! There are many activities to do for very little money and without the hassle of having to arrange transportation. Not to mention, you can walk everywhere! No hassle of taxis necessary if you stay in the heart of the town.
Here are a few other places I’d recommend to stay in San Juan del Sur:
- Budget – From $15 USD – this cozy family run accommodation has received consistently good reviews for years due it’s excellent hospitality and central location.
- Mid Range – From $30 USD – Casa Andalucia has comfy bungalows featuring an infinity pool overlooking San Juan – perfect for cooling off when the power if out (which is often). Watching fireflies dance about as the sky darkened was an unforgettable experience.
- Luxury – $$$ – Bungalows are kind of the thing in Central America. The bungalows in this 5 Star Ecolodge are more like luxurious villas.
Things to do in SJdS
One wonderful sight to explore by foot is the church at Parque Central. Near the park, there is also a farmers market called Mercado Municipal that goes on everyday from 9am-4 pm selling everything from towels and clothes to fresh fruits and fish.
If you’re looking for a little more than a stroll about town, you can check out the Christo de la Concordia, otherwise known as the statue of Christ. Situated on top of a hill, is one of the biggest statues of Christ in the world, providing an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean and the town. The entrance fee is US$2 for foreigners.
There is a paved road that winds its way up the hill past million dollar homes to the statue. From the center of town, the drive takes approximately 5 minutes and the walk takes about 30 minutes each way. This is a slightly grueling trek, so come prepared!
The actual hike up is quite a short distance, but it has a steep incline. Don’t forget your water and a hat… And be prepared to feel your quads burn! The view is worth the sweat. 😉
If you’re wondering where to go to find the statue, you truly can’t miss him! Christo can be seen from anywhere in San Juan del Sur. After your hike, if you are looking for a body of water (other than the beautiful bay) to jump into, check out Pelican Eyes Resort & Spa.
Although far out of my budget, this resort is by far the most stunning in SJdS. If you love feeling pampered and living like a king/queen – book a private cabana here for a night or two! For paupers such as myself, I walked up to the resort multiple times a week to sip on a smoothie, jump in the pool, and enjoy the impeccable view.
Pelican Eyes also offers yoga and fitness classes in their “Butterfly Garden.” That’s right – enjoy a peaceful class in a covered, shaded tent that serves home to hundreds of butterflies.
Check out my next blog for the best yoga classes in SJdS that you can’t miss out on, as well as my favorite “healthy eats” of the town (plus one or two not-so-healthy spots to satisfy that sweet tooth.)
The Traveling Yogi