San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua- Surfing painting

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua: Top Things to Do in This Beach Town

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You know that feeling when you stumble upon a place you never intended to visit, but it ends up becoming one where you have so many great memories? That’s exactly what happened to me with San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. I was just trying to do a quick visa run from Costa Rica, but before I knew it, Nicaragua had won me over and become one of my favorite countries in Central America.

From surfing my first wave to catching up with old friends and exploring every corner, I had an absolute blast in Nicaragua. And San Juan del Sur was my home base for it all – it’s the kind of place that just sticks with you. In fact, it left such a lasting impression on me that I think it deserves its own dedicated article! So, let me tell you all about why San Juan del Sur should be at the very top of your Central American bucket list.

Rain or Shine, San Juan del Sur is Always Divine!

If you’re anything like me, you like heat and enjoy even more a destination when it’s sunny. So, what can you expect in terms of weather? Well, San Juan del Sur is blessed with some seriously amazing weather year-round. Even in the middle of winter, you’ll still feel like you’re basking in the sunshine.

The average lower temperature hovers around a comfortable 80 degrees Fahrenheit (or 26 degrees Celsius) pretty much all year. That says it all! But, if you’re looking to avoid the rain, you might want to plan your visit during the dry season, which runs from November to April. During this time, the sun is shining bright and the beaches are calling your name.

However, the rainy season, from May to October, can be just as beautiful, with lush green landscapes and dramatic thunderstorms. Plus, the rain never lasts long!

Selina Hostel in San Juan del Sur

When it comes to surfing, the Pacific Ocean is calmer and more consistent during dry season. But there are still plenty of great surfing spots to explore during the rainy season. In fact, lots of surfers even prefer the rainy season, when the bigger swells and offshore winds can create some truly epic surf conditions.

Fun in the Sun: The Best Things to Do in San Juan del Sur

So now that we are relieved when it comes to the weather, what about the best things to do in San Juan del Sur? I must say, whether you’re a thrill-seeker looking for an adrenaline rush, a nature lover wanting to explore the great outdoors, or simply looking to relax and soak up some sun, San Juan del Sur has something for everyone.

#1 Catch some waves

Surfing is the bomb in San Juan del Sur! This town is one of the best destinations for wave-riding, and it even hosts surfing competitions. Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or just starting out, San Juan del Sur has waves for everyone. With several surf schools in town, it’s easy to rent a board and take a lesson if you’re a beginner. And even if you’re not a pro, catching a wave in these waters is an experience you don’t want to miss.

In fact, San Juan del Sur is where I surfed for the first time. As a complete beginner, I struggled to stand up on the board, but the feeling of riding that first wave all the way to shore was nothing short of amazing. I can imagine how hilarious it must have been to watch my wipeouts, but it was all part of the experience.

Playa Maderas is one of the most popular surf spots in the San Juan del Sur area. It is known for its consistent waves and laid-back atmosphere, and it is a favorite among both locals and tourists. The beach itself is beautiful, with soft sand and clear water. It is located down a bumpy dirt road and can be difficult to access, however there are daily shuttles organized from town to make it easier for visitors to get there.

#2 Relax on the beach

Whether you’re looking for a peaceful escape or a fun day out with friends and family, San Juan del Sur has a beach for everyone.

  • Playa Hermosa: As its name suggests, this beach is beautiful, with soft sand and crystal-clear water, and it’s located a short drive from town.
  • Playa Remanso: Another popular beach, perfect for surfing but also relaxing.
  • Playa La Flor: This beach is located within a nature reserve, and it’s a nesting site for sea turtles. Visitors can watch the turtles lay their eggs and hatchlings make their way to the ocean, but it’s only open during certain times of the year.
  • Playa Coco: A nice beach that’s perfect for swimming and lounging in the sun, away from the crowds of the more popular beaches in the area.
  • Playa Yankee: A secluded beach that’s a bit more off the beaten path. The waves are great for surfing, but there are also plenty of areas where you can swim or just relax on the sand.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua beach

#3 Explore the town

Wander through the colorful streets of San Juan del Sur. Appreciate its impressive street art, immerse yourself in the local bohemian culture and experience the laid-back lifestyle that this town offers.

In the central area of San Juan, you can find a variety of affordable restaurants, cafes, and bars, as well as souvenir shops and boutiques selling locally made goods.

Want to brush up on your Spanish? Check out the different language schools available. San Juan del Sur is a budget-friendly destination that offers plenty of affordable opportunities to discover new things.

#4 Watch the sunset

The town is blessed with some of the most beautiful and mesmerizing sunsets in the world. As a sunset lover, I can assure you that you won’t want to miss them.

Grab a cold drink, head to the beach, and watch the sky light up in spectacular colors. Whether you’re alone or with friends, it’s the perfect way to end your day. The best part? You can do it every day and still be amazed every time.

#5 Ride an ATV

If you’re looking for a thrilling way to explore San Juan del Sur’s beautiful surroundings, then renting an ATV is the way to go! You’ll feel like a total badass as you zoom along the rugged dirt roads that wind through the lush jungles and beaches.

Renting an ATV is easy and not too too expensive – at my time, it was around 50 euros a day – with plenty of rental shops in town. You can explore the area on your own or opt for a guided tour that will take you to all the best spots. One of the most popular ATV routes is to the beautiful Playa Hermosa beach.

#6 Visit the Jesus statue

As you make your way through the vibrant town of San Juan del Sur, a visit to the Christ of the Mercy statue should definitely be on your itinerary. This towering statue is an iconic landmark of the town and provides panoramic views of both the ocean and the town below. It stands at 134 meters (77 feet) tall and is among the tallest Jesus statues in the world.

To reach the Christ of the Mercy statue, there are two options.

  • The first one is to walk along the beach to the northern end and climb up the steep steps that are located there.
  • Alternatively, you can walk through the neighborhood and follow the road that leads almost all the way up to the statue, just keep an eye out for the signs. The road is steep, but you can even drive most of the way uphill if you prefer.

#7 Day trips: Ometepe and Granada

From San Juan del Sur, you can take a day trip to Ometepe Island or Granada! It’s easy to reach them by local transport or shuttles if you’re feeling fancy.

Ometepe Island is a volcanic island floating in Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. The island’s twin volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas, make it one of Nicaragua’s top natural attractions for adventurous travelers who also want to relax.

If you prefer the hustle and bustle of a colonial city, check out Granada. It’s only about 2 hours away and totally worth the trip! With its colorful architecture, historic landmarks, and vibrant culture, it’s like stepping back in time. If you want to extend and are looking for a cool place to stay, don’t miss Hostel Oasis – great location, cool activities and amazing staff – I can personally recommend!

#8 Partaaay

Are you in the mood to party? San Juan del Sur is famous for its lively nightlife, so get ready to have some fun! There are plenty of bars, clubs and hostels to choose from, whether you prefer sipping cocktails with your toes in the sand or dancing until dawn.

Make sure to join the legendary Sunday Funday, a weekly pool crawl that takes you to the best bars and pools in town. I was lucky enough to be there for the reopening after COVID and it was epic! You get to drink, meet people from all over the world, and enjoy the sun in a festive atmosphere. The party starts at Pachamama Hostel, a great place to stay with its pool, beach location, and tons of organized events. Tickets are $25 and include a tank top, entrance to the bars, free shots upon arrival, and transportation. Book your ticket in advance to make sure you don’t miss out!

Want to know more about San Juan del Sur’s party scene and other party hotspots beyond Europe? Check out the best party destinations outside Europe.

Sunday Funday, San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. Best party destinations around the world

Insider Tips

Get the most out of your stay in San Juan del Sur with some insider tips and personal recommendations. You’ve read this far, so let’s make your experience absolutely unforgettable!

Where to stay in San Juan del Sur

With plenty of accommodation options to choose from, San Juan del Sur has something to offer for every budget and preference. From upscale resorts to budget-friendly guesthouses, hostels, and Airbnb rentals, you’re sure to find a comfortable and convenient place to stay.

If you’re looking for a party atmosphere and chill vibes, PachaMama Hostel mentioned earlier, is a great option. It’s located super close to the beach and offers private rooms as well as dorms, with a pool and lounge chairs for guests to relax in.

I also stayed at Selina Maderas Hostel which offers a stylish and colorful design, with an on-site bar, yoga deck, co-working space, swimming pool, and common areas for games and live music. It is a bit outside of town but its close proximity to Maderas beach makes it ideal for surfers.

For a more luxurious experience, there are many upscale resorts and boutique hotels, with stunning ocean views and world-class amenities. Whatever your preference and budget, San Juan del Sur has something to offer for everyone.

Pachamama Hostel San Juan del Sur

Where to eat in San Juan del Sur

As a food lover, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of dining options in San Juan del Sur. Whether you’re in the mood for traditional Nicaraguan cuisine (rice, beans, plantains, and meat or fish) or international flavors, there are plenty of options for you.

If you’re a seafood lover, be sure to try the fresh catches and ceviche at the beachfront restaurants. I personally recommend La Lancha, where I ate at least three times during my stay.

For those looking for something different, head to the town center for international options like sushi, pizza, and Mexican food. Dale Pues is a great spot for delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Pizzeria San Juan serves up amazing Italian food, while Simon Says is a quaint breakfast and lunch café nestled in a lush garden of plants and pieces of art.

I also had cheap and tasty burritos at an amazing little Mexican-style shop, but I cannot seem to remember the name. If anyone reading this knows, please leave it in the comments!

How to get around San Juan del Sur

Getting around San Juan del Sur is relatively easy. Renting a car or scooter is an option if you want to explore the area on your own, but keep in mind that the roads can be bumpy and difficult to navigate at times.

Taxis are readily available and a convenient option for short trips around town. If you’re on a budget, there are local buses that run between San Juan del Sur and other areas.

Daily shuttles are also organized to the different beaches, so that can be another option depending on your needs.

To access Nicaragua, the country is served by an international airport in the capital city of Managua. From there, it takes about 2-3 hours to drive to San Juan del Sur. Local buses may take longer, but that’s part of the adventure!

If you’re coming from neighboring countries, such as Costa Rica, you can take a bus (+walk) or hire a private shuttle to cross the border into Nicaragua. I have crossed it twice, and it was quick and easy!

Two people having fun in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Final Thoughts on the Best Things to Do in San Juan del Sur

And that’s the story of how San Juan del Sur charmed me! With its exciting activities, food options, party scene, and surfing spots, this coastal town is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling in Central America.

So, if you’re interested, plan your trip to San Juan del Sur and get ready to make unforgettable memories! Whether you’re a surfer, a foodie, a digital nomad, or just someone looking for a new adventure, San Juan del Sur has something for everyone. Who knows? The town might just captivate you, like it did me and so many others.

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