Our visit to San Juan del Sur was our first taste of Nicaragua. Located a short 3 hr drive (including border crossing), from where we are currently based in Costa Rica, San Juan del Sur felt like a perfect getaway to relax and unwind. Little did we know that this little town would quickly become one of our favourite destinations!
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How to Get to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
If you are trying to figure out how to get to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, the odds are that you are traveling by public transport. The alternative to public transport is hiring a taxi, which is much more expensive and is not the most eco-conscious option.
For information on getting to San Juan del Sur by bus, see the most popular routes below:
Granada, Nicaragua to San Juan del Sur
To get to San Juan del Sur from Granada, you can take a direct shuttle for about $29, or you can take a shuttle to Rivas for $25 USD and then take a bus to San Juan del Sur. Ultimately, you’ll only be saving a couple of dollars that way, though. For a cheaper option, you can also take a bus to Rivas, and then to San Juan del Sur.
Leon to San Juan del Sur
From Leon, you can get a shuttle directly to San Juan del Sur, and it will run you roughly $25. Alternatively, you can hop on a minibus in Leon to Managua, catch a taxi to Mercado Roberto Huembes, get on a bus to Rivas, and then finally catch a bus to San Juan del Sur. That option will likely only run you around $11 USD, though it’s much less direct and takes a lot longer.
Costa Rica to San Juan del Sur
You’ll start out in the city of Rivas before getting to San Juan del Sur. Rivas is a transport hub in Nicaragua, near the Costa Rica border.
Most travelers arrive in San Juan del Sur by bus, as a direct bus leaves Rivas roughly every half hour. It’s about 45 mins ride to San Juan from Rivas and about 2-3 hrs from Granada. Taxi is another option for those looking for a more comfortable ride. Expect to pay around $10-15 USD from Rivas and $50-60 from Granada. A lot of travelers, we included, also arrive in San Juan del Sur from Costa Rica by crossing the border at Peñas Blancas. It’s a quick 30 min ride from the border by car or by bus.
How to Get Around San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Once in San Juan del Sur, you can easily get around town on foot; it isn’t very big, so it’s not a daunting stroll. There are shuttles running from the centre of town to the surrounding beaches every few hours with prices ranging from $5-15 USD for a return trip, and most of the beaches farther to the north and south can also be accessed by boat or taxi.
If you do want to venture out a bit further and explore, we highly recommend renting a scooter or an ATV. We found the vehicles in decent condition, but none of them came with any sort of insurance. For the sake of your peace of mind, double-check your travel insurance coverage before you go.
Things to do in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
We arrived in San Juan del Sur on a late afternoon, the sun glimmering through the taxi window as we made our way from the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border. It was a Wednesday night, not the busiest party night of the week, but we still expected it to be rowdy. After all, party town is exactly what we expected San Juan del Sur to be.
San Juan del Sur first popped onto our travel radar in December of last year when some fellow travelers that we met in Costa Rica couldn’t stop raving about the Naked Tiger Hostel and their massive Sunday Funday Pool Crawl, an afternoon/night of heavy drinking, dancing, and debauchery around hostels and bars in San Juan del Sur. They even mentioned something about a Wednesday Funday… Needless to say, we were expecting San Juan del Sur to be buzzing every night of the week.
But San Juan del Sur felt surprisingly quiet and laid back. Locals were sprawled out on the chairs outside of their homes gossipping away with their neighbours. Latin tunes echoed from inside the little shops and restaurants. Within 20 minutes of being there, we felt a familiar vibe.
Later that evening, we met up with our friends for dinner and a few drinks and ended up wrapping up the night watching a local dance show in the middle of the street just along the beach. San Juan wasn’t bumping that night. There were no bucket cocktails, no drunken tourists stumbling around the streets, and no vendors peddling souvenirs on every corner. It had all of the good we remember from S.E.A. and none of the bad.
The next morning we were off to enjoy the best of San Juan del Sur’s day-time activities. As it turned out, there was no shortage of them.
Without a doubt, one of the best things to do in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua is to spend a day (or a few days) checking out the beaches just outside of town. Don’t be fooled by the beauty of Playa San Juan del Sur, that’s not the best of it.
When it comes to the best beaches, Nicaragua has more than a few contenders. Daily shuttles run between the town centre and some of 10+ beaches sprawling North and South of San Juan del Sur town central. Playa Hermosa and Playa Maderas are by far the most popular ones, followed by Playa Majagual and Playa Marsella.
Return tickets to and from those beaches will set you back by $5-10 USD per person, but, of course, the flexibility to come and go as you please isn’t quite there when you rely on shuttle buses. We considered it but opted for a different option.
Renting an ATV/Scooter
There’s no shortage of things to do in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, and there are a few different ways to explore. It wasn’t hard to find ATVs for rent in San Juan del Sur and at $75 for the day, they offered a pricey, but a much more fun alternative to shuttle service.
ATVs and Motorcycles for rent in San Jun del SurArmed with a dinky map that we picked up at the Tourist Info Centre, we were off on our day of beach hopping. Riding around on scooters wasn’t just a cheaper more fun alternative, it gave us the flexibility to visit whatever beaches we wanted and stay at each one for as long as we wanted! We left at 11am and got back around 4pm having seen 3 out of the 4 most popular beaches.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua beaches are some of the best you can find, but we’ve narrowed things down a bit.
Playa Hermosa (Beautiful Beach) is a private beach (you have to pay $3/pp entry fee to get in) but it boasts a beautiful longshore, white sand and lots of shady areas. There is a bar on the beach where you can get drinks, food, and a place to sit down. Hermosa looked like a great place to learn how to surf, proven by a number of surfing lessons going on at the beach during our visit.
Playa Maderas is the surfing hot spot that features the country’s most well-known and consistent surf break. The beach was also good for swimming (watch out for those surfers though) and excellent for relaxing, playing beach volleyball, bocce ball, or just chilling at the restaurant people watching with a 2 for 1 passion fruit daiquiris in hand.
Playa Majagual was the most off the beaten path of the 3 beaches. There was hardly anyone there, but the little restaurant at the end of the beach serves cold beers, snacks, and offered a great view of the ocean. It was a great place for swimming (quick drop off, we love those), but had absolutely no surf. That was ok with us.
Hike to the Christ of Mercy Statue
We got back from the beaches just in time to hike up to the Christ of Mercy Statue for sunset. Luckily “the hike” was a rather manageable ascent up a fully paved road that took no longer than 20 mins. No hiking shoes required!
The view from the top was spectacular! The statue overlooked the entire Playa San Juan del Sur, the marina, and the nearby hills.
Unfortunately, the sun set right behind the statue, on the opposite side of the beautiful view of the town, so while it was still lovely, it kind of missed the mark for us. We think it would have been better to head back to town and watch the sunset from the beach.
Entrance fee = $2 USD
Exploring the Town
We spent a few hours every morning exploring the colourful town of San Juan del Sur. Every street was lined with cool wall art, restaurants and shops were decorated in bright designs, splashing the town with a zest of life.
Shop at the Municipal Market
There is a small but interesting Municipal Market tucked away behind a line of small shops just off Avenida Gaspar Garcia Laviana. It’s a good place to find some fresh produce along with some trinkets and cheap souvenirs. It was open until 4pm daily, so we managed to pop in for a look before one of our beach days. Nothing overly exciting, but a great place to grab some cheap local breakfast.
There are also a couple of cool little boutiques with unique eco-conscious clothing, jewelry designs, and lots of surf gear. Apparently, Chelo 28 Surf was the first surf shop in town, but now there are tons of others. Check out ChicaBrava, and our personal favourite Auric.
The Party Scene
Despite our first impression, we quickly learned that there was no shortage of parties going on in San Juan del Sur throughout the week. Whether you prefer day drinking or night time affairs, there is something here to suit everyone’s taste.
5 years ago a booze cruise would’ve been the first thing on our to-do list, but this time, we hesitated. The Canadian owned, Loose Moose bar offered a daily booze cruise at $55 USD /pp for 6 hours of drinking, sun, and a visit to Playa Blanca (another good beach just south of San Juan del Sur). It sounded like fun, but we wanted a bit more than free beers and fellow drunken backpackers. Upon further investigation we found out that the booze cruise doesn’t stop at any other beaches, offer any snorkeling, fishing, or other activities. It really was all about the drinking, so we didn’t jump at the opportunity.
Nica Sail & Surf offered another alternative for a fun day in San Juan del Sur with their $75 USD/pp Playa Blanca Beach Cruise. This cruise did offer fishing and snorkeling, and, supposedly, has been known to serve delicious ceviche on board.
On top of that, there were a ton of little 4-8 person private boats to be hired for a private 2 hour fishing, sailing and sunset cruise with prices starting at just from $25 USD pp. They may be BYOB, but offered a great budget alternative.
We toyed around with so many of these party cruise options, but, in the end decided to trade in partying for another day on San Juan del Sur’s amazing beaches. The younger versions of us probably rolled their eyes at how “boring” we were, but we loved our time in San Juan sans booze cruise. Maybe next time.
Sunday Funday and the Alternative
Sunday Funday Pool Crawl is why so many people come to San Juan del Sur to start with. An early morning (we hear you have to line up at 9am to get on the list) and $15 ticket will get you into one of the best parties in all of Nicaragua.
The alternative is a day outing that we learned about from O’Shop Surf Shop. The party, promoted by O’Shop along with the Surfing Donkey Hostel, takes you to another secluded beach during the day where drinks are served, fish is caught, and a beach bonfire keeps the party going well into the night. A great option for those who may not fancy the idea of getting smashed drunk.
On top of the booze cruise, the Loose Moose also puts on a few great pub crawls in San Juan del Sur. The biggest ones happen on Tuesdays and Thursday around 9pm and take you to a variety of bars all over town.
Live Music and Trivia
And if that’s not enough or if you, like us, happen to be in town on odd nights, pop into La Carreta Bar y Restaurante on Monday nights, check out “Trivia Night” at Republika or Poker Night at Big Wave Daves on Tuesdays, “Name That Tune Trivia” on Fridays at Republika, or listen to some live tunes by the local band, Los Pobrecitos, frequently spotted at Big Wave Dave’s, Black Whale and Popoyo.
Big Wave Daves Bar
Best Restaurants in San Juan del Sur
If San Juan del Sur feels like too much of a party town for you, don’t worry, there is plenty to do here for those looking for a more healthy way to spend their days in San Juan.
We ate at a variety of fantastic restaurants. Highly recommended are:
- Simon Says Smoothie Bar: offers, as the name implies, a selection of smoothies, along with more standard meals. They have vegan- and vegetarian-friendly options, as well as gluten-free options.
- The Loose Moose Canadian Pub: for Canadian poutine and Caesars
- La Lancha: for great fresh seafood (try their lobster and seafood soup) that won’t break the bank
- Barrio Cafe: is a top tier Latin restaurant, with a menu friendly to vegans, vegetarians, and those who can’t have gluten.
- Margarita: for delicious traditional Nicaraguan food. Note the place now has a new name and new management, but all the locals still know it as Margarita. Ask around for directions.
In addition, there was another great spot that we didn’t get to, called Buddha’s Garden, open 9-4:30 Monday through Saturday. They serve up good vegetarian fair and smoothies that local expats rave about. We anticipate that vegan/vegetarian foodies will love this new space. Find it inside Zen Yoga.
Speaking of yoga, Zen Yoga is another spot that we are putting on the to-do list for our next visit to San Juan del Sur. The studio offers 2-3 drop-in classes per day (schedule here) for just $10 USD/class (packages are also available). There are supposedly a few other yoga spaces in the area, including Nosara Yoga Institute, and Maderas Village.
If you are planning to be in town for a while, or like us planning to definitely come back and do more, then you’ll probably find yourself wondering what to do in San Juan del Sur. There are lots of other activities to keep you occupied in San Juan del Sur, so you won’t need to think too hard about it. Horseback riding, fishing, mountain biking, ziplining, and turtle watching are just some of the activities advertised in town.
We spent 3 days in San Juan del Sur, but that didn’t seem nearly enough time to experience all the things to do in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua that we had been looking forward to. The truth is we barely did anything but relax on the beaches and enjoy cheap Toña beers, cocktails, delicious meals, and awesome sunsets.
Luckily for us, San Juan del Sur is just 3 hours away from our home base in Costa Rica and makes for a great destination for those pesky visa runs. We can’t wait to return!
Where to Stay in San Juan del Sur
When looking for a hotel in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, we suggest staying in town to take advantage of being able to explore on foot. San Juan del Sur doesn’t have a lot of 4-5 star accommodation options right in town, as it is still more of a backpacker destination, but there are lots of great hostels (that offer private rooms), and bed & breakfast accommodation options to choose from.
Of course, when it comes to accommodation, San Juan del Sur hotels on the beach can still offer plenty of guilt-free luxury.
- Morgan’s Rock: is a hacienda and ecolodge in San Juan del Sur, less than a mile from a private beach. This hotel in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua has a pool, a restaurant, and a playground on-site, and the bungalow has a private terrace with a fantastic view of the mountains.
- Playa Hermosa: is a San Juan del Sur ecolodge with a fully Nicaraguan staff, who also help care for turtles and other local fauna. The site is built completely of wood, and it relies largely on solar energy, to help make sure the beautiful green surroundings stay that way.
- Costa Dulce: is an ecolodge that also offers yoga, surfing lessons, and massages, among other activities. The resort has its own beautiful beach and a sea turtle nursery, and the staff are open about their commitment to sustainable tourism.
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