San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
Famous for it’s waves and great surfing San Juan Del Sur has attracted a lot of attention recently. With the new Survivor TV show filming there interest is at an all time high. As someone who isn’t a surfer, and has no interest in surfing I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in town from nearby Ometepe Island. Traveling with a newly made friend who had a tight budget we headed straight to the only hostel in town we had heard of and it was booked full. We were directed over to a different one across the street.. which was pricier for a tiny room with plywood walls and a bug infestation. It wasn’t 5 minutes before the owner’s offered us cocaine, which would happen more times than I could count during the 2 days we stayed in town.
With no A/C and sweltering heat the first thing we did was head out to the beach. The beach is nearly a mile long and has a near perfect crescent shape. Turns out all the waves and surfing go on outside of town because there just isn’t much surf here. The sand is rough and the water isn’t very clear or pleasant, certainly not your ideal swimming location but the water is warm enough. It’s dotted with overpriced restaurants and a large amount of loud and unconscious drunkards, even for Central American standards.
In case you haven’t gotten the hint by now – San Juan Del Sur was turning out not to be a favorite place of mine. The city is tiny and dirty, the accommodations and food overpriced, and there really isn’t much for a non-surfer to do. With that said – we did what any couple of happy-go-lucky guys would do – we made the best of it before moving across the border to Costa Rica.
What To Do In San Juan Del Sur (The Non Surfer Guide)
Walk to the Christ of the Mercy Statue – perched high up on a prominent large hill across from town is a huge statue of Jesus Christ (the biggest in Central America, and one of the 10 biggest in the world). From town the walk takes roughly 30 minutes each way – crossing a neat miniature version of the Gold Gate Bridge along the way. There wasn’t much in the way of signs and we actually didn’t turn at the right place.. after asking several locals for directions we finally found the right way and started the long walk uphill. It’s a steep walk that burns the calves, you’ll feel as if someone is punishing you if you’re hungover from the night before. Entry costs $2 (USD) and upon entering you’re rewarded with spectacular views of the town and ocean below.
The statue is neat but only takes a few minutes to walk around and check out. We decided to stay put until late afternoon, wanting to catch the sunset. That was the best decision we made as it was truly a sight to behold – beautiful enough that it makes worth visiting the town for a day justified. You won’t want to go alone as the walk back after dark is fraught with danger. If you are solo shell out the money for a cab ride or visit during the day. There are numerous reports of seasoned travelers being robbed in this city at knife point in the night and it’s just not worth the risk.
Where To Eat
There are a few highly rated and nice breakfast/coffee spots in town. We ventured into the famous El Gato Negro coffee shop/bookstore – a favorite of expats and tourists. It was a pretty good breakfast and nice atmosphere to relax at.
Later in the day and in search of a good meal we tried avoiding the mediocre beach restaurants and instead wandered through town until a brightly colored building caught our attention. We entered El Bocadito and were greeted in English. As soon as I got a glimpse of the menu’s Spanish tapas I was excited to add some new variety to the diet! The chef didn’t let us down and we devoured every bite of the tasty morsels brought out to the table. So delicious it was that we both ordered a second round of tapas and busted the budget for the day.
I was happy to have made a new friend with whom I could hang out with and experience new places for a couple weeks before parting ways. The new element to my mostly solo days of traveling had made what would’ve been an otherwise OK time a great one. Feeling like we’d seen the best of what San Juan had to offer we hopped in shuttle and headed off for a new country!