San Juan del Sur, on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, is well known as a backpacker hotspot for partying. The infamous Sunday Funday pool/bar crawl having a lot to do with this fame. It’s also popular with surfers for the nearby beaches which are meant to be amazing.
Not so interested in getting wasted in a developing country while travelling solo, I originally had no intention of visiting. However, as travel plans changed, I decided to squeeze it in and check it out. After all, it was meant to be stunning.
As it turns out, I LOVED SJdS!
As the story seems to go, the transit from La Fortuna Costa Rica to Nicaragua via public transport was a bit of an adventure.
I was in the company of six other travellers (4 Austrian,1 German, 1 Israel) also heading to the border, which was reassuring. They all spoke English and half spoke Spanish. I was very happy to have a little group like this ahead of a possibly tricky border crossing.
We sat together and chatted about many things including travel (of course), religion and politics, religion in general, work, study etc. I was impressed by their language skills (one girl speaks 4 languages), political and historical knowledge that they possessed. It was also eye opening to hear perspective on issues in Europe & the Middle East from people directly affected by it all.
The five hour bus trip went really quickly. Just before we stopped at the border though, things got strange. First of all many people were walking along the road in groups and then we saw a massive group of people camping out. I was told that these people were refugees from Cuba. I was later told that they were from the Congo, had made it to Brazil & worked their way up. Apparently they were trying to make their way to Mexico or the US where they could have a better life. They would get to Costa Rica and would be taken care of. I think they may receive food and water, health care if they need. However, Nicaragua would not receive them. Thus the mass camping at the border. Further along the road, some police officers got onto our bus and took a good look around, checking for refugees, we were told.
The bus began to slow and about 20 people (not the refugees) started running after our bus. We rushed to the back of the bus to grab our bags, before the group running would have a chance to when the bus stopped. The group were money exchangers and taxi drivers. They flooded the exit doors, doing anything to get our attention. After many polite, ‘no, gracias’s’ we organised ourselves first at the exit payment station, then at Costa Rica immigration, then at Nica entry payment, then at Nica immigration. It was a similar process to what I had experience going to and from Panama, so I was feeling pretty calm, especially being in a group.
We got a bus towards SJdS which dropped us at an intersection. I noticed several military personal posted along the way. I felt safe in their presence but had curious thoughts about why they might be there.
Without walking five minutes, a white pick up stopped by us and offered a lift. They were four gringos, typical surfer guys. We jumped into the back of the pick up with our gear, looked at each other and mutually agreed, this is wicked!
Blue skies, green landscapes, the volcanoes of Ometepe looming in the background, the breeze of the open air – it was pretty awesome!
As we drove into SJdS, I was surprised by how clean it was. The road going in was better than some I’d been on in Costa Rica. I reminded myself that this was because it is a major tourist area and I can’t expect the same for the rest of the country.
And that is why I travel, to find out and see for myself. Because the images in my head, constructed by blogs, social media, guide books, traveller’s stories and more than anything, my imagination, are more often than not met with reality.
After being dropped off in town,Merle and I found a hostel right in front of the beach. Perfect location!
We took a walk around town, got some money organised and had lunch together.
First impression of SJdS was great, it has a really cool vibe to it. Yes, there were some drugged up/drunk/both people stumbling around, but everyone was friendly. I noticed many more women and children hanging about on the streets, rather than just groups of men like in Costa Rica. This was a good sign to me.
We sat on the beach, along with many others, to watch the sun set. And what a sunset it was! Absolutely stunning, constantly changing colours. Green hills and Christ the Redeemer keeping watch.
I chilled in the back courtyard with the resident cat, then had some epic – EPIC – tacos in the attached Mexican restaurant. These tacos changed my life and understanding of Mexican food. Five little (mini) soft tortillas filled with I don’t know what, but ALL of the good things that make my taste buds twerk. I made a mental note to try my best not to lose my mind when I eventually get to Mexico.
The full day I had here I planned to get my fitness on. After a few days of minor illness, I was ready to get back into it. I woke up with the sun and went for a 5km run, first along the beach, then through a couple of quieter streets, up the main road then back. It was pretty quiet, mainly locals about.
I did a HiiT workout in the hostel courtyard and finished in time to make it to a yoga class at Zen yoga. The class was a bit different to what I’m used to, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. My body needed it!
After breakfast, I set off to see the Christ the Redeemer statue which is on top over a hill overlooking the beach. The walk up the hill starts at the beach and goes through some streets of mainly resorts, fancy houses and some bars. It was very steep & I’d worked up a sweat (for the third time that morning) quite quickly.
At the statue, there were epic views of the whole town and beach area. It was super sunny and hot at the top.
The descend down was pretty easy and quick. I checked out the market then made a bee line for Buddha Cafe for my lunch. The cafe is attached to the yoga studio I went to that morning. I’d seen the menu and knew I had to return for some healthy & delicious food. I was not disappointed!
After lunch I spoke to Dante for a bit. He’s in Paris now & has an awesome couple of days already. From his pics, it looks gorgeous and part of me wishes I was there with him. It kinda feels weird talking while he is away as well. I miss him so much and looking forward to when we are adventuring together again.
I spent some time reading on the beach and chilling out. The weather was perfect for this!
I’m stoked I decided to check our San Juan del Sur. It’s more than just a party town, it has lots to offer & I had an awesome time.
Next stop is Isla de Ometepe, an island of two volcanos!
Until then, happy adventuring!