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After nearly four years of perpetual traveler, I know what I like, and what I like are beach towns. San Juan del Sur charmed me to my core, and I might still be found swinging in one of its hammocks had a much-anticipated festival in El Salvador not nudged me to move on after more than two weeks there. While the town is known primarily for its party scene, I found there was so much more on offer. Here’s what kept me entertained in my favorite corner of Nicaragua.

Sunset in San Juan del Sur

Yoga

Zen is San Juan del Sur’s one and only yoga studio, and I found myself there almost every single day for a class, a massage, or a smoothie from Buddha’s Garden, the onsite raw vegan restaurant. The open-air, second-story sala reminded me how grateful I was to be somewhere I could take an outdoor yoga class, and I found myself springing out of bed for the 8:30am class often. Drop-in classes are pricey at $8, but packages are available. Massages are similarly expensive at $40 per hour, but I didn’t regret the one I splurged on in the slightest. The third Wednesday of every month, Zen does something called Vinyasa Vino, which I’m gutted didn’t overlap with my stay — an evening Vinyasa practice with live music followed by, you guessed it, wine!

For the non-yoga inclined, San Juan del Sur does have two simple no-frills gyms (both that women will feel comfortable in) and the beach and the road to Maderas are ideal for running.

Zen Yoga, San Juan del Sur

Buddha's Garden, San Juan del Sur

Beach Hopping

The beach in San Juan del Sur is nice for a sunset stroll or watching a local volleyball game, but it’s not the best for swimming. For that, catch a shuttle to nearby Hermosa or Maderas or beyond.

While I meant to check out Hermosa, Maderas kept calling me back. It’s a classic Pacific coast beach in all its wild, untamed beauty. Maderas has a scene all its own with accommodation, yoga classes, board rentals, and a few beach front restaurants.

Maderas Beach, Nicaragua

Maderas Beach, Nicaragua

Maderas Beach, Nicaraguaalways time for a beach dog selfie

Maderas Beach, Nicaragua

Maderas Beach, Nicaragua

The best thing about Maderas? The sunsets — the perfect setting for a bit of spontaneous acro-yoga practice.

Sunset at Maderas Beach, San Juan del Sur

Yoga San Juan del Sur

Acro Yoga at Sunset

Catamaran Rides

I gasped when I saw posters for $75 catamaran cruises around town — one of the most expensive activities on offer in Central America. But when I was spontaneously invited along with a group of new friends, I couldn’t help but say yes. And by the time I disembarked that evening, I was buzzing, and not just from the unlimited rum punches. It was one of my favorite memories from San Juan del Sur, and well worth every cordoba! So good, in fact that it deserves a post of its own.

San Juan del Sur Catamaran Trip

Nica Sail and SurfPhoto courtesy of Adventurous Kate

Surfing

As I previously mentioned, I had hoped surfing would be a much more regular part of my routine before I realized that no surfing actually takes place in the peaceful bay of San Juan del Sur. Rather, surfers are shuttled out to neighboring beaches to catch a wave and spend the day by the sea. Because of my work schedule, this unfortunately meant I only got up on a board twice in two weeks. Because it had been a while since I surfed, I decided to kick things off with a refresher lesson.

There are several surf schools in town and so I based my decision on what really matters – how good looking the instructors were. I ended up at Arena Caliente, where I paid $30 for a lesson which included instruction, a board, and transport to Maderas Beach and back. The waves were small and manageable and the class had a totally different feel to lessons I’ve taken in Hawaii – much less organized, no posed photo ops, and very chill vibes. But the instructor did recognize that I had some experience and so took me out again in the afternoon for a one-on-one session, which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the day.

Surfing San Juan del Sur

Surfing San Juan del Sur

Sunday Funday

Yes, San Juan del Sur is home to Central America’s most notorious party. Sunday Funday is a weekly pool crawl that takes backpackers from one cerveza-soaked beautiful setting to another, and it does indeed get wild. This, I remember thinking, is Central America’s answer to Southeast Asia’s Full Moon Party. How brave of them to do it weekly. And how brave of me to do it twice! (Really, once would have been enough, but when Kate arrived it was my duty to accompany her, no?)

Some complain that Sunday Funday is overpriced, and spoiler: it is. A $30 admission fee gets you a t-shirt and transport and nothing else. You can cut the admission in half by staying at one of the participating hostels, or perhaps happening upon Superbowl Sunday like I did, when the party promoters nixed the final bar and therefore slashed the price. But otherwise, just prepare to pony up. For debaucherous fun in the sun with your fellow travelers, it can’t be beat.

Sunday Funday, San Juan del Sur

Sunday Funday, San Juan del Sur

Sunday Funday, San Juan del Sur

Horseback Riding

Like the catamaran cruise, this was an experience so special I’m going to have to dedicate an entire post to its awesomeness. But here’s a preview. I’ve been riding all over Central America, and all over the world — my day with Rancho Chilamate was the most exhilarating adventure I’ve ever had on horseback. Not only did we dress up like cowgirls and snack on fresh guacamole and rum (fear not, the alcohol was post-dismount) we galloped down the beach! I get chills just thinking about it.

Riding at Rancho Chilamate

Horseback Riding in Nicaragua

Partying (Non Sunday Funday Category)

Sunday Funday is a damn good time — but it’s not the only game in town. In fact, some of the most fun I had out in San Juan del Sur was elsewhere. When fellow blogger Kate arrived, we celebrated finally meeting in person with a wild night out on a Pub Crawl starting at the Loose Moose (nights of the week change, but they hold one at least once a week). Yes, the Loose Moose — San Juan del Sur has it’s very own Canadian bar. Have I mentioned San Juan del Sur is straight up full of Canadians? I was seriously like, who is watching your country up there? I’ve never seen so many concentrated in one place in my life, outside, you know, Canada. But, um, what were we talking about again? Oh right.

Nacho Libre was another small-but-mighty fun bar in which to start the night, and Arribas and Howler were fun beachside dance clubs to end the night, but Cerveceria was my hands-down favorite hotspot. The brewery is a local expat favorite where I found myself more often that anywhere else. Beer fans, mark your calendars — they offer tours and tastings every Friday.

Looking for a bite to eat before you kick off? Check out my list of restaurant suggestions at the end of this post.

Partying in San Juan del SurPhoto courtesy of Adventurous Kate

Partying in San Juan del Sur

Hiking

Lonely Planet Nicaragua lists several hikes around town. When Kate and I were itching for a laptop break one day, we went for the most convenient — the forty minute uphill trek to the lookout at the omnipresent Christ of Mercy statue. The 25 meter tall statue of Jesus is quite impressive — he’s supposedly one of the tallest in the world! — but the views over the town are even more so.

We went just before sunset and loved the soft light cast over the bay. From up above, you can appreciate how untouched the surrounding area is. I couldn’t help but wonder how long it will stay that way.

Hiking in San Juan del Sur

Hiking in San Juan del Sur

Hiking in San Juan del Sur

Hiking in San Juan del Sur

Jesus State in San Juan del SurLet he who has not selfied with Jesus cast the first stone

Other Activities

Supposedly, diving is possible in San Juan del Sur. I put my name down at Neptune Diving, the town’s one and only “dive shop” on the day of my arrival (frankly, it looks more like a t-shirt shop with a PADI sign in the corner), but I was warned that they would only take a boat out with two customers. And to my disappointment, in two weeks, no one else ever showed. I’ll certainly try again when I return though!

Other possibilities include Spanish lessons, mountain biking, ziplining, fishing trips, and, in season, turtle watching.

Jesus State in San Juan del Sur

Clearly, despite its diminutive size, there’s no getting bored in San Juan del Sur! And while the town does live up to its party-hardy reputation, there’s plenty on the docket for those more interested in seeing the sunrise from the start of a day than the end of it. For me, it was the perfect balance of both.

Which would be your first pick for a day in San Juan del Sur?

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47 Comments...
  • Amy M
    April 24 2015

    Sounds like SJDS had everything you wanted and more! xo

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Sigh. Bring me back!

  • Silvia
    April 24 2015

    Ahhh that dog selfie!!
    Silvia recently posted..Cieszyn: Two Countries, One Magical Town

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Ha, he was almost Tucker-level good at posing!

  • Kathryn
    April 24 2015

    Love the selfies with dog and god and the crack about Canadians leaving their country untended…

    As usual, love all the photos. The pattern of the surf on the sand in the “aerial” photo is so different from anything I’ve ever noticed on a beach.

    In the food photo, what is the grated mound on the left? It all looks delectable.

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      I noticed the same about the water on the beach! It was like it was cut with a fancy pair of scissors. And that mound is a raw vegan cashew nut “meat!” It was crazy how much it actually tasted like a bolognaise sauce when they had it on the zucchini pasta with a tomato sauce. They did an amazing job spicing it… probably the best (admittedly, of the few) raw vegan meals I’ve ever had.

  • Maddy
    April 24 2015

    “I was seriously like, who is watching your country up there?”

    Best line of the post! 😉
    Maddy recently posted..Eating our fill at Westward & Little Gull

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Haha, thanks Maddy. The Canadians found it less entertaining….

  • Leah
    April 24 2015

    On my agenda for my next visit is Playa Maderas, for sure. The only day I went to the beach, I ended up at Playa Remanso for some stupid reason, even though I had no intention of surfing. I mean, there may have been a boy involved. Oops.
    Leah recently posted..If You Wish to Travel Far, Travel Light: The True Cost of Baggage

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Wait… is there another reason for doing things? JK JK JK. Girl power and whatnot.

  • Kristin
    April 24 2015

    Surfing, riding, catamaran cruise, yoga – sounds like SJDS has it all! Looking forward to hearing more about the catamaran cruise and horseback riding!
    Kristin recently posted..Roasted Pumpkin Crostini

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      I called it my cowgirls and pirates day 🙂

  • Stef
    April 24 2015

    Looks like you had a great time in San Juan. Thanks for sharing your tips. I’m currently in Mexico but will travel southbound in June. I really look forward to getting to know Nicaragua.
    Stef recently posted..5 reasons why slow travel is better for you

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Nicaragua and Panama are competing for title of my favorite stop in Central America!

  • Kadri
    April 24 2015

    Love love love the horseback rinding picture.
    Kadri recently posted..Tenerife, Island of Enternal Summer + VIDEO

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      It was a lucky capture 🙂

  • becky hutner
    April 24 2015

    well aren’t you lucky you got to whoop it up by the sea with my fellow countrymen? pretty sure the gal grimacing in the glasses in that party photo is cerveca’d out.
    becky hutner recently posted..Fashion ‘Round the World: WINTER ’15

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Ha, she just makes funny faces in photos 🙂 I have plenty to prove it. (And cervezas may have been involved…)

  • Chris
    April 24 2015

    So, was the Catamaran trip in $US or in Cordoba?

    That’s possibly 1 hefty price tag!

    We too loved the views from the statue, such a stunning bay!
    Chris recently posted..I can, you can, we can, Toucan?

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Considering that would be about $3 if it were cordobas, it would then be one really cheap price tag 🙂 It was dollars!

  • Emily
    April 24 2015

    Based on the winter and (non)existent Spring we’ve had here in Toronto, I would prefer to be in San Juan Del Sur too!
    Emily recently posted..Record Store Day

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      I could definitely relate to their instinct to flee winter… that’s for sure!

  • Can we just talk about how amazing that salad looks for a second???
    Shelly @ Norway To Nowhere recently posted..We’ve joined the Liebster club!

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Raw vegan yumminess!

  • Allison
    April 25 2015

    So impressed that you’re surfing there, I can’t even manage to properly get up on the board!

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      I tend to jump off when I get on a big wave and get scared, ha. Once I learn how to fight that instinct I think I’ll be golden!

  • Love the picture of the yoga! And Wow, Sunday Funday seems awesome, but damn…$30 is so expensive! Dying to get to San Juan Del Sur. I’ve heard nothing but good things. The catamaran looks epic !
    Dave | Jones Around The World recently posted..25 Music Festivals In America To Experience Before You Die

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      It is overpriced for what it is. They could easily throw a few free drinks in there and it would seem a lot more reasonable — shame they don’t!

  • Sounds like my kinda place 🙂 I can’t to read more about the horse-riding!
    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel recently posted..Announcing My Partnership with Tinggly!

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Coming up next week 🙂

  • Julia Nix
    April 25 2015

    Is that your bearded bartender? Ahem! 🙂

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Nope, he’s been over on the other side of the world in Thailand!

  • Jessica
    April 25 2015

    Great post again, thanks for the tips! And what a coincidence that you and Kate met. I was already wondering if you’ve met other travelbloggers in Central-Amerika. The world is a small place 😉

    • Alex
      April 25 2015

      Yeah! As soon as I saw we’d both be in the region I knew it was time for our paths to finally cross 🙂

  • The cranky Traveler
    April 25 2015

    I just came across your blog. Love it!!! Great info by the way. Didn’t know Nicaragua would end up being so charming.
    Need to explore more of your blog, btw. Cheers!

    • Alex
      April 27 2015

      There is plenty to explore in the archives 🙂 Thanks for reading! And yes, Nicaragua amazed me.

  • Camille
    April 26 2015

    Is there anything you CAN’T do in San Juan? I’m impressed with all the activities on offer, and it looks like you had a great time trying them all! Oh and my mind got stuck on the avocado – I haven’t had avocado in ages and I miss it!
    Camille recently posted..What To Do in Yangon, Myanmar: 8 Things Not To Miss

    • Alex
      April 27 2015

      It is something I will miss terribly… the abundance of fresh cheap avocados here in Central America!

  • Camille
    April 27 2015

    I know! They’re rare and expensive in Asia, I miss them a lot when I’m here.
    Camille recently posted..What To Do in Yangon, Myanmar: 8 Things Not To Miss

  • Danielle Greason
    May 2 2015

    Looks like the perfect place to hang out for quality laptop breaks! We’ve had an eye on San Juan del Sur for a change of scenery from Costa Rica. It’s definitely on the list now. Love the look of the sunset atmosphere on the beach!
    Danielle Greason recently posted..Planning Your Accommodation Budget as a Digital Nomad

    • Alex
      May 3 2015

      Some consider San Juan del Sur a bit pricey, but coming from Costa Rica you’d also have the benefit of it feeling like a bargain 🙂 Definitely check it out!

  • Steven Talton
    May 24 2015

    Okay. It’s official. My next backpacking trip would be in San Juan Del Sur. I can’t believe I haven’t booked a trip to that paradise before. Well, it’s never too late, right?
    Steven Talton recently posted..German backpacker survives icy fall

    • Alex
      May 26 2015

      Never too late indeed! San Juan del Sur is waiting!

  • Michelle Donovan
    June 3 2015

    Heading to San Juan del Sur next month and stumbled on your blog, so helpful !! I can’t wait to explore and use all of your suggestions

    • Alex
      June 5 2015

      Yay! That’s awesome Michelle. Enjoy! San Juan is one of my favorites.

  • Brandon
    July 17 2015

    Ha ha no way! I’m pretty sure your “spontaneous acro yoga” was with a buddy of mine, Duncan! Small world. Also – great guide 🙂
    Brandon recently posted..Yoga Nomad’s guide: San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

    • Alex
      July 20 2015

      It was indeed! I took many of his classes at Zen 🙂

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