San Juan del Sur is Nicaragua’s main beach resort. With a population of about 10,000, it is more reminiscent of a sea-side village than a resort. San Juan is located a few hours from Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, in the South West of the country about an hour or so from the Costa Rican border.
Although the main beach at San Juan del Sur is a pretty horseshoe shaped bay, flanked by tall cliffs, like all town beaches, it is not particularly clean. However, North and South of San Juan are a series of very unspoiled beaches with either very little, or no development whatsoever. These beaches can be reached only by private taxis from San Juan, or by one of the organized buses/trucks that run several times daily from the main guest houses in town (about $5 return).
The main draw to the area is undoubtedly the surfing. A steady stream of surfers arrive in San Juan with boards at the ready, hoping to catch whatever the Pacific throws at them. Generally people either stay in San Juan del Sur and make the daily beach shuttle trip, or stay at one of the ‘surf camps’ at Playa Maderas – an unspoiled beach about 10 KM north of San Juan famed for its beach break.
San Juan del Sur is now firmly on the backpacker circuit, and with plenty of other activities available in the area – from turtle-watching trips, to horse riding, ATV driving, Spanish classes, fishing, and of course partying – it is sure to develop massively in the next ten years.
Whether you’re a beginner or more advanced surfer, because of the many varying beaches in the area, there will usually be somewhere suitable for you around San Juan. You can hire a surf board for about $10 a day, and lessons vary from between $10/hour and $30/hour depending on who you choose.
I liked San Juan so much, I went back and spent Christmas there surfing. The first time I stayed at "Crazy Dave’s" Surf Hideout on Maderas beach, but he was so obnoxiously loud he drove us away (more about that later). The second time I stayed in San Juan itself, in Hospedaje Don Wilfredo (right next to Big Wave Dave’s), which was a small, friendly, locally-owned hostel about 50 metres from the beach with private rooms for $4 & $5 a night – about half the price of a dormitory room in Casa Oro which all the younger backpackers seems to flock to like headless chickens. Must be the improved mating potential?
San Juan del Sur is probably less than half the price of Costa Rica, and you pretty much get the same in terms of surfing and lifestyle. In fact, having now also been to several Costa Rican beaches, I’d say the beaches around San Juan del Sur win hands down.