San Juan del Sur – City Guide for Nomads and Expats

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua.

 San Juan del Sur is located on the Pacific side of southern Nicaragua, near the border with Costa Rica. It’s a nice, cheap little beach town with a relaxed surfer vibe and a great nightlife. The town is very touristy due to its popularity as a favorite vacation and surfing spot amongst Canadian, European and American expats. Many people visiting San Juan are travelers on their way down to Costa Rica. San Juan del Sur is so close to the Costa Rican border that the international airport in Liberia, Costa Rica is actually closer (1.5 hour drive) than the airport in Managua. The town is 2.5 hours (140km) south of Managua.  The town boasts a high degree of walkability, great surfing, infamous nightlife.

POPULATION: 16,000

 

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WEATHER

Tropical (22-28 °C).

 

MUST DO ACTIVITIES IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR

The must to activity is hiking to the Christ of the Mercy Statue, a gigantic statue of the Man himself overlooking the city. Walk is a bit long but doable.

 

EXPAT COMMUNITY IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR

San Juan del Sur is a major vacation spot for Canadians and Americans both young and old. Walking around, you’ll see Canadian flags hanging from balconies and in the streets. Canadians are far the most likely nationality you’ll meet, however there are plenty of Americans, Nicaraguans, Costa Ricans, Australians, Argentines, and Europeans in the city. Many businesses in town are run by long term expats who have come to call San Juan home.

 

THINGS TO DO IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR

The must to activity is hiking to the Christ of the Mercy Statue, a gigantic statue of the Man himself overlooking the city. Walk is a bit long but doable.

Take a boat tour! Boat tours run daily and take people along the coast for five hours with a resting period of one or two hours during the trip that permits swimming in the water and hanging out on a beach. You’ll enjoy amazing views of the coast and spectacular sunsets.

Continue on traveling to Costa Rica! You can drive to San Jose, Costa Rica in 5-6 hours.

 

RENT AN APARTMENT IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR

You can split a house with a few surfers for $100 a head.

 

BEST BARS & NIGHTLIFE IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR

5.5/10

The nightlife is San Juan is really good and quite cheap. No bars will be charging cover unless there is some sort of special event going on. Not a ton of options for nightlife in San Juan del Sur. Almost entirely a tourist/stay-cationer hippie/surfer bar scene. That’s not to say it isn’t fun, it just gets stale.

My Latin Life recommends:

Nacho Libre: A burger joint/bar that’s good for getting the night started. You can even bring your own alcohol and post up for a while.

Loose Moose: Canada themed bar that serves poutine and caesars, as well as $1 tequila shots. Typically a fun spot with good music. They also have the famous shot challenge, 15 seconds, 5 spicy shots, and a free t-shirt if you succeed. 

Parlour: One of the newer spots in the city, it’s a bit of a classier bar. It’s on the same street as Loose Moose and Nacho Libre, so you can at least stick your head in and check out the crowd.

El Social: Good happy hour, great food. 

Iguana Bar: Located right on the beach, this bar is a pillar of the local nightlife. Popular bar among tourists and locals alike. Great for happy hour and sunset.

Arribas Bar: Located right on the beach, this bar is one of the bars on the Sunday Funday pub crawl. They usually have a DJ going so expect more of a club type atmosphere. It really gets busy around midnight.

LIT: The best of the late night places. it’s kind of a bar/club combo. They have a popping dance floor, cages, stripper poles, swings, and a relaxing back patio. 

 

BEST CAFES IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR FOR NOMADS

Luckily for the digital nomad types, there are many cafes with wifi in San Juan del Sur.

My Latin Life recommends:

La Tostaderia: Good wifi and comfortable seating.

Café Indio Del Sur: Great coffeeshop by the park.

Ding Repair Cafe: Good wifi and cool vibrant space.

The Art Warehouse: It’s not really a warehouse. It’s a good restaurant/cafe with wifi and lots of tables.

Cafe Cicada: Honorable mention – this cafe near Playa Amarilla is way out of town but has great wifi.

 

WHAT IS SUNDAY FUNDAY IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR?

Sunday Funday is a big, weekly hostel bar crawl that attracts hundreds of people (mostly foreigners) predominantly in the 18-30 age demographic. It kind of feels like spring break in Florida.

The crawl starts at 12 PM at Pachamama hostel. The Sunday Funday festivities then move to Hotel Anamar a few hours later (~4 PM) and then The Space in the evening (~6 PM) before ending at Arribas Bar (~9 PM). On some weeks, Naked Tiger is included as a location. If you are staying in one of the hostels you may get discounts on tickets. It’s about 20 USD to join the crawl, which includes transportation to and from any of the locations outside of the town. Wristbands for the crawl are sold at the host locations or can be bought online.

 

IS SAN JUAN DEL SUR SAFE?

Safe. San Juan del Sur is pretty chill. There have been reports of theft — where there are tourists there is theft, but it is often caused by carelessness, drunkenness or otherwise. Violent crime is not common.

 

BEST BEACHES IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR

San Juan is on the Pacific side , so don’t expect the beaches here to like those in the Caribbean. Here the sand is a little rocky, the water is chillier, and the winds stronger. Thus, the beaches in the area are better suited for surfing than swimming. While there is a beach in San Juan, you are better just hopping on a cheap shuttle and visiting the nicer surrounding beaches.

Playa San Juan del Sur is a decent city beach, but I don’t like how the river flows down into the middle of the beach, polluting the whole bay.

Playa Nacascolo is a next-closest beach to the town. It’s close enough to be walkable, but definitely feels more ‘untouched’.

Playa Marsela is a little further from town so you may need a taxi or shuttle to get there. This beach also has a river flowing into it, so it’s not my favorite either.

Playa Maderas is probably the nicest beach in the area. The beach is busy and the water is full of surfers.

 

BEST HOSTELS IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR

There are several hostels in the area and not all are located in the town itself (i.e. The Space). If you go the hostel route, I’d strongly advise picking one within the town due to the convenience and freedom you gain, especially if you plan on going out at night.

My Latin Life recommends:

Naked Tiger Hostel: Pillar of the party hostel community. Location up on the hill about 10 minutes from town, the hostel has a beautiful view of town. There’s a bar and even non-guests can come up to party. It has been noted that  isn’t really operating as a “party hostel” anymore. Send us a message if you have more info.

Puk’s Palace: Another spot up on the hill right across the street from Naked Tiger.

Pachamama: Party hostel one block away from the beac, it’s located right in the middle of where all the bars are. This place is part of the Sunday Funday bar crawl, and rivals naked Tiger as the top party hostel in town. They have privates and dorms, and throw good parties on Thursday and Friday. The vibe at Pachamama is a bit more upscale than Naked Tiger.

Surf Town: Solid hostel a few blocks from the beach. Somewhat far from the bars, so it’s more of a quite hippy hostel.

Surfing Donkey Hostel: Nice facilities, not much of a party hostel. Located near Surf Town, this is a quiet hostel for if you want to wake up early and surf.

Casa Oro: Lowest quality facilities of the hostels recommended. 

 

COST OF LIVING IN SAN JUAN DEL SUR

GROCERIES

Milk (1L)=$1.30   Loaf of Bread= $1.25   Eggs= $2.40   Water (1.5L)= $1.00   Cigarettes= $1.25

TAXI

$1.00 but you shouldn’t really need a taxi unless you want to check out nearby beaches.

LARGE BOTTLE OF BEER

$1.00

HOSTEL DORM BED/NIGHT

$6.00-$10.00

 

JOB OPPORTUNITIES

Teach surfing.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

What I’m sure was once a cool surf town is rapidly being overrun with tourists, many of whom don’t even surf. San Juan del Sur is good only for a few nights stay if you’re not there to surf. Similar feel to Montanitas, Ecuador for those that have visited there. Overall a great little town if you like partying or surfing. You’ll be able to enjoy beachside living here for a fraction of the cost of similar beach towns in Costa Rica. San Juan del Sur will surely grow among the nomad and expat communities in the years to come.


OVERALL RATING: 6.25/10


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