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Nicaragua is the largest Central American nation and has stunning landscapes, vast cultural treasures, and an intriguing history. Until recent times Nicaragua was unfortunately known for the civil war (Sandinistas and Contras) that raged from the late 70s through much of the 80s. Today, the soldiers and guerrillas have given way sightseeing in a beautiful country. From strolling the cobblestone streets of colonial Granada on Lake Nicaragua, to exploring one of the many volcanoes, Nicaragua has something for even the most seasoned traveler.
 
138km (86 miles) S of Managua; 96km (60 miles) S of Granada; 215km (134 miles) S of Léon
 
San Juan del Sur used to be a sleepy little Pacific coast hamlet, until it was discovered by backpackers and surfers as the perfect spot to hang a hammock and enjoy a rum-colored sunset. It is now Nicaragua's top Pacific coast destination for foreign visitors, and its pioneering blond-haired wave riders have gradually given way to silver-haired property seekers. Retirement homes are beginning to dot the surrounding hillsides, and upscale hotels are appearing along the coast. There is now even the occasional cruise ship idling in the bay.
 
San Juan del Sur is a small beach town located on a semi-circular bay, just 20 miles from the border with Costa Rica. With a population of just 18,000 people, most of whom are involved in fishing or operating businesses that cater to the tourists that find the town's surf and its vibe so appealing. San Juan del Sur's economy is based on tourism--it's a favorite haunt of surfers and ecotourists from North America and Europe. The town is also a draw for Managua residents who come on weekends.
 
San Juan del Sur's tropical climate is almost always sunny, hot and humid. There are two seasons in San Juan del Sur: the Dry Season, which lasts from November through April, and the Rainy Season, which lasts from May through October. It's hot and humid in the dry season, and hotter and even more humid during the rainy season. Ships arrive here either before or after Panama Canal transits. As a rule, the cruise lines visit San Juan del Sur from late October through April. In 2015, San Juan del Sur is slated to host around 28,000 passengers sailing on 17 ships,
 
Where You are Docked
Smaller cruise ships may be able to dock and large cruise ships anchor in the bay, and passengers are transported to shore aboard your ship's tenders. You'll land on the dock at the south end of the bay, where a small band greets you with Nicaraguan music. Here you'll also find a small group of vendors hawking their wares of locally-made craft items, ersatz cigars and post-dated bags of coffee. It's a 5 minute walk from the dock to the center of San Juan del Sur. If you're going on a shore excursion, you'll board your transportation at the dock.
The Taxi Cooperative of San Juan del Sur charges US$0.70 to anywhere in town, US$1.50 for colectivos to Rivas. Each driver has a list of set rates for other destinations, including Morgan’s Rock (US$20), Playa El Coco or Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor (US$40), El Ostional (US$50), the Costa.

Bus service to the beaches depends very much on road conditions – if you’re here in the wet season, you may find it drastically reduced (or even cancelled). There is regular bus service from the bus stop in front of the market to destinations including the following:
Managua (expreso US$3.30, three hours, 4:30am, 5am, 5:30am, 6am and 7am; ordinario US$2.50, four hours, 8am to 6:15pm, at least hourly). 
Northern beaches (US$1, two hours, 10:30am and 1pm) Service to Toro Mixcal, Playa Nacascolo, Playa Marsella, Playa Maderas (Los Playones), Majagual, Playa Ocotal and Rivas.
Rivas (US$1, 40 minutes, 5am to 5pm, every 25 minutes)
Southern beaches (US$1, two hours, 1:10pm, 3pm and 4:30pm) Service to Empalme de Remanso, Playa El Coco, Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor and El Ostional; returning buses leave El Ostional at 5am, 6am and 4pm.
 
You can take a bus to Rivas and then onwards to Managua or Granada. Taxis are also available. It is advisable to take a tour if you don't want to stay in San Juan Del Sur. While San Juan del Sur played a supporting role during the California Gold Rush era today the town is a Mecca for surfers and eco tourists. It's an easy going place, where life goes on in the town much as it has for a hundred years, but with high technology making it more accessible to the gringos. You can watch sports events taking place as you enjoy a meal in one of the cafes, and surf the internet via a Wi-Fi connection after a day of surfing on the waves.
 
Since your trip to San Juan del Sur may be the only time you'll ever spend time in Nicaragua, and you'll be spending most of that time in transit between San Juan del Sur and Granada or Masaya or to Lake Nicaragua for a full day's adventure, just sit back and enjoy the hospitality of the Nicaraguans that you meet. They're wonderful and hospitable people, and the country is a beautiful place. It's just a pity that their government has so ill served them over the years.
 
Things To See and Do
The main attraction in San Juan Del Sur is the beach. You can find shops and beachfront restaurants along San Juan Del Sur's main street. There is a small market by the bus terminal and shops in the area. San Juan del Sur has little of historical significance to see except the town's old clapboard houses and its simple wooden church, Parroquia San Juan, on the main plaza. The Lighthouse, a 1-hour trek south of the town, is also worth a visit. You must follow a trail behind the town dock until you turn right. This site has a spectacular view of the sea and coast. Below it, there is a pelican nesting area. On the northern side of town is an excellent petroglyph by the river depicting a 1,500-year-old hunting scene. To walk there, take the road to Rivas and turn left after the bridge. Continue walking until you reach a farm where water pipes lead you to the river. Be sure to ask permission, as you must cross private land. Otherwise, contact Da Flying Frog (tel. 505/8613-4460; tiguacal@cablenet.com.ni), which can include a trek to the petroglyph in their canopy excursion. Farther up the river is a small waterfall.
 
San Juan del Sur's other main attractions are the beaches and sea, though it must be said, this is not the Caribbean. Contradicting what many property-developer brochures may show you, the water is not turquoise clear, and the beaches here are not dazzling white and lined with endless palm trees. There are lots of water activities to be had, though.

Christ Statue
From town, follow the main road along the beach until you reach the suspension bridge to cross the river. Walk to the paved road and turn left at the sign indicating you need to go five blocks. You will need to jog over left one block and continue uphill til you reach the gate for the Pacific Marlin development, keep going uphill or take a shortcut up the stairs. Continue around the back of the statue where you will need to pay to enter. Entry $2 USD (Jan 2012)

Hiking - There are a couple of fun day hikes around San Juan del Sur. One option is a hike to the lighthouse on the top of San Juans southern headland. The hike to get there takes about 2 hours round trip. Walk to the south end of town to the main port gait. Go through the gate and into the port. Near the new building there is another gate where the trail starts. Follow the trail up the hill, fork right and keep going until you reach the lighthouse. A second option is a shorter hike out past the port to the southern tip of the bay along the water. Keep an eye on the tide and walk on as far as you desire.
 
Granada
Granada - a small town with colonial architecture. Located amidst the astonishing landscape of volcanoes and lakes, this historic city founded in 1524 features ornate Spanish churches, colorful colonial houses and a vibrant central market.

Rivas
Settled by the Spanish in 1522, this popular beach town features beautiful colonial architecture, a museum of pre-Columbian art and a stunning view of volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua.

Lake Nicaragua
Named "La Mar Dulce" by Spanish conquerors who believed it to be a sea, this massive freshwater lake features a lush volcanic chain, many beautiful islets and thousands of species of exotic plants and animals.

Masaya Market
The smell of spices, drama of barter and extravaganza of color all greet you in one of the biggest markets in Central America, offering the best value in local arts, crafts and culture.

Volcanoes
Masaya Volcano - an active volcano which last erupted in 2003. Nicaragua is often referred to as "the country of lakes and volcanoes." When you look at a map, you can understand why.

Las Isletas
Formed by the volcanic activity of nearby Mombacho Volcano, this archipelago of 365 little islands located in Lake Nicaragua abounds with exotic wildlife and can be enjoyed by a scenic boat cruise.

Apoyo Lagoon
In the center of the Nicaraguan Pacific coast, in the middle of the long volcanic chain which runs through the country from north to south, there is a wide and extended crater in a form of an inverted cone, and in the center of it there is one of the most beautiful lagoons in Nicaragua: the Apoyo Lagoon.
City of Managua
Capital of Nicaragua and its largest city. Situated on the southwestern shore of the Lake Managua or Lake Xolotlán.
 
Canopy Touring -- Had enough of surf? Fancy tearing across the tree tops at 70 kmph (43 mph) Da Flying Frog (tel. 505/8613-4460; tiguacal@cablenet.com.ni) specializes in an epic 3.2km (2-mile) canopy ride through the forest that is easily the best in the country. It all takes place on a ranch a small distance from the town on the Chocolata Road. Here, you do a quick tutorial before climbing a hilltop by jeep, where you get a great view of the bay. Sixteen cables connect 17 platforms, the longest of which is 300m (984 ft.). The excursion costs C660, including a pick-up in town. Trekking and horseback riding are also available.
 
Fishing -- The coast offers excellent sea fishing, with marlin, yellow tuna, sail fish, and snapper all available to catch. The best time of the year to fish is April to November. San Juan Fishing Charter (tel. 1-936/522-6723; www.sanjuanfishingcharter.com ) has a boat called the Aquaholic that you can rent for a half day or full day for C9,900 or C13,200, respectively.
 
Sailing -- San Juan del Sur's surrounding coastland makes the perfect playground for an afternoon on a boat. Hotel Pelican Eyes (tel. 505/2568-2110) organizes excursions on a 14m (46-ft.) sailboat starting at C760 for a half day and C1,520 for a full day. Action Tours (tel. 505/8843-8157; www.actiontoursurfnica.com) combines cruising, fishing, and surfing. A full-day trip costs C3,420.
 
Surfing -- San Juan del Sur has become San Juan del Surf, and you will find many boarders testing the waves on the beaches north and south of what has easily become the surf center of Nicaragua. You can catch good waves all year round but particularly in the rainy season, from March to November, when waves can get as high as 4m (13 ft.). The two big inland lakes ensure there is a constant offshore breeze. The water is warm, averaging 77°F (25°C), but can cool considerably from December to April, when a wetsuit top is a good idea. Beginners are advised to go in the dry season, when the weather is more amenable and the waves average between 1 and 2m (3 1/4-6 1/2 ft.). Some of the best breaks are accessed by boat only. Playa Madera to the north has two left and right breaks and an increasing selection of surf camps. It can get crowded on weekends. Panga Drops is a reef break just north of Playa Madera that can be accessed only by boat. Playa Tamarindo is probably the best of the beaches south of the town, having a long wave with left and right breaks. Hardcore surfers should go farther north to lose the crowds. Here, a series of beaches are world famous amongst surfers, especially Popoyo. Beware of surfing etiquette on each beach, where certain waves are left to the locals to ride and it is considered bad form to hog, especially if you are a beginner. Boards can be hired in town at Arena Caliente, beside the market (tel. 505/8636-1769; www.arenacaliente.com) for C220, and lessons are on offer for C700. This outfit can also help you with a lift to the beach for C95. Dale Dagger's Surf Nicaragua, 1 block inland from the Mercado Municipal (tel. 505/2568-2492; www.nicasurf.com), is one of the better-established surfing outfitters, offering excursions and weeklong all-inclusive packages for $1,500, including accommodations. It's best to write or call in advance to assure your spot.
 
Eating Out
Like any beach town, San Juan del Sur has its fair share of reveling vacationers enjoying rum and doing extensive research into whether they prefer Victoria or Toña beer. Yet the town's nightlife is pretty sedate and civilized, with just a few bars along the beachfront and two all-night discos. Iguana Bar, half a block north of El Velero restaurant (tel. 505/2568-2085), attracts a lively young crowd of locals and visitors. It is on the beachfront and has a bar upstairs and downstairs. Bar Republika (no phone) is a small street bar located a half-block west of the Mercado Municipal.
 
Club Sunset, in a green clapboard house on the waterfront (no phone), is open for all-night dancing Friday and Saturday. It has outside seating if the mixture of salsa and reggaeton blaring inside gets to be a little too much. There is a cover charge of C50. Bambu Beach Club (tel. 505/2568-2101) hosts DJs and bands at its lounge overlooking the beach on the northern end of the bay. At the northern end of restaurant row on the waterfront is a sports bar called Smokey's (no phone) that has bamboo walls, a pool table, and some TV screens to watch the latest game. Crazy Crab Beach Club (no phone) is a rancho-style disco at the northern end of the beach that packs in both locals and expats every weekend with DJs and occasional live music.
Buddha’s Garden -- The first and only raw, vegan, vegetarian restaurant in Southern Nicaragua. Serving “farm to plate” organic, meals, juices, smoothies and deserts in a garden setting. You can also find natural products like essential oils, organic teas and raw foods.
Location: South of the Central Park, Hours: Daily from 9:30 – 8pm
Jugoso serves authentic Spanish food along with amazing vegetarian and seafood dishes, sandwiches and salads. They also have great daily “backpacker” specials and traditional paella on Saturdays.
Location: Beachfront road in South San Juan del Sur -- Hours: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Closed Monday.
Bambu Beach -- Mixing Asian, Italian and Nicaraguan influences, this modern beachside hangout has some of the best food and coolest tunes in town. There’s also a book exchange (two for one) and a tiny swimming pool. A great spot for a beachside cocktail.
Location: Beachfront road in San Juan del Sur. Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner. Closed Tuesday.
Banana Hamacas -- Fresh and healthy juices, smoothies and dishes made from locally sourced produce. The majority of our produce comes directly from local sources. Flavors include Asian Fusion, Caribbean and Mediterranean. Location: Main road in San Juan del Sur by the casino
Hours: Open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, closed Tuesday.
 
Shopping
San Juan del Sur doesn’t have malls like you would find in Managua.  If you want to go to a larger mall, you’ll have to go to Managua, which is two hours away.  We have an artisan market and places where you can buy clothing, mainly the kind you would wear around the beach or casually.
More recently, there are many mom and pop types stores that sell jeans, shoes, beach clothing, etc. There are several small supermarkets and now a larger supermarket. The shopping in San Juan del Sur is pretty much what you would expect in a smaller beach town.

Besides some itinerant boys selling ceramics and some tourist shops selling T-shirts and tat, there is not much to browse in town. Galeria del Sur Art Gallery (tel. 505/2568-2453; www.galeriadelsur.org) is the only art store in the area, displaying local art, as well as running workshops and art classes. It is located a half-block south of the market and is open weekdays 9am to 7pm, Saturday 9am to 5pm, and Sunday 10am to 3pm.






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