San Juan Del Sur.
I should start out this post with a bit of a confession.
Before I even went there, I was ready to hate San Juan Del Sur.
I read way too much online and spoke to too many people before we went there, and I got the wrong impression of San Juan Del Sur.
In my mind it was a rowdy party town on the beach. Jam packed with drunk backpackers taking over the beach by day and the bars by night.
I mean…it’s the home of Sunday Funday! That tells me everything I need to know, right?
I came here expecting to do 2 days, maximum.
I stayed for a week, and could happily have stayed for another.
My expectations of this great little beach town were not only flawed, they were ridiculous.
So this post is my little apology to SLDS. This is my olive branch. My complete guide to San Juan Del Sur. So you can see what the place is actually like and avoid making the same mistaken expectations that I made.
An Introduction To San Juan Del Sur
This awesome little beach town is so much more than what you’ve heard.
You’ll most likely feel that as soon as you step off the bus onto its surprisingly quiet streets with their chilled vibe and rustic surf town style feel.
You can definitely still find the party if you look for it, don’t get me wrong.
You wouldn’t even need to look hard.
My point is that it’s not in your face.
What is in your face are cool little food shacks, an awesome fruit and veg market, multiple supermarkets, a nice beach and heaps of great small guest houses and hostels to choose from.
It’s a well developed beach hub that has everything you’ll need, but doesn’t really feel that full of people.
Overall it’s just a very nice and easy place to while away a few days and avoid doing anything too strenuous.
One of the other nice things about the town is how easy it is to get from there to the numerous small beaches that are dotted up and down the coast from San Juan Del Sur in either direction. If you have the time you could literally spend weeks exploring them all. But more on that later.
Where To Stay In San Juan Del Sur
Before you get started exploring, you’re going to need a good base. A comfy bed, a kitchen and somewhere to dump the bags.
We stayed at a few different places while we were in town. Here’s the very best ones.
Price: $26 US per night for a private double (no dorm room options)
I’ve stayed at a lot of hostels over the years. This is one of the very best of them.
It was the perfect base for us during our time in San Juan Del Sur and we would have loved to have stayed longer.
It’s definitely not a party place. It’s a very relaxed, quiet and beautiful hostel with unbelievable views from the open air kitchen and common space.
All the rooms have king sized double beds and great bathrooms attached.
Baba, the owner, keeps the place immaculately clean and he’s a great host.
If you’re heading to SJDS and looking for a quiet place to relax for a few days, check this place out.
Lorena Surf Hostel
Price: $24 US per night for a private double (no dorm rooms available)
Another gem of a find just a 2 min walk from the town center.
Fairly basic and nowhere near as luxurious as Buena Onda, but it has everything you need, it’s cheap, it’s small and quiet and the owner is awesome.
Oh, and they do a really good free breakfast! I’m a sucker for a free breakfast. It’s just nice not to have to think about food at that time of the morning and just be able to have multiple coffees and a good feed to get you started for the day is a major winner.
It’s a self cook, self serve kind of setup, but the options are great. The owner keeps the kitchen very well stocked with fruit, juice, eggs, bread, coffee and occasional other bits and pieces.
It’s also small enough (only 3 rooms at the moment) that it still has a homely vibe to it, and the owner will often come and sit and chat away the morning with you. She’s super friendly and will give you heaps of great info about San Juan Del Sur.
Her husband runs a free surf lesson every Sunday for the local kids and he’s really passionate about giving back and helping to train the next generation of surfers.
We’re terrible surfers and our Spanish is even worse than our water skills, but we went along one Sunday to help him out and coach some of the kids and saw how hard he works. And the kids seem to love it.
If you’re in town on a Sunday and don’t fancy the usual Sunday Funday session, head down to the beach and go find him. He usually has a marque just outside the Eskimo ice cream place on the beachfront at 3pm every Sunday.
Cost: Dorms from $10 US per night
If quiet and chilling isn’t really your thing and you’re looking for somewhere with a little more going on, you wont go far wrong with Casa Oro.
It’s a little more of a party place, right in the middle of town and a really popular spot for solo travellers.
The bar/restaurant downstairs is a really social place where you can meet plenty of chilled out beach lovers and surfer types. And there’s always someone who’ll join you for a beer!
The hostel also organise daily shuttles to and from many of the other popular surf beaches up and down the coast (more on this later) and it’s a great hub to explore from.
Things To Do In San Juan Del Sur
Hike To The Christ
It’s the one landmark you can’t miss.
Wherever you are in town or on the beach, look up and you’ll see the giant Jesus statue on the cliff top overlooking everything in the bay.
Turns out Jesus is enjoying some pretty sweet views from all the way up there.
The good news is that you can enjoy them too. And it’s not as difficult a climb up as you might think.
Head down to the beach and start walking towards the statue.
You’ll need to cross a small river that runs into the sea there, but it shouldn’t be more than about knee deep.
After you cross, keep an eye out for an alleyway on your right. You’re going to need to turn down there. From that point onwards there are heaps of signs showing you the way up to the Christ, but basically it’s a left, right, left and then straight up the hill.
It’s quite a steep hike, but really it shouldn’t take you more than 15 mins from the alley to the top. So not too strenuous at all.
And well worth the effort of getting up there.
On a clear day from up here you can see the coast of Costa Rica stretching out into the distance.
Eat Ice Cream
The gelato stand across the road from the beach has the most unbelievably good ice cream.
And the guy who runs the joint is super friendly.
Go say hi to him and sample his delicious flavours.
The ice cream is a little pricey but it’s a great treat after a day of lounging at the beach in the sunshine.
Ahhh…it’s a hard life in San Juan Del Sur.
Try The Pizza Cone
Sticking with the food theme for a while longer, you have to try “the pizza cone place”.
I’ve no idea what the legit name of the business is, but if you’re walking up the side road from the beach that leads to the market, you’ll spot it. There’s a sign outside advertising their pizza cones.
Head straight in, don’t even bother looking at the menu and order the blue cheese one.
The woman who owned one of the hostels we were staying in recommended it to us and it’s easily one of the best eats I’ve had there.
Enjoy The Swimming Pool At Pelican Eyes
Pelican Eyes is a very upmarket, fancy hotel nestled up in the hills just outside of town.
Rooms start at $200 a night and in Nicaragua, that’s about as luxurious as price tags get.
Luckily for those of us who aren’t millionaires with cash to burn, they’re also pretty cool about letting non hotel guests enjoy the facilities.
You can head on up there and grab a beer from the bar and be free to enjoy the great swimming pool with it’s insane views out over the bay down in San Juan Del Sur.
The perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Learn To Surf
A trip to San Juan Del Sur is all about the beach life. And the beaches here and nearby offer some of the best surf in the world.
The town itself is actually built on surfing, and it’s one of the main reasons why the place is such a popular spot for travellers and tourists.
Like all good surf spots, there are no end of surf schools and instructors waiting to show you the ropes and get you shredding those first waves.
Pop into any of the surf shops around town or just take a wander down the beaches and take your pick of schools.
Surf camps are also popular around here if you have more time to spend and are serious about learning to surf.
Catch The Sunset
There’s something about sitting on a beach after a long hot day of relaxation and watching the sun go down with a cold beer.
Sunsets here in San Juan Del Sur and the surrounding beaches are especially awesome. Like this one we watched on a beach near Playa Maderas.
If you’re in SJDS and it gets to that time of day, head down to the sand and watch the sun dip down behind the horizon and Jesus Hill.
Many of the bars along the beachfront have happy hours around this time of the day with $1 beers – Iguana was a favourite of ours – or you can even take your own and enjoy them for free in the sand.
Not a bad way to round off a good day.
If you want to try a good seafood place while you’re in town (of course you do) head to La Lancha.
Their fish is cooked really well and is super fresh and tasty. It’s only a small place with around 10 tables, and it gets busy. So if you want to make sure you get in you’ll want to go early.
It’s not expensive and is actually fairly well priced.
I tried ceviche for the first time here and loved it.
Exploring The Surf Beaches Around San Juan Del Sur
The beach in San Juan Del Sur is great.
But it’s nearby beaches and coves are really what this place is all about.
Luckily, many of the surf shops and places in town run shuttle services between SJDS and the surrounding beaches multiple times per day.
Because they’re so accessible, most people choose to stay based in San Juan Del Sur and use the shuttles to get to the surrounding beaches on day trips.
Having said that though, some of the more popular ones do have accommodation options at the beaches if you’re keen to stay a bit closer to the action or if you’re looking for a break from SJDS for a couple of days.
Here’s my pick of the best beaches that you’ll want to check out while you’re in town.
Shuttle cost: $10 return per person, entrance fee included ($3)
Hermosa is easily one of the most picturesque of the many beaches that dot their way along the shore here.
Also, because it’s accessed via a private resort, the facilities are outstanding.
Hammocks and sun loungers on the beach, heaps of games like a volleyball net to keep you entertained and a long, spread out beach.
If you’re just getting started learning to surf, this is the beach you want to be on.
The waves here generally seem smaller than other beaches and a bit more beginner friendly. The other nice thing is that the beach is very well spread out, so you can easily take a little walk further down and pick a spot to practice in without too many other people getting in the way.
Shuttle cost: $5 return per person
We actually ended up renting a cheap airbnb and staying here for a couple of nights.
The actual Mederas beach is tiny.
And thanks to the beach side hostel and a small handful of bars and surf shacks dotted around, there are lots of people here all looking to enjoy the surf.
It’s pretty crowded out there and not really the kind of conditions I’d want to be surfing in personally.
Having said that, when the tide is out you can walk around the corner and discover some much quieter coves and beaches off to the right.
In our few days there we found a couple of great beaches which were far less crowded than the main one. One time we actually had the beach all to ourselves for the afternoon. Our own private little beach! Just for the extra little bit of walking effort. Perfect.
If you’re keen to stay here a little while and explore it more, check out the hostel down by the beach. They’ve got $10 dorm rooms. Or do what we did and find yourself a cheap airbnb. Our guide to getting the most out of airbnb should help when it comes to finding a cheap room. There are lots of expats building homes in the hills around here and renting out their spare rooms and you can find some good deals if you look around.
Shuttle cost: $5 round trip per person
This is another popular day trip from SJDS, although unfortunately we didn’t get the time to check it out while we were in town.
By the time we heard about it we’d already been in town for a week (longer than the 2 days we’d planned to spend here) and it was time for us to press on with the rest of our trip.
This is another great beach for surfers who are just starting out as the waves are a bit more forgiving here.
It’s also only a short 15 min ride from SJDS and gives you great views of the extended coastline South into Costa Rica when the weather is clear.
Full schedules for all of the busses can be found here http://casaeloro.com/shuttles-beaches-and-beyond/
Over To You
Have you been to San Juan Del Sur? What were your favourite spots and things to do there? Let me know in the comments below 🙂