15 FUN Things to do in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
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Most of the things to do in San Juan del Sur involve surfing, relaxing, or drinking. How can life get any better than that really? Well, I’m here to tell you that it can! In fact, there are a ton of fun and exciting activities to do in San Juan del Sur, and in this blog, you’ll find out all about them!
San Juan del Sur is a small town and basically a tourist haven in Nicaragua. Everything is within walking distance and the “touristic vibe” makes it very safe and easy to travel. English is spoken by nearly everybody and USD is the advertised currency.
Food, drinks, and accommodation are very affordable and cater to western culture. In fact, every weekend an event called Sunday Funday San Juan del Sur brings hundreds of tourists looking to join in on one of the world’s top-ranked parties! But besides the party vibe, there is surprisingly a very relaxed vibe around town as well.
In terms of things to do in San Juan del Sur, I have to be honest, there isn’t a whole lot. Like I said, surfing, drinking, and relaxing. But what is wrong with that right? If you are ready to escape the craziness that most cities in Central America come along with, then San Juan del Sur might just be the place you are looking for.
But if you’re looking to do a bit more, then we’ve got you covered too! We’ve come up with this awesome list of the best things to do in San Juan del Sur that includes some activities I’m sure you’ve never heard of, or, never knew was possible in this small beach town!
But first…you’ll need to get there.
Getting to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
We came from Monteverde in Costa Rica and if I’m being honest, it was a bit of a journey.
Basically, when getting to San Juan del Sur by chicken bus (local transport in run-down buses) it is essential to transfer in the city of Rivas at the bus terminal. There are no direct chicken buses to San Juan del Sur from other destinations in either Nicaragua or Costa Rica.
From the Rivas Bus Terminal, it is a $1.50 USD hour-long journey and will drop you in the center of town.
Alternatively, you can book a direct private shuttle from many other popular destinations such as Managua (where the international airport in Nicaragua is located.) That’s right, there is no airport in San Juan del Sur, so you’ll have to fly into Managua and then grab a shuttle or chicken bus!
Heading to San Juan del Sur from Costa Rica? Check out our Costa Rica and Nicaragua border crossing guide for all the detailed information you’ll need to make this journey!
15 Fun Things to do in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
1. Watch the Sunset at San Juan del Sur Beach
This might not seem that exciting of an activity, but trust me on this – it is! The sunsets I saw at San Juan del Sur were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen!
Go to the main beach in town, San Juan del Sur Beach, any night that isn’t storming and watch the sunset. This is a must-do in San Juan del Sur as the sunsets do not disappoint!
I was in San Juan del Sur for 6 nights and went to the beach for the sunset EVERY night and each sunset was unique, but equally beautiful. Grab a beer from a local shop for $1 USD and sit on a towel and relax. There are even street food vendors set up right near the beach if you are keen for a snack, the chicken quesadillas are really good.
2. Hike to Cristo del la Misericordia
Strolling along the bay in San Juan del Sur, it’s almost impossible to miss a colossal statue that sits on the top of the northernmost seawall and overlooks the town with a serenity quite opposite to that “down below” where parties take place.
The Christ of the Mercy (Cristo de la Misericordia) is a 134 m (77 feet) tall statute and it is one of the 10 tallest Jesus statues in the world. Not until you’re standing right below, you’re aware of its grandeur.
Hiking up to the statue is surely one of the must-do activities when in San Juan del Sur because nothing can beat stunning panoramic views from the top.
You can either walk along the beach to its northern end and climb the steep steps that you’ll find there or you can walk through the neighborhood and along the road that goes almost all the way up to the statue (all you have to do is “follow the signs”). Although the road is pretty steep as well, it is possible to drive most of the way uphill.
The entrance fee is less than $2 and seeing the bay from the top, illuminated in golden light just before sunset, is well worth that Nicaraguan-beer-worth price.
3. Try Craft Beer at San Juan del Sur Cerveceria
We love beer, and as such, when we travel we are always open to trying local craft beer! Sure, in Nicaragua you can’t go wrong with Victoria or Tone (which are the most common beers in the country) but if you’re after something a little fancier or different then the San Juan del Sur Cerveceria is for you!
Located only a couple of blocks from the main beach in San Juan del Sur, the Cerveceria is the perfect place to stop for a couple of cold ones. They brew their own craft beer right on site and you can choose from a variety on tap.
After a day exploring or surfing, this is one place to check out in San Juan del Sur!
No list of the best things to do in San Juan del Sur could possibly be complete without surfing. It is, in fact, the most popular activity in this town that is often mistaken for the name San Juan del Surf!
The reason surfing is so popular in San Juan del Sur is that the beaches nearby are perfect for all skill levels. For beginners, you can head to somewhere sandy with smaller swells, or if you’re an advanced surfer then you’re in for a treat too!
You’ll have the choice of renting a board and taking a shuttle from San Juan del Sur to one of the nearby surf beaches (like Playa Hermosa) for a few dollars or taking scheduled surf lessons.
There are plenty of surf camps or surf schools around San Juan del Sur too – which is what I did. Over the course of four days, I was able to go from barely being able to stand up on a board, to catching some serious waves without any help from my instructor!
For more information on surfing in San Juan del Sur, check out our full blog!
5. Bar-hop for Sunday Funday
Almost as iconic as surfing in San Juan del Sur is attending the weekly Sunday Funday party!
This “pool crawl” is an event many people (including us) plan their stay in San Juan del Sur around. Sunday Funday San Juan del Sur is known all around the world as a crazy pub crawl that one simply cannot miss when traveling the backpacker trail in Central America.
We joined in on the craziness and had an afternoon of laughs and drunken stories with other backpackers from all over the globe. It definitely lived up to its reputation and was one of the best parties we have been to on our entire trip.
As the name suggests, the part happens every Sunday afternoon. Tickets are $30 USD, but if you stay at either the Naked Tiger Hostel (where the crawl ends) or Pachamama Hostel (where it begins) you can get tickets for $15. The price gets you entrance into five bars, a shot at each bar, and the classic Sunday Funday tank top!
This is the craziest party in Central America!
6. Relax at Playa Hermosa
Playa Hermosa is arguably one of the best beaches in Nicaragua and it’s only a short 20-minute drive from San Juan del Sur! You can get there easily on one of the many $7 USD shuttles available from San Juan del Sur.
Playa Hermosa is actually where the reality TV show Survivor was filmed. So if you’re a Survivor fan (like Dan and I are) this is one place you don’t want to miss! But even if you aren’t, Playa Hermosa is a beautiful white-sand beach that is surrounded by lush jungle.
It isn’t normally very busy and you can find your own place to relax on the sand. Or if you want, rent a board and do some surfing or have a bite at one of the few little restaurants. The truth is, no matter how you choose to enjoy Playa Hermosa, once you’re there you’re sure to understand why we think visiting is one of the best things to do in San Juan del Sur!
Hot tip: For the ultimate relaxing holiday, book a couple of nights the Playa Hermosa Eco Lodge. This place is gorgeous and located right on the beach!
7. Ride an ATV
ATVs, also known as quads, are perfect for getting around the muddy jungle and hills surround San Juan del Sur! This is an adventure activity that’ll have you speeding around, going as fast or as slow as you want!
You have two options when it comes to riding an ATV in San Juan del Sur. You can either join a guided tour where you’ll visit popular points of interest. Or, the cheaper option is to just rent an ATV and explore on your own for a few hours.
This is one activity in San Juan del Sur that any adventure-lover must do!
8. Day trip to Ometepe Island
Ometepe is easily one of my favorite places to visit in Nicaragua! This massive island is made entirely of two volcanoes protruding from Lake Nicaragua. It is a sight you simply have to see for yourself to believe.
In all honesty, I didn’t go on a day trip from San Juan del Sur as I actually spent nearly a week on the island exploring all of the amazing things to do on Ometepe. With so many great places to stay in Ometepe, spending a couple of nights is what I would suggest doing if you have enough time.
But if your travel plans don’t allow for a few days on Ometepe Island, then a day trip from San Juan del Sur is the next best option! On an organized tour, you have your transport to and from Ometepe all organized for you so that you can optimize your time there.
Be sure to take in views of the volcanoes and visit the natural springs of Ojo de Agua once you’ve arrived at Ometepe.
9. Yoga, yoga, and more yoga!
A beachside town surrounded by the jungle is the absolute best setting for taking some time for yourself. Practicing yoga is easily one of the most popular things to do in San Juan del Sur, and as such, there are a ton of retreats and studios to choose from!
10. Venture to Playa Maderas
Considered one of the best beaches in Nicaragua, Playa Maderas is unmissable if you’re visiting San Juan del Sur. Located 20 minutes north of the town, Playa Maderas is still rather rustic and can only be accessed by a bumpy dirt road, though most believe the journey adds to the adventure.
The beach is known for being an all year round surf spot, and is popular as it caters for all levels of surfers, making it a great place to learn!
If surfing isn’t for you, make sure you take in the postcard views of the shark fin-shaped rock formations that make this beach so recognizable. You can join a catamaran trip at sunset and get a closer look, or join a horseback riding tour of the beaches nearby.
Playa Maderas has very limited amenities, with only two restaurants, but the seafood is fresh and there are plenty of sun loungers available for rent.
The easiest way to reach Plays Maderas is by catching the daily beach shuttle from Casa Oro in San Juan del Sur, or by organizing transport with your accommodation.
However, if you truly want to enjoy Playa Maderas then you should spend a night or two there! The best place to stay close to the beach is DreamSea Surf Resort, a yoga and surf retreat that runs packages for all levels and includes morning yoga on their treehouse platform!
11. Eat Brunch at Dale Pues Restaurant
There are some really great restaurants in San Juan del Sur. With so many available, competition is high and only the best of the best make their name known amongst tourists. Dale Pues is one of those restaurants.
Located right in the heart of San Juan del Sur, Dale Pues serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But if you ask me, it is going there for brunch which is the best! Between the freshly brewed Nicaraguan coffee, tasty breakfast sandwiches, and fresh fruit smoothies this place is my favorite! We also loved the burgers and they were perfect for fueling up after a busy day!
The decor is also super trendy with lots of plants and seating to enjoy the start of your day. It isn’t necessarily a cheap place to eat, but the price matches the quality of food and makes it affordable for most travelers.
12. Go on a Day Trip to Granada
If you’re after a more authentic Nicaraguan experience then you’ll have to leave touristic San Juan del Sur. The city of Granada is the perfect place to explore as it is still a main city for locals boasting busy markets, but has lots of things for tourists to see and do too!
Less than a 2-hour drive will have you in the heart of Granada. Here, you can wander the colonial streets, climb the bell tower of the famous, and maybe even venture to the nearby Masaya Volcano (where you can see lava!)
You can either take a local bus from San Juan del Sur to Granada or go on an organized tour. This particular tour includes all the activities I mentioned above and more!
If you want more information, check out our blog all about the different things to do in Granada, Nicaragua!
13. Have a Relaxing Day Poolside
The best advice I have for anyone heading to San Juan del Sur is to book a hotel or hostel with a pool! There, I said it! And now if you don’t, you have nobody to blame but yourself when you’re sitting in the sweltering hot sun.
The truth is, the best beaches around San Juan del Sur are a little drive away. The main beach in town isn’t the absolute best, and as such, if you want an easy relaxing day tanning and cooling off with a swim, then you’re going to need a pool!
Just enjoying the warm weather and your holiday by the pool is definitely one of the best ways to spend a few hours in San Juan del Sur. Grab a book, a cocktail (or both!), and some sunscreen to enjoy that laidback vibe that San Juan is famous for – you’ll thank me for this suggestion!
The great thing about places to stay in San Juan del Sur is that there are nice accommodation options – with pools – for all budgets! If you’re a backpacker on a budget, check out Pachamama. If you want something a little nicer consider the TreeCasa Resort!
14. See Turtles at La Flor Beach Natural Reserve
Only 18 kilometers from San Juan del Sur is one of Nicaragua’s most amazing wildlife reserves. La Flor Beach is where thousands of Olive Ridley turtles come to lay their eggs. This reserve is set up to protect these baby turtles and give them the best chance at survival!
From San Juan del Sur, you can easily visit La Flor Beach, and if you’re lucky, see baby turtles hatch and make their journey towards the ocean. If you’ve never seen this happen before, this is a must-do while you’re in San Juan del Sur.
Turtle nesting season is from July to January with the best months being October and November. The reserve costs $200 Cordoba per person to visit. You can get there by a local bus or in a taxi. There is also some accommodation available at Playa El Coco, which is right next to the wildlife refuge and within walking distance.
The best time to seethe baby turtles is in the late afternoon or evening. The time does change depending on the time of year, so it’s best to ask your hotel for this information before you arrange visiting.
15. Learn Spanish
San Juan del Sur is one of the most popular places in all of Central America for learning Spanish. With so many fun activities in town, amazing restaurants, beautiful beaches, and a community of expats, it is the perfect place to settle for a little while and have a crash course in Spanish.
Knowing even a small amount of basic Spanish will make traveling Nicaragua, and Latin America in general, much easier – trust me on this one!
In all honesty, I didn’t take Spanish lessons in San Juan because I already did two weeks of Spanish lessons a few months prior in Sucre, Bolivia. But from what I’ve heard, San Juan is just as great of a location to learn Spanish as Sucre is!
Similar to my Spanish school in Sucre, most of the Spanish schools in San Juan del Sur offer daily classes right at your accommodation! This way, you can roll out of bed, walk down the hall and learn Spanish for a couple of hours before having the rest of the day to enjoy San Juan del Sur.
This particular Spanish school includes 7 nights of accommodation in a homestay as well as all of your meals! It’s really a crash course in the Spanish language as well as Nicaraguan culture!
Where to Stay in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
The possibilities are endless when it comes to choosing a place to stay in San Juan del Sur. From hostels made for partying to laidback retreats to luxury villas, there is something for everyone! Below, I’ve listed my top choices for every type of traveler with different budgets!
Naked Tiger Hostel – Low Budget Hostel
The Naked Tiger is one of the best-rated hostels in all of Central America! Not only does it have a party vibe, but it is also relaxing at times and very comfortable with all of the facilities you could ever need – including a pool with a beautiful view! It is also one of the stops for the Sunday Funday pool crawl! This place is often fully booked, so be sure to secure your room or dorm in advance.
Naked Tiger can only be booked in advance on Hostelworld.
Playa Hermosa Eco Resort – Low to Moderate Budget
This place is perfect for those looking to relax or surf at Playa Hermosa. Located right on the beach, this eco-lodge comes highly recommended, by me personally, and is a very nice place to spend a couple of nights. They offer both private rooms and dorm rooms making it affordable for most travelers.
You can check prices and book this eco-resort on Booking.com.
TreeCasa Resort – Luxury
TreeCasa Resort is conveniently located on the outskirts of San Juan del Sur, but still close enough! It is peaceful and every room has a balcony, many with amazing views! They have an onsite restaurant and bar, as well as a gorgeous pool. All rooms also have air conditioning!
You can check prices and availability and reviews for TreeCasa Resort on Booking.com.
Luxury Casita – AirBnb
This one bedroom modern two-story loft is the perfect home away from home. It offers amazing views from your private patio as well as the use of the shared infinity pool and gardens. The loft has air conditioning, WiFi, a kitchen, and sleeps up to 4 people for a really reasonable price. Oh, and did I mention it is walking distance to San Juan del Sur town!
You can read more about this loft or book on AirBnb.
Before you go…
So now you know, there is so much more to do in San Juan del Sur besides just surfing and drinking! From nature to adventure to food and relaxation, it is a town in Nicaragua that every tourist is guaranteed to love!
We hope our blog about the best things to do in San Juan del Sur has helped plan your trip, and if so, be sure to check out our other Nicaragua travel blogs including some of our favorites below:
December 15, 2020