Getting it Together on the Road: San Juan Del Sur
Confession: I am a former geography bee champion. I competed in the National Geographic Geography Bee in 6th grade, was on my high school Geography Bee team and took an AP class AFTER-SCHOOL in high school for Human Geography and scored a 5. Bet you didn’t think I was that smart, did you? Concord University in West Virginia actually wanted me to come study geography and run cross-country (not a big deal – their team is all walk-ons for the most part, I think). So basically, somehow my brain is wired to love cultures and traveling and maps and things like that.
I read about Chicabrava in a Refinery29 article about best places for a solo trip. I decided at the beginning of the year that I wanted to take a trip somewhere by myself. I went surfing in Hawaii, was decent enough to get up on my first couple of tries, so I decided – sure, let’s go to Nicaragua. Funny enough, I didn’t know where Nicaragua was on a map. Don’t blame me, we all know we don’t learn enough about Central & South America in American schools. (Heck, we don’t learn enough about Canada. Or really anything for that matter.)
San Juan Del Sur is on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Managua, the capital and home of the major international airport in the country. The drive is kind of cool, you pass Lake Nicaragua and the two big volcanos. It’s definitely a surf town and it’s one of those little places that make you forget you’re not in the US. The expat influence is pretty huge and you’re definitely not the only gringo or gringa around.
There’s a lot of shopping, mostly touristy-places or shops filled with weird stuff that’s either outcasts from major clothing factories (saw lots of counterfeit Hollister, actually) or Central American stuff that isn’t really my style of effortless cool. (Am I a jerk for saying that’s my style?)
I did stumble on a super-cute store called Auric. Auric sells a lot of their own designs and it is very Brandy Melville-esque – most stuff is one size fits most. They have a lot of handmade cheap jewelry that doesn’t look cheap, denim shorties, tanks for guys and girls and fun leggings.
If you forgot your rash guard or want a new swim suit, check out the Chicabrava shop. They carry a lot of prouducts from Billabong and Roxy, as well as some of their own designs.
A week or so before I arrived, SJDS opened its first raw-foods café, Buddha’s Garden. They have a lot of great salads, raw pizza, “zoodle” dishes and a multitude of smoothies and fresh juices. Buddha’s Garden also has raw treats like a Chakara-inspired layered cheese cake and a TiRAWmasu.
Nicaragua is known for their amazing coffee. Stop by El Gato Negro for a coffee, latte or tea and grab a breakfast sandwich or lunch while you’re there. If you plan on getting your coffee to go, be sure to take your own cup because they don’t do takeaway service as to protect the environment.
If you’re in the mood for tacos, try Bad Ass Eats like I mentioned in an earlier post. Most beaches also have their own taco stands. If you want traditional Nicaraguan food (read: rice and beans), there is a market in town you can wander through with lots of open seating and open kitchens where you can get some Central American staples.
There are a lot of street snacks too, but for the most part, they are gone by the end of the day. Look around for a guy selling coconuts for a dollar a piece (Emily, remember that time we paid like $7 for a coconut in Miami?) There’s also a woman who sells fresh mangos with the option to get this spicy sauce and salt in the bag as well. I tried a bite of a sauced-up mango and it was pretty delicious but I was also in salt-overload from the ocean so I stuck to the classic.
On one of the side streets, there is a woman who posts up every night to sell barbecued chicken. Apparently it’s really famous and delicious so if you have a chance, try it.
If you’re in SDJS, you’re likely there to surf or go to the beach, and if you’re not, you’re doing it wrong. (Kidding, kind of. Who doesn’t love the beach?)
If you need surfing lessons, stop by Chicabrava. They do private lessons and I promise you’ll get up on a wave by the end of the day. My fifty-something year old father could get up on a wave on his first day (albeit in Hawaii, where the waves are a little gentler) and these girls are all amazing instructors.
Survivor: Nicaragua was filmed in San Juan Del Sur. This luckily brought a lot of infrastructure to the town and the nearby beaches. Playa Remanso, Playa Hermosa and Playa Maderas are all popular beaches with good surfing. Just don’t take anything valuable – theft is not an uncommon occurrence.
If you want your hangover to get started around 7 p.m., head out on a catamaran tour. You can book one at most any tourist-y place in town and they offer an open bar (beer and rum drinks – and the rum in Nicaragua is both very good and very cheap). They take you out on a 3-4 hour tour and you anchor at a private beach where you can swim to shore. Make sure you take a friend who is a strong enough swimmer to lug a bag of beers to the beach. I also had the most epic ceviche of my life on said catamaran tour.
Recently, a Canadian-theme bar opened in town, The Loose Moose. You can get a Molson and then make bad judgment calls after a few too many of their huge sangrias that are $5 and very strong and order a poutine. I also can get behind drinking at any bar with lots of hockey jerseys and we know my love of Canadians. If you want to interact with the locals, this probably isn’t the place to go though.
If you’re in the mood for live music, try the Black Whale. They have a stage in their outdoor area and a pretty diverse crowd. A drink will only set you back a few dollars.
Want an epic sunset with your mojito? Try El Timon for happy hour which has both seating in the sand and under a roof if you’ve had a little too much time in the sun.
- If you’re a snacker like myself (or anyone super-active), pack your own snacks. I suggest always traveling with nuts and protein powder, along with granola/energy bars and apple sauce packs if you think you need the extra fruit/fiber/natural sugar. All of those things are difficult to find there.
- Most places take American currency; so just stop by the ATM before you leave home.
- Pack sunscreen and deep woods bug repellent – the bugs get really bad in the summer and rainy season.
- If you’re looking to find a business online, check Facebook – many of the local businesses use Facebook rather than a dedicated .com address.
PS: Did you win my NuttZo giveaway?
Chat with me:
Have you ever been to Nicaragua? Do you want to go? What subject were you best in at school?