Days 5-7: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Day 5: Wednesday Arrival at San Juan del Sur
Having hiking up volcanoes, it’s time to hit the beach! Leave Ometepe on an early morning ferry and take a taxi from San Jorge to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast. San Juan del Sur was once a sleepy fishing village that has now become one of Nicaragua’s premiere seaside destinations. Fortunately, most of the community and expats and who live there are committed to retaining the town’s charm with plenty of quirky cafes, shops, and bars. There is still no MacDonalds, Starbucks or Pizza Hut. Instead, you’ll discover restaurants like Munchies Blues that serves authentic Italian pizza in the jungle every Monday and Wednesday night (call before 10:00 am on the day to reserve your pizza).
The beach in San Juan town is pleasant, but the water can sometimes be a little murky as it is a small fishing port. Other than on the weekends, the atmosphere is laid back. You can hang out on the deck chairs at El Timon, drink cocktails and take a dip when it gets too hot. The sunsets are always magical so stay until the sun goes down before heading out for a pizza in the jungle.
Where to stay:
If you choose to stay in town, La Posada Azul is an old home which has been converted into a beautiful guesthouse with seven rooms that start at $90 a night. There hotel has a small pool, peaceful garden, charming boutique, friendly staff, and delicious breakfasts.
Twenty minutes outside of town near Playa Maderas is Buena Vista Surf Club, a boutique eco-lodge with six wooden jungle cabins and communal sundeck that overlook the Pacific. Rooms are $130 per night for a double-room and include delicious home-made breakfasts and healthy dinners. You probably won’t eat better anywhere else in the country.
Day 6: Thursday Surfing at Playa Maderas
Now that you’ve had some time to rest, it is time to surf. Find your way to Playa Maderas on one of the many shuttles which leave San Juan del Sur ($5 per person round trip) or use Victor, a taxi driver with a silver 4×4 who waits on the corner outside Barrio Café in the center of town ($15 one way). Some hotels in the area have in-house surf instructors and there are several places by the beach that offer surf lessons and board rentals. JC, who owns Rebelde Surf Shop fifty meters back from the beach, offers Spanish or English surf lessons to all levels as well as good quality boards to rent. If you are already an experienced surfer, the waves at Playa Maderas are best a couple of hours either side of high tide (check www.magicseaweed.com).
There are a few places to eat at Playa Maderas, the most popular being Tacos Locos which claims to serve the best fish tacos in Nicaragua. Aside from tacos, you can order enormous plates of nachos, burgers, salads, and fresh fruit smoothies. If dragon fruit (pitaya) are in season, ask for a dragon fruit, banana and passion fruit smoothie. The prices are a high for Nicaragua, but the food is fresh, delicious and the view is unbeatable. After lunch, take a stroll and explore some of the less crowded beaches up the coastline.
Every Thursday night, El Timon, one of the biggest restaurants in town, puts on a cultural night. There is music, dancing, local food and a great atmosphere.
Day 7: Friday Lounging at Playa Hermosa
Get up early to stretch your stiff surfer shoulders at Zen Yoga. The studio runs classes in the mornings and evenings in English and Spanish. Skip breakfast at your hotel and visit El Gato Negro for a Green Waves smoothie, fresh fruit, and some wholesome granola. They also serve bottomless coffee that is roasted on site. El Gato Negro doubles up as a store that sells books, coconut oil, incense, dried fruits, local honey, and their own coffee.
Spend your final day lounging or surfing your final waves at Playa Hermosa, 20 minutes south of San Juan del Sur. Two series of the reality television show Survivor were filmed on this beach and for good reason—the setting feels like a remote, tropical paradise. There is a $3 per person entrance fee to the reserve, but it is worth every penny. The beach is 8km of white sand surrounded by lush jungle. There are several breaks for surfers and the water never gets crowded. There is also a access to a good restaurant, cocktail bar, and fresh water showers. Playa Hermosa has lots of surf boards available for rent and there are a few guys who give surf lessons too.
After a day in the sun, book a table at El Colibri for your last supper in San Juan del Sur. The tables are on a terrace that overlooks a quaint garden covered in fairy lights. The ambiance is enchanting and the food is delicious. The menu includes home-cooked fare such as steak, fish, curry, and a vegetarian tagine. Save some space for dessert at Super Frutta. This Italian gelato shop opened in 2012 and is very popular. The gelato is made on site and you can indulge in a mix of tropical fruit flavors and naughtier options such as Nutella and coffee.
Day 8: Saturday Return to Managua
Several tour companies in town run shuttles to Managua airport or you can arrange a taxi through Transporte Gaby ($80). Owner, Richard Morales, speaks English fluently and provides reliable, comfortable service. Allow at least 3 hours to get to Managua airport, it is recommended to arrive there two hours before your flight leaves. The airport is small but there are a few shops where you can pick up some last-minute souvenirs and bottles of the local rum, Flor de Cana.
Kathleen is a contributing editor to En Route Traveler. From a young age, Her parents took her and her sister on many adventures all over the world. Kathleen has lived in South Africa, London, and Paris. After five years of being a stressed corporate lawyer, she gave it all up to move to Nicaragua where she trained as a yoga teacher, learned to surf, and worked at the eco-lodge, Buena Vista Surf Club. Kathleen loves fitness, vegetarian cooking, contributing to the wellness blog, Hip and Healthy.