The Pacific coastline region of Nicaragua around San Juan del Sur seems to be on every list of best places to go in 2013. Recently, I had the chance to visit and found a destination whose chill-out factor suited me just fine. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a country listed as the second poorest in the Western hemisphere, but I was pleasantly surprised. Nicaraguans are friendly, hospitable and mellow, and while their country may have attracted unwanted attention in the 1980s during the Iran-Contra affair, it’s now being noticed for all of the right reasons. As one of the few places left to visit that won’t break your bank account, it’s easy to see why so many Americans and Canadians retire here. San Juan del Sur is a tranquil fishing village that surrounds a crescent-shaped stretch of beach dotted with small bars and cafes. The town is simple to navigate and offers lots of options for eating, drinking and booking activities. Taxis are plentiful, making it easy to check out the other lovely and uncrowded beaches up and down the coast. But if you’re looking for a bit more than soaking up the sun, here are some ideas to help plan your trip.
Five Cool Things to Do In & Around San Juan del Sur
1. Catch the Surf
Surfers helped put this area on the map and this town’s been operating as a hub for them ever since. If you’re not ready to plant your feet on a board just yet, pitch a blanket and watch the experts. Otherwise, no matter your age, you won’t be at a loss to find a surf camp that’ll suit you up. Ladies, for the adventurer in you, check out CHICABRAVA—an all girls surf camp whose motto is – Get Stoked…In Style! Founded in 2003 by 6-time Nicaraguan National surf champ, Ashley Blaylock, this retreat style camp will both challenge and pamper you.
2. Grab a Horse and Giddy-up
There are a handful of outfits around San Juan del Sur that run horseback tours for much less than what it costs to ride in the U.S. Rancho Chilamate, an eco-friendly ranch owned and operated by an ex-pat Canadian couple, guide half-day tours at sunrise or sunset, depending on the tides. They’ll suit and saddle you up, and include a photography tour of your ride. In addition, a portion of the ride revenue goes back to the local community to help with healthcare and education costs, as well as other types of assistance projects.
3. Learn Spanish
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the culture and improve your high-school Spanish, then consider adding some lessons to your itinerary. There are several language schools in and around San Juan del Sur that can easily fit into your budget, and your new skills will have you chatting with the locals in no time!
4. Grab a Mat and Get Centered
When you start your morning doing sun salutations on the beach, the day only continues to get better. From teacher-training camps to retreats to community classes, there are several top-notch yoga schools and studios to help you “be here now.” Several of the surf camps also offer yoga.
5. Get Your Munchies In the Jungle
Pizza is definitely on my desert island list of foods and as a Brooklynite, I think I can vouch for the good stuff. Munchies Blues Cafe is a Monday night, reservation-only experience in the jungle out by Playa Marsella. They serve Roman-style pizza that rivals some of the best stuff in my own neighborhood.
This list barely scratches the surface of activities you can enjoy in Nicaragua. Tourism is rising but there’s still time to enjoy its simple pleasures. With a landscape made of volcanoes, jungles, lakes, lagoons, rivers, beaches and lush rainforests, this country seems to offer something for everyone. So the next time you’re wondering where you should go, think about discovering the beauty, tranquility and people of Nicaragua.