To end our trip on a high note, we kept the surf town for the last 3 days of our vacations. We left towards San Juan del Sur from Ometepe taking a taxi from the ferry terminal in San Jorge. The drive was about 45min and cost 20US$ total. One of the best part of our stay in San Juan del Sur (SJDS) was the hostel – we scored big with this one, and stayed at Buena Onda Backpackers in a private double room for 3 nights. The hostel is a few minutes walk out of town (so you can actually get a quiet night) with an amazing view of the bay and downtown area. It is the cleanest place we have seen so far in Nicaragua and although I wouldn’t recommend it for solo travelers looking to meet other people (only private rooms, feels more like an airbnb with other guests sharing the common areas), it was just exactly what we were looking for.
Although the kitchen was very well-equipped, we ate out for lunch and dinner every day. There are so many good restaurants around, and if it is within your budget, you can find some local and international restaurants where you can have little feasts every evening. Our hostel manager suggested we try El Timon, straight on the beach front area. The menus are really expensive, but if you go better 4-6pm for Happy Hour, you can get really high quality appetizers (tapas style) for 1US$ each. We basically ordered everything on the Happy Hour menu to try and then had seconds. It was delicious!
In SJDS we dealt a lot with Casa Oro (downtown) for shuttles and surf lessons and rentals. We were told that their prices are very similar to all the other companies around, however, they always leave on time (which is a big deal in Central America). We took a surfing lesson with them (25$US per person including board, rash guard, transportation and instructor) one day and then did only a board rental the second day (15$US per person including transportation). They have beach shuttles heading to the surfing spots around multiple times a day. Just ask where you should go depending on tides and swells.
We ended up going to Playa Maderas (about a 30min drive North of SJDS) both days. Our instructor, Tino, was really great. He gaves us a lot more time to practice (both on land and in the water) than any other surf instructors I’ve had for lessons before. I’m pretty sure he goes way over the time that the other instructors give; usually, you would book for a 2hrs lesson and that would be it. Tino gave us the first 2 hours, gave us a break, saw that the waves were small so waited for a while with us, then we went back for a second run of surfing after having a quick lunch. When we rent the boards on the second day, he also kept an eye on us while giving lesson to other people while we were in the water. Great guy! One downfall of Maderas though, I am not sure if conditions are the same around in the area, but we had massive jellyfish burns on our first day. I started feeling them the second I got in the water, but the others didn’t seem to notice (or bother) when I asked about it. After about 20-30 minutes they started noticing as well and getting annoyed about it. I guess I discovered that I am quite sensitive to it, as I had massive red spots and bumps all over my legs and tummy after our first session. Luckily, there was no jellyfish at all on our second day, which was a blessing because I don’t think I could have handled them for 2 days straight!
If you take the shuttle to Playa Maderas, I strongly recommend keeping an eye open for the view around you as you drive. There are some really amazing houses and hotels in the area, but you will also drive past a very large garbage dump, where bunch of small fires are lit up to burn the waste. If there is one thing I dislike about my time in Nicaragua, it was mainly the air quality that was affected by the amount of small fires here and there (to burn garbage). I think I am very sensitive to this (along with the cigarettes in public areas and restaurants), and it got me a very irritated throat and annoying cough in the second half of the trip.
When we were not surfing or relaxing in the hammock at Buena Onda, we walked around the city and took a little adventure hike to see the “Cristo de la misericordia” statue on top of the hill facing the bay. The statue is only 4m smaller than the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero, for a total of 24m. You can take shuttles from downtown to go up the hill, but we decided to hike up on one of our rest day from surfing. The hike took us about 1h from our hostel, which means we had to cross all town on the beach and then walk up the very steep hill. The entrance was 2$US per person for foreigners and we stayed for about 15-20min at the monument. The wind was quite impressive, so after taking a few photos and enjoying the view, we went back down.
The beach at SJDS is not where people surf, as I already mentioned, but there is tons of sailboats anchored in the bay. We took some time to walk around the beach and explore the rocks and cliffs towards the North end of the bay. I always get amazed at how much life you can see when you pay attention to the little details!
We ate a LOT in San Juan del Sur. Restaurants I would recommend are Rojo Loco (Canadian owner), El Timon, El Iguana, Taco Shop and Simons Says. There are many more but we didn’t have the budget nor the time to try them all (unfortunately… I am becoming more and more of a foodie and this trip to Nicaragua definitely cost me more in food than ever before!).
This marked the end of our trip to Nicaragua and we had to find a way to head back to Managua on our last evening. Our flight was at the inconvenient hour of 2am, so we needed to get there late at night. Most shuttles leave SJDS at 930am or 3pm, which mean we would have lost most of our day waiting at the airport. So once again, we emptied our pockets and booked a private transport from our hostel and paid 70US$ to leave at 8pm. It took 2h15 to get to the airport that night, and we left Nicaragua with tons of memories and inspiration for our next trip…