San Juan Del Sur Sober
There is a lot written about hot new vacation destination in Nicaragua, San Juan Del Sur. There’s the pool-hopping party juggernaut, Sunday Funday, Canadian run bars like The Loose Moose where you get a shirt for taking 7 Bloody Cesar shots in a row, and tacos out the ears. But where is the yoga? Is it possible to have a great time in this beach town if you’re not half cut and cruising for a one-night stand? I say, “hell yes” and here’s how.
After a couple months of in-and-outs with this lovely beach town, here’s my top picks for great food in town.
Buddha’s as it’s called by locals is a great hangout for expats and yogis. Attached to Zen Yoga, Buddha’s is the only place in town to get a delicious raw food meal and a green juice. I’m addicted to the raw peanut butter cups and the Thai salad myself. Oh, and they have great WiFi-the holy grail of travel.
El Gato Negro
This is a bookstore and a cafe. They’re open early in the morning, and make a great stop after a 30 minute morning run along the beach. The Dharma Love is probably the hottest seller on the menu, a creamy cacao drink that is both cooling and spicy with good doses of chilli and cinnamon. They have an extensive sandwich menu and make their own kefir on site. The bookstore is a god-send even if they feel a bit pricey for a traveller. They are well stocked in spiritual and yoga books as well as Native American medicine and raw cooking; oh and they have lots of novels too. One of my favourite things to do is head to El Gato Negro for a dharma love and sit on the couch around a table filled with Tarot and Angel cards and do my morning reading. It’s a must stop on a stop through town.
Run by a lovely German man, Marcus, by way of over a decade in India, the eclectic menu reflects his travels. There’s an Indian style Thali as well as a delicious Thai curry and an incredible meal size salad with everything but the kitchen sink added. All meals are priced around 200 chords ($10 ish) and come with either grilled fish, chicken or cheese. Also, it’s one of the few places in town with some ambiance for an intimate dinner.
The sign outside doesn’t adequately convey the beauty of the inside. There is a beautiful garden, dripping with potted plants and lounge seating in the back. They also have a smoothie bar out front. The best thing on the menu is the vegan sandwich with soy meat-it’s a proper two hander, served on a baguette and comes with a side of plantain chips. In a town where everything feels grab-and-go, Simon Says is a place where you can while and afternoon away, deep in conversation with friends.
For the best Nica breakfast in town, head to the market in the centre. They have a large, very inexpensive menu and hands down the biggest and most delicious gallo pinto (rice and beans Nica style) around. It will only cost you 50 chords ($2) and you’ll be stuffed until dinner. Plus, this is where locals eat, so you know it’s the goods.
WHERE TO STAY
There are a lot of swanky hotels and hostels filled with partiers, it’ a fine art avoiding the latter and getting a price in a travellers budget. There’s a handful of decent spots, but these are my top picks.
This is my favourite place to stay when I’m in town for just a couple days. It’s right on the beach, and nothing beats eating your included breakfast while looking out over the ocean in the morning. There are dorms and private rooms. If you have a bit of a budget, you can get a private room with your own bathroom for $30 which is great to share with a friend. The interior has a small garden with a few trees and plenty of hammocks for afternoon naps. Although it’s close to the hustle and bustle of downtown, it’s still very quiet at night. I have even done my own yoga practice among the trees in the morning.
Estrella is right on the beach and each of the private rooms has a balcony that overlooks the gorgeous bay the town is built on. You’d think it would be more than $10-$12 a night (depending on how many people) per person because of the location, but it’s a gem in the midst of swanky tourist restaurants and hotels. The bathrooms are shared, but at that price, who cares? Rooms sleep up to four people and the price includes breakfast.
WHERE TO HANG
The town itself is filled with people just passing through. At night the main strip of bars and taco spots come alive and there’s one beach bar, Arriba’s, that gets a decent dance floor going, but otherwise when it comes to day-hangs, most people head out to the surf beaches. Still, there is plenty to do if you’re not into drinking and you don’t hang ten.
Pelican Eyes is the giant eye-sore, gas guzzling, resorting town and the first stop on Sunday Funday’s booze fest. But they do have an incredible huge pool and an extensive cocktail and mocktail menu. If you need a rest from the beach and just want to spend a girls day reading magazines and sipping agua con gas y limon poolside, then Pelican Eyes is just a two minute walk up from the beach and feels like you’re miles away from anywhere.
There are tons of tourist traps along the beach. Most of them serve overpriced junk food and have restaurants on platforms above the sand. El Timon is the only place where you can sit in a lovely cloth beach chair right in the sand and get table service on the beach. They have a happy hour from 4pm-6pm daily where you can get $1 beers and $1 ceviche. It’s a small version of their full menu offering, but incredible to munch on while you watch the lovely sunset.
The only studio in town is Zen Yoga and they have some great teachers. You can take an upbeat Vinyassa Flow class daily at 8:30am and a more chilled out one at 10am. They have a 5pm class Monday-Friday that is a yin and yang class and do a yoga and wine class for $4 extra once a month. It’s $8 a class and they are usually full. Great way to meet expats and get some tips on what’s good to see and do in town.
Walk to Jesus
There is a giant statue of Jesus pointing out to the water that towers above the town. It’s a great hike up to look out over the bay. You can walk the beach to the very end and there is a path that leads up around the last hotel. Follow the path to the main road and keep walking up. They take a 50 chord donation to get the the very top and see out. The donation goes to maintaining the statue and the grounds, so it’s worth it.
San Juan Del Sur has a thriving expat community and most of them are out and about during the day, so if you’re not interested in getting drunk at night and avoiding pick pockets on the beach, feel free to stick with the local natives and do some day hanging. When you get tired of town there are several beaches you can check out for the day as well.