There is so much to say about San Juan del Sur. Some come for the surf. Some come for the sun. Some come to visit and never leave… I come to explore a Nicaraguan Pacific Ocean beach town through food and friendship.
San Juan is located on a crescent-shaped bay in the Rivas department of the country about 90-ish miles south of Managua. What used to be primarily a fishing and shipping town has blossomed into a tourist mecca, touting a strong surfing community, colorful buildings and of course a bay full of sandy beaches.
The town is also home to The Mirador del Cristo de la Misericordia or The Christ of the Mercy statue. Standing at 25 meters (82 ft) tall, the statue towers nearly 400 feet above the bay below and rivals the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro or the Christ the King statue in Poland. In fact, it is one of the first things visitors see when they arrive in San Juan and the hike to the top is a right of passage of sorts. The cobblestone path leads from the town and shoots up the surrounding mountainside steeply. The thought of that, albeit short, hike still makes my calves ache years later.
The view however is worth its weight in gold…
A hike at sunrise is a great way to work up an appetite and San Juan can deliver on the food. The smell of Nicaraguan cuisine wafts through the streets mixing with the salt air as if the ocean itself were handing over her precious minerals to enhance the already vibrant information reaching my nostrils and tempting my taste buds. The ingredients of said food are usually grown in gardens, gathered from family farms or milked fresh that same morning. Whether it’s a version of plato tipico (typical plate) with rice, beans and plantains, or freshly made tortillas stuffed with your favorite meat and topped with chilero (pickled veggies) or a Nicaraguan chilaquiles your belly will stay full and happy like mine.
Now that you’re stuffed, it’s time to work off all of those calories. Surfing is a big draw. It seems that everyone I met was either on their way with board in tow or just getting back from a day full of catching waves, again with board in tow. But surfing isn’t all there is to do. Rent a boat to do a little deep-sea fishing or whisk away to one of the many secluded coves along the shoreline. In recent years there’s been a push towards eco and agro tourism with local farmers trying techniques such as hydroponics drawn from family wells. Then there are all of the volcanoes. Yes volcanoes. A short-ish drive away from San Juan and you can stare into the depths of the earth as liquid magma churns in any one of the 19 active volcanoes that dot the surrounding countryside.
No matter the reason for visiting or who you are traveling with there is adventure to be found in and around San Juan del Sur. For myself, I wanted to enjoy the company of my chosen family in an exotic locale and experience a wonderfully friendly and vibrant culture together…