Practical Information about San Juan del Sur for New Arrivals

Contents Box

San Juan del Sur Locations Map

Airport Arrival

On arrival at Managua International Airport (MGA) you will need to pay a US$10 entry fee in cash. Citizens of most countries receive a 90 day tourist card and the process is generally hassle-free. Passports are stamped on entry and should be valid for at least six months (this may be waived for US citizens, but double check prior to travel.) You are officially required to have an onward ticket, though this is not often checked at the airport.

The best way to travel to San Juan del Sur from the airport is by booking an airport shuttle. The cost is $40 per person or $65 for two people each way and takes around 2 hours. (Click here for the details.)

If you arrive on a late flight into Managua and prefer to overnight at a hotel near the airport before traveling to San Juan del Sur the following day, there are two good hotel options close by. Directly opposite the airport is the Best Western Mercedes Managua and one mile away is the Hotel Camino Real, adjacent to the Casino.

For accommodation options in San Juan del Sur, click here.

Money in Nicaragua

Although US dollars are widely accepted, the official Nicaraguan currency is the cordoba (named for the founder of Nicaragua, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba), divided into 100 centavos – click here for the current exchange rate. In some hotels and restaurants prices are listed in US dollars.

You’ll find that your money stretches a lot further in Nicaragua than it does in the USA, Canada, Australia, Europe and even Costa Rica and other countries in Central America.

San Juan del Sur has four banks (BAC, BANCENTRO and BANPRO and BDF) and four ATM machines (cajeros automáticos) where you can withdraw Nicaraguan Cordobas or US Dollars. There is also a local Western Union office.

If you are doing more than withdrawing money from an ATM, make sure you bring your passport, as it is required for most bank transactions. Traveller’s checks are not widely accepted.

Fitting In

Nicaraguans are open and friendly. A Buenos días (good morning) or Buenas tardes (good afternoon) is often all that is needed to start a conversation. The culture is decidedly Latin with some machismo thrown in. Life revolves around the family unit with many women having the traditional role of raising children, cooking meals and managing the house. The focus on the family makes the country very kid friendly. Walk around town with a child and you’ll notice this in the lavish attention you receive.

Nicaragua’s national language is Spanish. While you’ll get by without speaking any Spanish, just a few words and phrases will help break down barriers. It’s also a good way to make a good first impression.

For a popular vacation spot by the ocean, you’ll find local Nicaraguans dressing quite formally. The dress-down culture or crumpled hippy look that you see in Europe or North America has not taken hold here. Women are never topless on the beach, exercise clothes are worn only when exercising and skimpy clothes are not worn in church. (And you’ll be hard pressed to find a Nicaraguan man wearing shorts).

Transport

Car Rental – If you decide to rent a car to explore the San Juan del Sur area, we recommend a 4×4, as you’ll be able to get a lot further on unpaved roads. Most of the major rental companies offer cars from Managua International Airport. Alamo and Dollar both have local offices in San Juan del Sur.

Alamo Car Rental
Hotel Casablanca
On beach front road in front of El Timon
Tel +(505) 2277 1117
Dollar Rent A Car
Pelican Eyes Resort
De la Parroquia, 1½ cuadras al este
Tel +(505) 2255 7979

If you are renting a car make sure you have a valid drivers license and a passport with you and check that the rental company has provided you with the required car documentation (such as car registration document, insurance certificate and mechanical inspection). It is against the law to turn right on a red light, drive without a seat-belt, change lanes in a roundabout, use a cell-phone while driving or pass on an unbroken line.

San Juan del Sur’s gas station (formerly a Texaco, now operated by Uno) is located on the right of the main road as you drive into town. Around 30m before the Uno station is Carlos “The mechanic”. His workshop is an elevated platform on the left of the main road.

Carlos “The mechanic”
Entrada San Juan del Sur
30m East of Uno Gas Station
Tel + (505) 8957 8541

Taxi and shuttle service – Iskra Travel offers efficient local transport services. Click here for details on the airport shuttle. Iskra Travel can also be booked for bespoke services around San Juan del Sur.

Iskra Travel
Next to El Gato Negro Coffee Shop and Bookstore
Tel +(505) 2568 2054 or +(505) 8425 5039

Buses – As you travel in Nicaragua you’ll notice dozens of yellow US school buses on the roads. These have been converted into public buses and offer inexpensive transport to major towns. Locally referred to as “chicken buses” (for reasons I’m sure you can imagine) they can be crowded and uncomfortable.

The main bus stop in town for trips to Rivas, Managua, Granada and Ostional is opposite the municipal market. “Expresso” routes are quicker than “Routado” routes as they have fewer stops.

International routes are serviced by Tica Bus and Trans Nica. They offer comfortable, efficient and affordable trips to Costa Rica, El Salvador and elsewhere in Central America. Both leave from Rivas and Tica Bus has a local agency office in San Juan del Sur.

Tica Bus
Agency in San Juan del Sur
150m west of the municipal market
Tel +(505) 2568 2427
Trans Nica
Tel +(505) 2277 2104

Communication

Movistar and Claro are the two most popular cell phone networks in Nicaragua and both have an office in San Juan del Sur. It’s quick and easy to get an inexpensive local phone plus SIM card (or just a local SIM card if you have an unlocked phone) and you’ll find running your life in San Juan del Sur much more efficient.

Phone calls within the same network are cheaper than those made between the two networks so try and choose the same network as your local contacts. (In San Juan del Sur you’ll find most people have a Movistar phone).

Movistar office
Next to Hotel Colonial
Claro office
Beach Front Road
125m north of the Port

Internet is widely available in San Juan del Sur so you shouldn’t have to do much hunting around for it. Most hotels, hostels and an increasing number of restaurants offer Wi-Fi for guests. There is also an Internet Café & Copy Shop (with air conditioning) run by the local government. It’s located in the Complejo Centro Civico next to the Local mayor’s office (alcaldia) on La Chocolata road, a few meters after the turn off to the beaches north of San Juan del Sur.

Internet Café and Copy Shop
Complejo Centro Civico
Next to the Alcaldia

The Post office is located on the beachfront road heading towards the port of San Juan del Sur. Look for the large cell phone tower as the post office is next door.

Post office San Juan del Sur
Beach front road
100m north of Port

Health

Most locals can drink the municipal tap water in San Juan del Sur without getting sick, but if you are new to town or just not confident that your digestive system will be able to cope in a new environment, stick to bottled water. It’s inexpensive and widely available. It’s also best to assume that water from rivers and streams is not safe to drink.

The sun shines brightly in Nicaragua. Where a hat, use sunscreen and keep hydrated. Temperatures in San Juan del Sur range from 75-95°F (24-35°C) year-round. The dry season (verano) runs from December to April. The wet season (invierno) begins in May and continues to October. Rain showers can be frequent during this period, but typically showers are short, causing little disruption to day-to-day life.

San Juan del Sur has a free Health Clinic (Centro de Salud) and several well-stocked pharmacies (farmacia), the best one being “Gancho de Camino.” Local Dr Galan is generally available 24 hours per day.  He does not speak English but he does perform house visits.

Centro de Salud
Entrada San Juan del Sur
Tel +(505) 2568 2320
Gancho de Camino
Dr Galan
Tel +(505) 8858 4824

For anything more than minor medical problems it makes sense to go to the Hospital Metropolitan Vivian Pellas in Managua. The hospital provides high quality medical care, modern facilities and reputable doctors. There is a hospital in Rivas, the closest major town to San Juan del Sur, but the recommended first choice for medical care is the Vivian Pellas in Managua.

Hospital Metropolitan Vivian Pellas
Km. 9 3/4 Carretera a Masaya, 250 mts. al oeste
Managua
Tel +(505) 2255 6900
Hospital Gaspar Garcia Laviana
Nic 62
Rivas
Tel +(505) 2563 3301

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has additional health information for travelers to Nicaragua, including recommended vaccinations.

Safety

Petty theft does occur in San Juan del Sur, with some of the crime targeted towards tourists. Keep an eye on your personal belongings, make use of the hotel safe and lock your car leaving nothing of value in it. But above all, don’t walk around flaunting expensive items or loudly counting the cash you have just withdrawn from the ATM.

Take particular care at night when it is not advisable to walk on the beach, hang around the nightclubs or loiter in less trafficked parts of town. Violent crime is rare in San Juan del Sur, but each year there are a few reports of tourist muggings.

It’s a good idea to take photocopies or scans of your passport, credit cards, driving license, hotel reservations and travel tickets before you arrive. This will cut out a lot of the hassle in case of loss.

San Juan del Sur Police Station
Beach Front Road
75m north of the Port
Tel +(505) 2568 2382
San Juan del Sur Bomberos (Fire Station)
Complejo Centro Civico
Tel +(505) 8993 4797
Alcaldia Municipal (Mayoral Office)
Complejo Centro Civico
Tel +(505) 2568 2383

The municipality is actively taking steps to improve the infrastructure in the center of town but you’ll still find uneven sidewalks, potholes and unfinished roadwork so take care when walking around, especially at night as many streets are dimly lit. And if driving at night be aware that you’ll come across unmarked or poorly lit obstacles as well as livestock, cyclists and pedestrians, even on main roads. Drive slowly.

Shopping

You’ll find shopping in San Juan del Sur refreshingly down to earth, but be prepared to visit more than one shop to cross everything off your shopping list. Apart from Pali, the main grocery store (part owned by Wallmart) located 200m east of the Uno station, most of the shopping takes place in the 10 block area that makes up the center of San Juan del Sur (or downtown).

As you wonder around you may notice signs for “pulperías.” These are small grocery stores selling basic produce, snacks, soft drinks, cleaning supplies, alcohol and toiletries. Their overall range is typically smaller than at the Pali, but some pulperías (Pulpería Sanchez being a good example) have carefully tailored their stock to cater for the international visitor.

So for example, while you can find cooking oil in Pali, in Sanchez you’ll find extra virgin olive oil. You’re also more likely to find curry paste, brown pasta, canned tomatoes, peanut butter and tampons at Sanchez than at Pali. Pali only accepts payment in cash, while Sanchez and some of the other pulperias accept card payments.

Pulpería Sanchez
Avenida Mercado
Opposite Barrio Café
Pali Supermarket
Entrada San Juan del Sur
600m East of Uno Gas Station

In addition to ‘pulperias’, downtown San Juan del Sur has clothing shops, the municipal market, pharmacies, Nicaragua’s four main banks, surf shops, a gourmet deli, artisan bakery and a ton of souvenir stalls. Local vendors crisscross the central streets selling anything from sunglasses and Che Guevara T-shirts to traditional Nicaraguan pottery and hammocks.

In San Juan del Sur you wont find the “same old same old” soulless shopping experience of other tourism spots. In fact apart from Eskimo, the Nicaraguan ice-cream franchise, it’s hard to think of a single chain store in town.

Municipal Market
Avenida Mercado
2 blocks East of the ocean
Fish Market
30m past the entrance to the port
A line of stalls where the road ends.

Time zone

Nicaragua’s time zone is UTC (GMT) -6.00 observed in Central Standard Time in North America, as well as in Mountain Daylight Time. Nicaragua does not utilize Daylight Saving Time .

Electricity

Electricity is supplied at 110 volts in Nicaragua. Plugs are the same as in the US, having two flat pins. The San Juan del Sur area does suffer the occasional blackout, but as the infrastructure is being improved these are becoming less frequent. It’s a good idea to pack a flashlight.

Baby sitters

For an English speaking babysitter in town, there is nobody better or more reliable than Debbie Bruin. Debbie teaches at San Juan del Sur Day School and offers day care services for $5 per hour for 1 child or $10 per hour for 2 or more children.

English speaking baby sitter
Debbie Bruin
+(505) 8-256 8672

Churches

Like most Spanish colonial cities in the Americas, the town is centered around the Catholic church.  The Catholic church in San Juan offers mass every day at 6 pm, and on Sundays at 9am and 11am (the 11am service is for children).  Everyone is welcome.

Laundry

Gaby’s laundry, located a few doors east of the Market is great for same day laundry (wash, dry and fold) service.

Gaby’s laundry
½ block east of Market

Want more?

This page is written for the new arrival, but there’s much more to say about San Juan del Sur.  For more information, here’s what to do next: