101 Things to Do in San Juan del Sur (and counting)

With miles of diverse coastline, abundant wildlife, rugged hills, warm weather and vibrant local communities, the San Juan del Sur region has the power to exhilarate, soothe and inspire.

At San Juan Live we’re excited to bring you the best this beautiful area has to offer. At last count we’ve gathered together 101 things to do in and around San Juan del Sur. Whether it’s sun, adventure, nature or culture you seek, you’ll find something to tempt you.

But we also want to hear from you. Tell us about your favorite experiences via twitter, facebook, the contact form or in the comments box below and we’ll add to the list and credit your suggestion.

  1. Share the joy of reading by volunteering at the Biblioteca Móvil (Mobile Library). For nearly a decade the library has brought books and reading materials into remote communities around San Juan del Sur. Here’s more on volunteering at the library and how the project serves as a gateway to education.
  2. Skim through the trees with Da Flying Frog Canopy Tour. With 16 cables covering 1.5 miles (2.5 km), this zip lining adventure could be just the adrenaline fix you need. The views over San Juan del Sur from the jumping off point are spectacular.
  3. Gorge on ice-cream at SuperFrutto. This delightful gelateria serves up dozens of smooth, creamy flavors made daily on the premises. Yes, a little scoop of Italy has landed in San Juan del Sur.
  4. Saddle up, dress like cowboys, get professionally photographed and ride to a deserted beach with Rancho Chilamate horseback tours. You’re almost guaranteed to see monkeys on your way (which covers activity #40 below). There’s no better way to capture the authentic essence of Nicaragua’s countryside than a ride through the nature reserve at Las Fincas to the untouched beaches of Escamequita. And if that isn’t enough to convince you to ride you’ll be pleased to know that a portion of the ride revenue goes back to the local community.
  5. Sip on a perfect latte at Playa Maderas while you check out San Juan del Sur’s most consistent and popular break. Sometimes in return for a great surf break you accept you’ll need to sacrifice some home comforts, like good specialty coffee drink options. Not here.
  6. Walk across San Juan del Sur’s version of the Golden Gate Bridge on the north end of the bay. We trust the foundation of the bridge is sturdy, despite its tendency to sway in sections. This walking bridge provides walking access over the river between town and the neighborhood of La Talenguera therefore it could easily be combined with a…
  7. hike to the Jesus statue perched high on San Juan del Sur’s northern headland. Once you reach the top pause for a prayer in the statue’s chapel or enjoy a leisurely mediation on the beautiful geography of the area. It is safe to say, there is no better vantage point in town.
  8. Partake in the full Howler experience: take a popper shot, eat garlic fries and swing on the adult swing. In our book that’s a complete night out.
  9. Marvel (it’s the only verb, really) at turtles nesting on a beach on a midnight tour to La Flor Widlife refugee. If you’re lucky you may even catch sight of the endangered leatherback turtle. Then ….
  10. …around 50 days later come back to watch the newly hatched turtles make a dash to the sea.

    baby turtle

    Photo credit: Justin Courter

  11. Mountain bike your way through the rugged hills of San Juan del Sur’s hinterland following the trails of the annual Howler mountain bike race. It’s Nicaragua’s version of the Tour de France.
  12. Gaze in wonder at the spirals and abstract patterns of a petroglyff that could be 1,500 years old. It’s just outside town in the Palermo neighborhood. If it’s the rainy season, head a little upstream to a small waterfall.
  13. Partake of a “macua” served in a chilled oversized glass at Buen Gusto on San Juan del Sur’s malecón. Invented in Nicaragua, the drink is a heady concoction of guava, lime juice, orange juice and “Extra Light” Flor de Caña rum. You have not truly experienced a “macua” until you’ve had Rosi’s version at Buen Gusto. We recommend it with an order of “Tostones y queso”.
  14. Toast your happiness staring down at a sunset from Pelican Eyes Hotel and Resort. For that fabulous San Juan del Sur light, it doesn’t get any better than this.
  15. Stay all day in a hammock at Playa Hermosa. It’s the perfect spot for blissed out total relaxation. But don’t tell your friends. We’d like it to stay the same.
  16. Want to learn the local lingo? Enroll in an immersion program with Spanish Ya. At Spanish Ya you will learn more than proper Spanish grammar and vocabulary, you get to know about Nicaraguan history, local holiday celebrations, cuisine and culture.
  17. Make a splash at the Villas de Palermo swimming pool during their 2 for 1 drink happy hours every weekday. There’s ample waterside lounging, a poolside bar and restaurant and the added benefit of gorgeous ocean views.
  18. Set sail to hidden cove with Nica Sail and Surf and recharge your soul. The stunning coastline and secluded beaches will have you reaching for the camera button.
  19. Every Thursday the beach front stage at El Timon restaurant plays host to a cultural evening of folkloric dance showcasing San Juan del Sur’s best salsa and folk dancers. Before the night is out you’ll find yourself tapping your feet and wanting to…
  20. …sign up for a salsa lesson. In Nicaragua an inability to dance salsa is far less frowned upon than an unwillingness to try.

    Nicaraguan Folkore Dancers

    Photo credit: Brooke Rundle

  21. Take a day trip to Ometepe and marvel at the volcanic peaks of Concepción and Maderas rising like twin spires from lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.
  22. Slurp on a delicious smoothie at Banana Hamacas. These ice-cold refreshments come in all sorts of delicious combinations. Fruity, nutty, spicy, chocolatey… it’s all here.
  23. Tuck into a good book at Gato Negro. This part breakfast spot, part coffee shop, part bookstore has over 3,500 titles, including a collection of books on Nicaraguan history. But you’ll need to buy before you read.
  24. Taste a nacatamal – these delicious parcels of filled masa are wrapped in a plantain leaf, tied with string into oval bundles before being steamed for several hours.
  25. Attend Catholic mass at the church in the main square. Services are held every day at 6 pm and every Sunday at 9.00am with a special service for children at 11.00am.
  26. Pack an indulgent beach picnic and eat it on the beach (Playa Marsella is a good choice). Stock up at La Bodequita for deli delights and directly opposite at Pan de Vida for bread and cake.
  27. Surf at Playa Yankee. With lefts, rights and a beach break that acts like a point break: surfers are spoiled for choice here.
  28. Head out to trivia night at Republika Bar to put your general knowledge to the test and have some fun.  Here’s a question to get you warmed up:  Nicaragua has an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.  What’s it for?  (If you know the answer, tell us in the comments.)
  29. Enjoy a fish taco at Playa Remanso. You can pick one up at the unassuming bar right on the beach. Like the setting it comes simple, pure and delicious.
  30. Buy some Carizal jam. Made by a local women’s co-operative these delicious homemade jams are for sale at Pan de Vida Bakery, Gato Negro and the Sanchez Pulperia. Or buy direct from the Carizal community at Dona Nelly’s house across from the Carlos Guzman school.

    Carizal Jam Co-op

    Photo credit: Lauren Stocker

  31. Grab a guitar and sing on stage at open mic night at Pacha Mama on Tuesdays at 9pm (see their facebook page for details). Sometimes it really is the taking part that counts.
  32. Enjoy a lobster dinner on the sand at Playa Hermosa. Caught earlier in the day it’s no wonder it tastes so good.
  33. If you’re in town for the annual hipica (a horse parade through town) make sure you check it out. Beautiful horses, skillful riders, sombreros, copious amount of beer and upbeat Latin tunes. What’s not to like?
  34. Go completely off grid and rent a vacation home in a nature reserve. How about this one?
  35. Listen to Los Probrecitos live. After all they’re San Juan’s most “famous” local band. Giovanni and his collection of talented local musicians span all musical genres from classic rock and reggae, to blues and salsa. They play at a different venue in town almost every night. Check out their facebook page for an up to date schedule.
  36. Prepare and enjoy a typical Nicaraguan meal in a hands-on cooking class at Villas de Palermo. Choose from Yoltamal, Nacatamal, Indio Viejo, Sopa de Mondongo, Vaho, Chancho con Yuca, Salpicon, Atol, Vigorom, Gallo Pinto and more.
  37. Buy a Nicaraguan cigar and see what all the fuss is about. Start at Gato Negro and head half a block inland. You’ll see a white surfboard sign with “Cigars” in bright red letters.
  38. Head to the Sports Park (Parque Deportivo) to watch a basketball, soccer or volleyball game. Most league competitions take place at night under the stadium lighting on the south end of the Malecon. Food and drink vendors offer an array of snack options. The DJ is sure to get you to your feet if the game doesn’t. The park is run by Communidad Connect and the minimal entry fee goes to upkeep the sports park. Check out their facebook page for updates and league schedules.
  39. Nothing spells vacation like a sunset booze cruise with San Juan del Sur Surf and Sport. Enjoy cocktails from the open bar as you stare happily at the sun sinking slowly into the ocean. The diverse coastline, abundant wildlife and good fishing make the perfect playground for a sunset boat trip.
  40. See if you can spot a howler monkey. We’ve seen them in the trees around Palermo, Escamequita and Nacasolo neighborhoods. Listen and look up. You usually hear them before you see them.

    Monkey

    Photo credit: Susan Hogan

  41. Start 310 feet in the air and rappel vertically down a rock face to sea level. Then take off your gear, jump into the ocean and swim to the waiting boat. No question, Aracne rapelling tours will make you feel glad to be alive.
  42. Fish to your hearts content for Roosterfish, Dorado, Mackerel, Tuna, Wahoo, Sailfish, Jackfish, Kingfish, Grouper and Barracuda. The in-shore fishing around San Juan del Sur is world-class. Book your private panga at San Juan del Sur Surf & Sport with top of the range reels, the latest tackle, modern rods and electronics or…
  43. …try your hand at the traditional “line wrapped around a piece of wood” method of fishing used by local fishermen in the harbour. Load up on SPF beforehand.
  44. Swaddle yourself in fluffy towels ready for some pampering at Gaby’s Spa and Massage Studio. Sometimes a simple massage can be the greatest luxury.
  45. Buy a piñata, fill it with treats, find a tree and a bat and have a fiesta. Adults welcome. Piñata fun is not just for children.
  46. See if you can find the colorful Sandino (Augusto C. Sandino) mural in downtown San Juan del Sur. It makes for a great photo. You’ll see murals of Sandino throughout the county – all featuring his trademark hat. The slogan reads “Jamas Nos Vencerán” or “We will never be defeated”. Extra points if you can work out who painted it.
  47. Pay a visit to the rasta colored storefront known as Volcan Music Ukuleles and Guitarras and take a ukulele lesson from Ukulele Dave. All of the guitars and ukuleles are handmade by Nicaraguans. We guarantee you will be tempted to buy a musical piece of artwork.
  48. Put on some fins, mask and snorkel (plus scuba gear, if you are so inclined).  Then weave lazily over one of San Juan del Sur’s dive sites and enjoy the underwater stage show.
  49. Shake the morning out of your body with a workout at the Gimnasio. Now offering a variety of Zumba, crossfit and boxing classes, you have no excuse to not workout during your extended vacation.
  50. Devour an authentic seafood Paella at Jugoso. This casual Spanish restaurant is worth hunting out. Located in front of its’ hostal counterpart directly across from the beach.  It is not a bad place to watch the sunset either.

    Jugoso Paella

    Photo credit: Susan Hogan

  51. Eat a pitaya. Because sometimes life just isn’t hot pink enough. Peak pitaya season is from June to November.
  52. Act out your philosophy of buying local and connect with the expatriate community at the weekly farmers market held at Big Wave Daves.
  53. Go green by taking a public bus (aka a “chicken bus”) from Granada to San Juan del Sur instead of hiring a taxi or renting a car. You’ll find yourself riding along with the locals in a yellow school bus retired from the United States.
  54. Shell out few dollars at one of San Juan del Sur’s famous “Chicken Ladies” and you’ll be rewarded with delicious grilled chicken meal with cabbage salad, gallo pinto and plantains. Look for the street stalls east of the municipal market or west of the central park.
  55. Drum up your competitive spirit and drop in on a game of grass volleyball at Mango Rosa. Rumored to be San Juan del Sur’s only grass volleyball court, this off-the-beaten-path laid back surf resort near Playa Marsella is also a great place to take a yoga class, dip in the pool or pull up a bar stool and watch all the sports you’re missing on ESPN.
  56. Jump start your taste buds with a ceviche appetizer. The one at El Timon packs an explosive, citrusy punch of flavor. If you time it right, you might even be able to catch on their famous ceviche festivals to try every variety of local fish imaginable.
  57. For a low impact workout change into your swimsuit and join the water aerobics class at Pelican Eyes. It’s a great way to meet other exercise buffs.
  58. Buy hard crafted ceramics, masks, hammocks, leather, jewelry, you-name-it at prices you’ll want to write home about. Look for vendors on the malecon, along market street and directly across from Meson Español.
  59. Escape to the beach. There are dozens to choose from in the area and you can always find an isolated stretch of sand. What better place to spend an afternoon?
  60. Tuck into Dona Angelitas comedor in the municipal market for a typical Nicaraguan breakfast or lunch and taste the authentic flavor of Nicaraguan cuisine. Everything on the menu is 50 cordoba (less than $2 USD). All the food is cooked in front of you on a wood burning stove. You won’t find a better meal that this price. Be sure to say “hola” to Juan.

    Dona Angelita's Market JC

    Photo credit: Justin Courter

  61. Follow a religious parade through the streets of San Juan del Sur and feel cultured and enlightened.
  62. Get ready to get dirty! The local experts at Beach Fun Rentals will provide you with all you need to know about exploring the beaches, trails and hills of San Juan del Sur on 4 wheels.
  63. Volunteer at the Barrio Planta Project (locally known as BPP). This educational foundation offers daily classes for local children on a range of subjects including English, art, dance, computers and sports. Volunteers are always welcome and donations are always needed.
  64. Drive any direction out of town on a Sunday and you should come across a baseball game. Some baseball fields have bleachers for fans, food vendors serving snacks and a bar with cold beverages. Others have 4 bases, 2 teams, 1 bat, 1 ball and little else. In any case, baseball is Nicaragua’s favorite pastime and a visit to a baseball game is an unfiltered peak into the local culture. The most manicured field in town is on the left side of the only south leading road in San Juan, across from Bernardo, the tire guy.
  65. Splurge at Mulkul. Technically Mukul is not located in San Juan del Sur, but it’s a doable day trip at only an hour’s drive north. It’s worth the journey and the price if you really want to get pampered in a world-class spa – and the country’s finest. Perched directly above the sandy white beach of Guacalito, you can now purchase day passes to enjoy the spa, restaurant, pool facilities and 18-hole ocean front golf course. Be sure to check out the Flor de Caña tasting room for a history lesson on Nicaragua’s most desired export.
  66. Watch the locals pay beach volleyball on the waterfront. The concrete stadium seating alongside the malecón just south of Eskimo’s beach front ice-cream shop is a great spot to take it all in. The courts are put up daily by the dedicated local players, most of whom play competitively, so don’t bother challenging unless you’ve really got the skills. That being said, if you can really play beach volleyball, the locals are always looking for new competition.
  67. Climb a tree and pick a mango. Or just buy fresh mango from the roadside vendors in town. If you visit in the rainy season when the mangos are ripe, you are likely to see kids climbing trees in search of fresh low hanging fruit. Whether you pick one yourself or buy from a vendor, a visit is not complete without a few fresh mangos.
  68. Drink fresh coconut water directly out of a coconut. There are a few businesses in town such as the Barrio Cafe and Gato Negro that regularly sell fresh coconut water. However we challenge you to find the gentleman who roams town with his mobile cooler filled with ice-cold coconuts. Don’t be alarmed by his machete, he only uses it to cut a hole in the top. The going rate for a fresh coconut is approximately 6x less than a bottle of coconut water in the States, so drink up!
  69. Do the Harlem Shake in San Juan del Sur and post your video to youtube.com. Make sure you send us the link too! Here are the San Juan del Sur bomberos (the local firefighters) shaking it up on the malecon.
  70. Share stories and play guitar around a bonfire on the beach. Bonfires on beaches in San Juan del Sur are permitted.

    beach bonfire

    Photo credit: Susan Hogan

  71. Grab a copy of Del Sur News, San Juan del Sur’s community newsletter, and complete the puzzle page. You should see copies all around town, or download the latest edition from the website.
  72. Traveling with Fido? Since sandy paws equal happy dogs, why not take him for a run on the beach….any beach? They’re all dog friendly – dogs can roam off leash at any time of the day.
  73. Amble along the malecón in the late afternoon and people-watch as locals roll past on bicycles or rock hypnotically in wooden rocking chairs. This last activity is so popular there’s even a word for it: porteando; to be in one’s doorway.
  74. Locate a constellation you’ve never seen before. The stars twinkle brightly in San Juan del Sur on clear nights. (Tip: Download the Google Sky Map application on your smart phone or mobile device to help you identify the constellations).
  75. Spot Nicaragua’s colorful national bird – the “Guardabarranco” or “Turquoise-browed Motmot.” As it likes open habitats, you might see it at the forest edge, in some scrubland or perched on a fence.
  76. Catch a glimpse of a blowing, breaching and fluking humback whale. (You may also see dolphins and turtles). Whale watching season runs from January to late March or early April.
  77. Practice the Nicaraguan “lip point.” Say you’re at a fruit stand, instead of pointing a finger at a pitaya, purse your lips and point with them: “Is that a (lip point) pitaya?” Or if you’re at the bar: “That guy (lip point) sure can dance.” Get it right and no one will think you just got here.
  78. Shop for fish caught by local fishermen at the fish market. Look on the chalkboard for the catch of the day. Here are some Spanish words for local fish to get you warmed up: lenguado (sole), mero (grouper), pargo (snapper), caballa (makerel) and corvine (a type of sea bass).
  79. Join in with the frenzied festivities on the beach in San Juan del Sur during Semana Santa. (Semana Santa is always the week before Easter Sunday.) But if crowds, incessant noise and drinking hard liquor in the sun all day aren’t your thing, it’s probably best to steal quietly away for a few days.
  80. Get completely stuck in a cattle drive. Drivers in Nicaragua share the road with horses, ox drawn carts, chicken, pigs and herds of cattle. There’s no point hurrying them along. Just sit and watch them amble by.

    cattle drive

    Photo credit: Susan Hogan

  81. Strap on your protective gear and head into the jungle. You’ve never experienced a paintball course so intense. It’s survival of the fittest in this adult playground at Surf Ranch.
  82. Choose a school from a list provided by Fundación A. Jean Brugger, collect supplies, join the team on a visit to the school to deliver them and help improve local education.  This is all part of the Fundación’s School Supplies Project that has delivered over 3000 school packets to rural schools across the San Juan del Sur region.  If you want to make a difference locally, get involved.
  83. Stock up on local Flor de Caña rum (renowned as one of the best rums in Latin America), high altitude coffee (we like beans sourced from Matagalpa) and local cheese (queso quesillo is good for melting over a tortilla, queso seco is great fried and queso de crema is delicious on toast) from a “pulperia”.
  84. Have an invigorating session of boogie boarding. It’s easier than surfing, but catch a good wave and you’ll be shrieking with delight.
  85. Buy a machete from a ferratería and use it like the locals. In San Juan del Sur machetes are used for everything from cutting the grass to opening a beer bottle.
  86. Visit the cemetery. In Nicaragua the caskets are above ground and the headstones are brightly colored. If you can time your visit around the 1st of November, you will see the cemetery covered in flowers in celebration of the “Dia de Los Muertos”.
  87. Ride in the back of a pick-up truck. Yes it is completely legal to do so in San Juan del Sur. It may even end up being the highlight of your trip. Be sure to take a road soda to fully enjoy the experience.
  88. Take a picture of an iguana in the wild. They are difficult to find but absolutely beautiful. Be sure to send us your photo.
  89. Support sustainable tourism by spending a week living with a local family. Homestays can be arranged through Communidad Connect. SpanishYa also offers lodging. There’s no quicker way to learn Spanish and make friends then living with the locals.
  90. Want to get close to the ocean but prefer to stay above the water? Rent a stand up paddleboard (SUP) from San Juan Surf and become familiar with the bay. Dodge sailboats, explore caves, and wave to the local fisherman scattered around the cliff line.  Proceeds from the board rentals support local surfers.

    SUP DK 3

    Photo credit: David Kalani

  91. Enjoy an ice cold Toña on the upper balcony of the Iguana Bar. It’s the perfect way to soak up the atmosphere and pass a lazy hour or two. Can you legally marry a bottle of beer?
  92. Drop in to San Juan del Sur’s first and only skateboard park. Fully equipped with handrails, ledges, banks, hips, manual boxes, step ups, quarter pipes, and banks to ledges & rails, it should be enough to get your heart pumping. Check it out at Surf Ranch.
  93. Take a property tour. If you are considering relocation to San Juan del Sur or just think it would make a great spot for your family vacation home, then we suggest taking a property tour of homes and condos for sale in the area. There are many knowledgeable English speaking realtors in town who can help you navigate the local real estate market.
  94. See San Juan del Sur’s history told though photos hanging on the walls of La Posada Azul, Estrella and the Estacíon hotels. The collection tells a 400 year story from the town’s establishment as a port, the years it served as the Pacific transit point during the California gold rush through to the present day.
  95. Get kitted out with the latest surf gear from one of San Juan del Sur’s many surf shops. According to the legends, Chelo 28 Surf was the first surf shop in town. It originally opened in 1990.
  96. Play frisbee golf at the Marsella Valley Nature center. Yes, San Juan del Sur has a frisbee golf course. It is located ½ way between town and Marsella beach on the left side of the road. We recommend bringing a cold cooler filled with waters.
  97. Get up to speed on Nicaragua’s political history by reading Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua. Written by a New York Times journalist it’s a highly readable account of the Sandinista revolution and Contra war that took place during the 80s.
  98. Play “fútbol” in the harbor of San Juan with the locals. (And we don’t mean American football.) Everyday during the low tide soccer games take place around the time of the sunset. The biggest games take place on Sundays when most locals don’t have to work.
  99. Attend an “Ancianos Luncheon” with the A. Jean Brugger Foundation. (Ancianos means elders in Spanish.) The Foundation hosts occasional luncheons to feed and entertain approximately 150 local elders in the community. Donations are always needed to continue the program.
  100. Make a donation to a local non-profit. If you can afford a plane ticket to vacation in San Juan del Sur then you can afford to make a donation to the local programs in need of funding. There are several wonderful non-profits actively supporting education, health and environmental initiatives in San Juan del Sur help the community. We strongly encourage you to make a donation to the one that most tugs at your heart. Learn more about the non-profits active in San Juan del Sur and spread the love.
  101. Surrender to the experience of Nicaragua’s one and only annual pitaya fest. Come for great music, eclectic craft stalls, local art, tasty food, friendly vibes and to support the Casa Lllanta Fund. Playa Hermosa provides a beautiful backdrop to all the festival fun.

    Pitaya Fest

    Photo credit: Justin Courter

Over to you. What have we missed?

Tell us about your favorite things to do in San Juan del Sur in the comments box. We’d love to hear about your experiences.

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Comments

  1. What a fantastic list. I’m exhausted just reading it. While I get over it, I am going to take #15. When I recapture my energy, I won’t have to look far to figure out what to do. Great job.

  2. Great list! Every one of the suggestions sounds like an awesome time!

  3. What a great list post. I can tell you put a lot of hardwork and time into creating this post. The cattle drive made me laugh out loud. The surfRanch also seemed like fun. Keep up the good work.

  4. What a great list. Added to our bucket list of cool places to visit. What a fab family holiday it would make.

  5. Great list, thanks. Is the amswer only country with fresh water sharks?

    • Hey Mike, The answer to #28 is not fresh water sharks (although it does make me want to research that point). Thanks for leaving a comment. We’ll post the answer in a little while if no one gets it.

  6. Buy a machete? Wow!
    102. Go eat pasta at Pacific Bay near Marsella beach on a Thursday, it’s an all you can eat! Sauces change from week to week.

  7. This is a very complete list! There are lots of things to do in San Juan. I’m sure you could easily double up the list with suggestions. Massages and pedicures in and near Maderas, the frisbee golf tournament at Marsella Valley, mustache competition in August, Halloween celebrations, and lots more!

  8. Thank you for the shout out! awesome list.
    A great inspiration and motivator for fun!
    Giddy Up!
    Blue

  9. Wow what an incredible list! I had no idea there were so many things to do in San Juan del Sur! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Dale Thornburgh says:

    That was fun, I feel like I was there for a few minutes. Can’t wait see you soon!

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