Arced around a curving strip of sand, San Juan del Sur’s downtown area (or centro) is small, just 10 blocks or so. The pretty beachfront road (malecon) is lined with a string of thatch-roofed restaurants, bars, surf shops and souvenir stalls and stretches along two thirds of the bay, from the port to the pedestrian bridge.
There’s lots of life in the streets of San Juan del Sur. Vegetable vendors call out from tiny wooden tiendas, young artisans sell their jewelry from blankets spread on the sidewalks and handicraft vendors do deals through car windows. You can find just about anything you might need – from sandals and surf wax to banks and notaries.
Afternoons and evenings are especially good. Locals carry their rocking chairs onto the sidewalks, whole families stroll along the malecon and fishing boats return with their catch destined for the seafood restaurants on the sand. Everywhere glows a pinkish orange, ready for another magical sunset. Things pick up another notch as night falls with music spilling from the bars as people enjoy themselves into the wee hours.
Despite the beautiful bay flanked by steep hills, the fishing boats dotting the harbor, the brightly painted wooden houses and tidy church plaza, San Juan del Sur’s charm is more kickback than pretty-pretty. But an ongoing renewal program continues to bear fruit with more potholes filled, street lamps installed and faded Sandino murals re-painted.
As you’d expect on the property front, San Juan del Sur’s downtown has a commercial flavor. If you happen to own one of the corner buildings downtown you can be assured of strong rental demand from restaurant owners, hostels or real estate agencies looking to set up shop. While the beachfront road has received most attention from investors, there are interesting areas developing back from the beach, with some streets starting to develop an arty vibe, others clustered with interesting shops and street food.