Central America #9: San Juan del Sur – is it really in Nicaragua?

During a chat over breakfast, two Nicaraguan girls traveling by car had offered me a ride from San Jorge to San Juan del Sur, meaning that I wouldn’t have to go through the motions of dealing with dodgy bus chargers and taxi drivers in Rivas. Though I didn’t spot the girls until the extremely full ferry from Ometepe was docking at mainland San Jorge. The journey over to the Pacific coast took less than hour and we arrived just after lunchtime. I headed off to find a hostel with a French girl who I’d been hanging out with for the past couple of days and ended up at Javier’s Place for 10 USD per night with brekkie of gallo pinto (rice and beans), eggs and pancake included, thrilled to discover that the dorm room we got was completely empty and had a selection of powerful fans to beat away the heat at night. After sorting this we went for lunch with the Nica girls and I had a tasty fish dish which cost more than I’d been accustomed to paying for meals but was certainly tasty.

After bidding farewell to Monica and Adriana (who I’d later see in Managua) Amelie and I oohed and aahed about whether we wanted to take part in Sunday Funday the following day. It’s basically a full-day bender which costs 30 USD, brings a whole bunch of gringos together and transports them on buses/jeeps between three different hostels, each of which has a pool. The must-do thing in San Juan del Sur, I’d been told, though adjectives such as messy and debauched had also been bandied about. The price tag didn’t even include beers, so after we decided to do it, I hoped that it would live up to expectations.

More on that soon.

The beach in San Juan del Sur, in contrast to most of those I’d been to in Panama in Costa Rica, was quite long and thus one is able to sunbathe without worrying about the tide tickling your toes. I chilled on the beach for a while, taking the odd dip now and again in the warm ocean until the sun began to come down. Incidentally, there are allegedly much prettier beaches only a bus ride from San Juan, but I wouldn’t have time to visit them.

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Beach in san Juan
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San Juan del Sur

I went for a wander down to the street market along the beachfront to buy a bracelet, as I try to get one in each country I visit, and was quoted a ridiculous 5 USD for a very basic one, which caused me to laugh out loud in the face of the man selling them and not even attempt to negotiate. I found one for slightly over a dollar further down and then sat on the beach to see the sunset. I took photos for a group of Nicaraguan teenagers who I’d bump into on a further occasion, and then caught the back end of happy hour in a cocktail bar and acquired a couple of rather strong mojitos for just 2 USD, which went down rather nicely despite the drunken shouts and ramblings of a grey-haired ruffian from the US who was watching American football.

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San Juan at sunset

I followed the mojitos with some burritos on a street corner and took a shower before hitting the town with Amelie, probably a touch too early as nothing much was going on. We surreally drank beers in a church square while the locals listened to a priest preaching and lighting candles before we found a place with live music and decent draft beer. San Juan del Sur was certainly one of the most touristy places I visited on the trip and it seemed particularly popular amongst Canadians and people from the US, as evidenced by the fact that most bars and restaurants were owned by them and the majority of the revellers were from there. We ended up in a club where Amelie and a barman had a heated exchange about him giving her the wrong change, but he didn’t back down and promptly received the middle finger. Allez la France! I hoped that getting back to the hostel at 2am wouldn’t mean being burnt out for Sunday Funday less than half a day afterwards.

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Nicaraguan beer

We got hold of the Sunday Funday tickets early in the day, at which point I managed to squeeze in a quick hike to the Christ statue overlooking the bay. To get there involved walking down the main street towards it, cutting across the beach where there’s a curve, and then going one street behind the main one and heading towards the mountain. It’s eventually signposted, if not very clearly, but ask on your way there and you’ll be fine. The walk took less than half an hour despite being a rather steep climb and from memory it costs about 3 USD to go on the top part where you can take panoramic photos. Once there I bumped into the teens I’d met the previous day and we proceeded to act as photographers for each other, and an elderly German fellow also joined in. The views from atop the mountain were indeed spectacular, the sea extremely blue and the flora as green as could be.

Before starting on the booze, I figured I’d line my stomach first, so made myself some tuna wraps and drank about a litre of milk. I went to the party with some other people staying in the hostel at about midday and was glad to hear I was one of the youngest in the group, meaning not everyone there was going to be a baby-faced kid who can’t yet drink legally in his country.

At the start, we illicitly sneaked our own cans of beer into the Mama Pacha hostel where it began as the bottles on sale there cost more than 2 USD a hit, over double the shop-price. I partnered with a Canadian girl who I’d already bumped into in Panama and Costa Rica to play beer pong and got off to a perfect start by landing my first two balls in cups, though that was my peak as I wouldn’t register in a further three games. I lost all my games, being told off for my elbow having passed an imaginary line (Canadians have far too many rules for such a simple game), and thus ended up drinking my beer quickly. I went on to play Connect Four and remained unbeaten at that, so felt proud of myself.

Everyone stayed at that hostel for a couple of hours before being ushered to another bar on the beachfront which had quite a large swimming pool. I continued to drink beers but wouldn’t say I felt overly drunk at any point, even when I went on the spirit and mixers. After resisting for a while I jumped in the pool as most others had done and commandeered a hat made of leaves before its rightful owner claimed it back from me. We were transported in jeeps to another hostel called Naked Tiger which was in the hills a little out of San Juan and had a great viewpoint for the sunset. I spent most of my time there chatting by the poolside with others who weren’t mega-inebriated, and at some point everyone starting dancing to songs that were for the most part electronic or pop.

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The fabled green hat

I think Sunday Funday is best described as an expensive ‘Frat Party’, and is very much based on what happens at college in the US. Boys walked around in shorts and girls were bikini-clad under the sun, evoking images of PitBull’s music videos. For some, especially those under 21, it was probably the best party of their lives, but if you’ve been to Uni and on any kind of big night out, then you won’t have your breath taken away. The only locals in sight are the bouncers and I’d say the majority of the partygoers were from the US or Canada. In no way is the whole thing remotely Nicaraguan apart from the setting. In summary, it’s probably something you should check out when you’re in San Juan, just to say you’ve done it and to get a nice vest, and I don’t regret going. It wasn’t amazing, but nor was it a waste of time, as whether you’re a mad-for-it partyer or more chilled customer such as myself, you’ll always end up chatting to like-minded people.

The final leg of the crawl was a nightclub back on the beach, once again with tunes you’d more associate with Miami than Managua, and I called it a day at about 10.30pm and walked back to the hostel. Amelie was already there and we laughed at one another for being ‘boring’ and wanting to go to bed.

The trip to San Juan del Sur was fun although in no shape or form a cultural experience, but next time round, I’d definitely like to take a look at other surrounding beaches. I spent just two nights there as I was in something of a hurry on my way up the continent and I left after breakfast on the Monday morning on the local chicken bus headed towards Managua to meet the Nicaraguan girls with whom I’d become acquainted in Ometepe.

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