A visit to this town wasn’t even in our original plan for Nicaragua. We’d heard of its lure for surfers and gap year travelers, but we were concerned there would be nothing there for us – we are neither of those travelers right now.
We went anyway. I’m so glad we did.
We arrived in San Juan del Sur in shoulder season. This short period at the end of the dry season is a perfect time to visit as tourist numbers are waning and the surfing season is just picking up speed.
Early each morning when the waves are best, surfers flock out to the beaches to catch a ride. Playa Madera is most popular, but other near by beaches like Playa Majagual are empty and rugged.
At night, San Juan del Sur’s ribbon of beachfront restaurants pulses with local tourists, ex-pats, and travelers. There are some bars scattered through town, but the streets seem generally sleepy, just with pockets of music and revelry.
Mid-day, the town is empty of travelers. For a non-surfer like me, this was the best time for a walk around the colorful streets. We had them to ourselves to explore.
Just under 20,000 people call San Juan del Sur home, though you would think it’s even less based on the size of the main walking area – a three block square. Colorful paints cover the stone buildings and white intricate wrought iron gratings cover the windows. Rusted corrugated metal are common rooftops and show the town’s age and crumbling state. Town dogs trot from house to house on their daily rounds, while small cafes sizzle with the scent of grilling meats for the day’s lunch.
In the late afternoon sunshine, the colors lit up like neon.
Along the beach, games of soccer popped up throughout the day. People of all ages joined in on the games. In the heat of the afternoon tropical sun, ice cream from a cart was a popular snack.
More so than soccer and beautiful tropical colors, San Juan del Sur’s canine residents really captured my attention. (Seems I’m dog-obsessed since Cambodia came into my life.) Around every corner and stretch of sand, I found someone doing something photo-worthy. Like giddily scampering down the beach with a prize stick.
Or pensively resting on a sidewalk.Curiously checking out the enormous camera making clicking noises.Or ignoring me all together in favor of a post rain shower nap.Each evening before the restaurants clamor to life, the sun sinks slowly into the Pacific, igniting a golden glow over the streets, the sand, the bay, and the sky. We retired to our hilltop hammock to watch the sky turn from honey to indigo and the glittering lights of San Juan del Sur to spring to life.