As Mrs R sets its sights on where to travel in 2014, the Pacific coast region of Nicaragua, and the town of San Juan del Sur, is high on our list of places to go.
Having visited the country earlier this year, we can easily see why. Tourism is on the rise, but the crowds are still a long way off, which means there’s time and space to enjoy its simple pleasures. With a landscape that encompasses volcanoes, jungles, lakes, lagoons, rivers, beaches and lush rainforest, this country has something for everyone. Nicaraguans are friendly, hospitable and mellow, and while their country may have attracted unwanted attention in the 1980s during the Iran-Contra affair, it’s finally earning its place in the sun.
As one of the few places left to visit that won’t break your bank account, it’s easy to see why so many Americans and Canadians are flocking to the area around San Juan del Sur, a tranquil fishing village that surrounds a crescent-shaped stretch of beach dotted with small bars and cafes. The town is easy to navigate and offers lots of options for eating and drinking. It’s also a superb outpost for booking loads of activities on and off the water. Taxis are plentiful, making it easy to check out the lovelier beaches up and down the coast. If you’re looking for a bit more than soaking up the sun, there’s plenty to do. Here’s our pick of the best ways to while away your vacation time.
1. Follow the Surf.
Surfers helped put this area on the map and this town’s been operating as a hub for them ever since. Not ready to plant your feet on a board? No problem, just pitch a blanket and watch the experts. Otherwise, no matter your age, you won’t be at a loss to find a surf camp that’ll suit you up. Ladies, for the adventurer in you, check out CHICABRAVA—an all girls surf camp (below) whose motto is – Get Stoked…In Style! Founded in 2003 by 6-time Nicaraguan National surf champ, Ashley Blaylock, this retreat style camp will both challenge and pamper you.
2. Grab a Horse and Giddy-up
A handful of outfits around San Juan del Sur run horseback tours for much less than what it costs to ride in the U.S. Rancho Chilamate, (below) an eco-friendly ranch owned and operated by an ex-pat Canadian couple, guide half-day tours at sunrise or sunset, depending on the tides. They’ll suit and saddle you up, and include a photography tour of your ride. A portion of the ride revenue goes back to the local community to help with healthcare and education costs, as well as other types of assistance projects.
3. Habla Espanol?
Looking to immerse yourself in the culture and improve your high-school Spanish? Consider adding some lessons to your itinerary. There are several language schools in and around San Juan del Sur that can easily fit into your budget, and your new skills will have you chatting with the locals in no time! If you’re traveling solo, it’s a great way to make new friends.
4. Grab a Mat and Get Centered
Morning sun salutations on the beach are a pretty sweet way to start the day. From teacher-training camps to retreats to community classes, there are several top-notch yoga schools and studios to help you “be here now.” Several of the surf camps also offer yoga.
5. Get Your Munchies In the Jungle
Pizza is definitely on my desert island list of foods and as a Brooklynite, I think I can vouch for the good stuff. Munchies Blues Cafe is a Monday night, reservation-only experience in the jungle out by Playa Marsella and Playa Maderas and worth the 20-minute taxi ride from town. Sergio knocks up killer Roman-style pizza out of his brick oven that rivals some of the best stuff in my own neck of the woods.
If you like to stay in the thick of it, check out La Posada Azul. Set within a historic wooden home, this sweet boutique hotel has 7 private rooms, a porch to enjoy breakfast, and a private pool set within a tropical garden overflowing with bougainvillea. Located just a short walk from the beach, the charming front shop sells local crafts.
You won’t find many corporate sized hotels and with rates still low in Nicaragua there are bargains galore, making it the perfect destination to explore. If you’re looking to visit the Pacific coastline, avoid the windy season of December, January, and February. Otherwise, pack your bags and your sense of adventure and go!
Click here for the local San Juan del Sur Travel Guide