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Exploring the Pacific coastline around San Juan Del Sur

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Nicaragua is famous throughout the surfing community for its miles of white sandy coastline, pummelled by the Pacific Ocean all-year-long.

The small and delightfully colorful city of San Juan Del Sur acts as a filtering junction for those heading to explore the multitude of beaches just minutes away. However, I wouldn’t recommend staying in the city, as all the hotels and hostels I looked into were at best dark, dingy, and way over-priced.

For the same price out near the beach, you can book into a resort complete with everything you need to relax after explorfing (my new term for exploring and surfing), including swimming pool, mountaintop yoga, and a hot shower (ooohhh luxury) – more details later.

For most of our time in the area, we took the budget route by camping right down on Playa (beach) Maderas, where we had full toilet and shower facilities at our site, less than 50 meters from the sands.

Before we get into all the glorious details, here’s a video compilation of our two weeks camping, adventuring, and explorfing along the Pacific coastline around San Juan Del Sur…

Getting there

Kaleigh and I took a cheap, cramped, ‘chicken bus’ from the capital city, Managua’s (pronounced Man-ag-wa) Mercado Huembes (pronounced “whem-base”) bus station; 6USD getting both us and our bags on to the bus.

Arriving in a little city called Rivas, we had to walk five minutes behind a local market to find the connecting bus to San Juan Del Sur, again paying 6USD/140 córdoba for both to travel.

Casa oro hostel san juan del sur
Hostel Casa Oro where you can buy a shuttle ticket

All-in-all, the journey from Managua to San Juan Del Sur took approximately three hours.

We now had to catch a shuttle from town down to the beach. There’s a hip hostel here called Cassa De Oro, which runs shuttle services between most beaches, including Playa Maderas.

After 30 minutes off-roading in the back of a pick-up truck all for 2.5USD/50 córdoba return each, we arrived at our new home.

Times and prices

Managua to Rivas: 2-hour journey for 70 córdoba (each person)

Rivas to San Juan Del Sur: 1-hour journey for 70 córdoba (each person)

San Juan Del Sur to Playas Maderas: 30-minute journey for 120 córdoba (one person return trip)

Heads up – if you want to stay at the beach overnight, make sure to ask for a 7-day return ticket, as Casa De Oro issues a same-day return as standard.

Around the town of San Juan Del Sur

The small town is very picturesque with rolling hills as a backdrop and a wraparound horseshoe beach at its front of house; great for sunbathing but not so much for surfing.

I highly recommend checking out the little market that runs through the center of town, with an excellent spot for some cheap alfresco food in big portions at a small price (look for the only set of tables and chairs among the daily market stalls).

Searching for something fast and seriously tasty? Check out the local fast food place called Taco Stop, serving up burritos, nachos, and of course tacos, with complimentary roadside seating perfect for people watching.

pool party view san juan del sur naked tiger
The view from Naked Tiger’s Sunday funday pool party

If you want to have a few drinks and meet some likeminded traveler friends, head on over to the Loose Moose, a Canadian themed bar that knows how to have a good time.

Just outside of town and up a hill, you’ll find a great party hostel which hosts the well-known Sunday funday each week. Ask at the Loose Moose for details on the Naked Tiger Hostel’s free shuttle service.

If you’re stocking up on essentials for surviving a night or two wild-style, this is the tip for you… approximately 10 minutes walk out of town (along the main road just before the Playa Maderas turnoff – map in the links below) you can find the best/cheapest local grocery store, Pali, which provides items at half the price of those smaller city center shops.

Staying overnight and exploring around Playa Maderas

We stayed at a campsite right on Playa Maderas, owned by the small cafe situated just back from the beach. For 5USD a night, we were treated to full toilet and shower (cold) facilities, including wash areas for dishes and clothes. The attached restaurant serves a pretty good tipico (local typical) breakfast at 4USD and has ice cold local beers at a dollar a pop.

Warning – the campsite floor is hard and gravelly, so bring a sleeping mat or be prepared for some bruised ribs. Also, I left my hard drive in the cafe during a power cut and it was stolen pretty quickly (my fault for leaving it out). If you have valuables, the cafe will stash your most precious safely behind the bar.

There are two other restaurants here on the beachfront, but I wouldn’t recommend either – especially not Taco Loco, which serves expensive, tiny, tasteless shite.

If a budget bed is what you seek, find your cheap and cheerful spot at Los Tres Hermanos, complete with balconies overlooking this popular beach.

View playa maderas beach los tres hermanos
The view down Playa Maderas with Los Tres Hermanos hostel in the distance

Hot tip: after sunset and before 10am, the beach is pretty much devoid of human life. Head out at night time to find your own private spot under the stars, with plenty of dry firewood for keeping warm.

Getting fancy – if you’re looking for a nice place within ten minutes walk of the beach, check out Selina, a pool/surf/yoga resort set amongst the serenity of verdent hills while pumpin’ out a fun and youthful vibe.

Out and about up the coast

Skinny dipping in mountainside pool
There certainly are gems to found while exploring the deserted hiking trails…

We had an awesome time exploring this area, heading north from the often maddening daytime crowds in Maderas, to find beach after beach, becoming more and more deserted the further we journeyed. There are, however, still a few beach bar shacks along the way, perfect for taking a refreshing pitstop with a cheap liter of beer and great view.

The hills all around are riddled with trails that nobody seems interested in hiking. I took a random road upwards from the very north of Playas Maderas and found a little beauty of a swimming hole.

Best surfing beaches in San Juan Del Sur (SJDS)

Playa Remanso – only ten minutes away from the town of San Juan Del Sur, this is the perfect spot for those looking to maximize wave time while staying in town. Great for beginners as it is usually an easy paddle out with nice long rolling waves but the spot can sometimes get gnarly.

10 minutes north SJDS

Playa Maderas – a consistent, sand bottom, beach break, great for the beginner through to the intermediate surfer. There’s plenty of room for those looking to hone their skills in the easier white water or out on the pumping left/right.

30 minutes north of SJDS

Playa Hermosa – with two miles of sandy beach break to play with, everyone can find their own slice of heaven here – waves perfect for beginners.

30 minutes south of SJDS

Playa Yankee – is a spot only for those with some serious surfing skills. Those who dare will win with an epic view of Costa Rica and some sweet nut shaped barrels.

40 minutes south of SJDS

Weather throughout the year

One of the things I loved about visiting this area in January was the stiff breeze that never seemed to die down and rarely failed in keeping me cool.

April and May are the hottest months with temperatures soaring into the mid 30’s and not so often falling below the mid 25c.

June through to Mid October constitutes the rainy season but you can be lucky with the odd day of sun often thrown into the mix.

Dad sons playing ocean reflection water tropical

More camping spots along the coast

Playa La Flor wildlife reserve – camping allowed on the beach for 500 córdoba per tent/per night.

Playa Majagual – Camping at Matilda’s (just behind the beach) 250 córdoba per night/tent.

Playa Manzanillo – Camping Zone near the beach but also near a main road 250 córdoba per night/tent.

North of Playa Manzanillo – camping on the beach for free.

Chronologically ordered links

Here are some links to help with your explorfing adventures…

In San Juan Del Sur

Casa Oro eco hostel in San Juan Del Sur – www.casaeloro.com

How to find Taco Stop in San Juan – www.tacostopnicaragua.com/locales

The Loose Moose Canadian Bar on FB – www.facebook.com/theloosemoosesjds

The Naked Tiger Party hostel – www.nakedtigerhostel.com

Map to Pali supermarket in San Juan Del Sur – https://goo.gl/maps/18fecCViBTH2

Around Playa Maderas

Facebook page for the restaurant/campsite at Maderas – https://www.facebook.com/Camping-Madera-260721877381863/

Los Tres Hermanos hostel on the beach – https://www.facebook.com/HostalMaderaLosTresHermanos/

Website for the fancy resort near Maderas – www.selina.com/casa-maderas/

More camping around San Juan Del Sur

Camping info for Play La Flor – www.vianica.com/attraction/25/la-flor-beach-natural-reserve

Camping info from Playa Majagual – www.hostalmatilda.com

Playa Manzanillo camp zone booking – www.booking.com/hotel/ni/camping-zone.es.html#tab-main

Free camping past Manzanillo – www.ioverlander.com/places/3143-beach-camping-north-of-playa-manzanillo

More yearly weather information – www.holiday-weather.com/san_juan_del_sur_ni/averages/

Hello, and thanks for reading through to the end! This article consumed nearly 75 hours of my time – taking photos, editing the video, researching, and eventually writing it all out.

If you have found it to be useful, please show your appreciation for my work by sharing the page with your friends… thanks in advance! 

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