San Juan Del Sur is easily one of Nicaragua's best places to visit.
With gorgeous beaches and tantalising oceans, it is a paradise for both surfing, and relaxing.
From hidden surf and yoga retreats, to buzzing hostels and exciting nightlife, it really does feel like a little slice of paradise.
We spent almost 2 weeks in and around this beautiful part of Nicaragua, and wanted to share with you all of the best things San Juan Del Sur has to offer.
As well as a few extra useful tips and tricks!
Let's get stuck in...
There are a variety of ways to get to San Juan Del Sur, depending on what direction of the country you're coming from.
If you're heading to San Juan from the Costa Rica direction, or even the Ometepe direction, you can easily get a taxi from Rivas, or a bus.
If you're heading from Leon (which is where Bradley and I came from since we looped the country), you can get a shuttle bus.
The shuttle is around $20 and it takes about 8 hours. I recommend going with Nicatime as they were the cheapest and the ride was pleasant. We stopped for lunch at a cheap place in Granada too which was delicious.
All the actual good surfing beaches in San Juan Del Sur are outside the central area, so you’ll need to either get a taxi or shuttle to the beaches.
There are tour agencies all over the place that offer shuttle services to the beaches, but many of them require a minimum of 3 people per shuttle.
If you want a taxi you will have to negotiate hard for a price. We got a taxi to Playa Yankee for $15 dollars and a shuttle was $15 each, so it can be better value to get a taxi if you’re sharing with people.
You can find a taxi driver on the street, ours turned out to be a big poop head, so make sure you get a nice one and AGREE beforehand on the price!
Read more: Guide to getting around Nicaragua
There are LOTS of great places to stay in San Juan Del Sur. I’ll list my top 5 below!
This range of hotels have options to suit absolutely everyone. But you can find the best hotels in San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua here.
Okay, now for the part you came for, the top things to do in San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua!
Nicaragua is one of the best places in the world to learn how to surf.
And rather than just getting lessons by the sea, you should definitely spend some time at a surf camp!
We stayed in Rapture Surf Camp for a couple of nights, and got a little taste of what you do to learn to surf here.
It’s a really great community and all your food, surfboard rental and surfing lessons are included in your rate. You can also choose to stay in dorms, really cute tents or actual air conditioned rooms!
Anyway, it’s fantastic value and a great place to spend 1-2 weeks learning how to surf. I recommend staying for a solid 10 days if you’ve got time.
If you don’t wanna surf at a surf camp, then simply head to one of the many beaches in Nicaragua at San Juan Del Sur.
Playa El Yankee is a beautiful and secluded beach and boards are around $10 for a day rental and $20 for a lesson.
Playa Maderas is the most popular surfing beach, where you can take a guided lesson which includes your surfboard and a private instructor for 2 hours.
You can also pre-book this alternative surf lesson, which is best for beginners who want to try it out.
The great thing about surfing in San Juan del Sur is that there are often lots of beach bars and shacks on the beach, so you can take frequent breaks and buy snacks and drinks as you please.
San Juan Del Sur is the perfect place to relax. It’s got stunning beaches (many of which are uncrowded), along with beautiful blue seas and much more.
It’s a perfect place to relax and if you want a yoga retreat with the best food in the world (I am not exaggerating), then Costa Dulce is the place for you. It’s secluded, beautiful and you will leave here feeling like a new person!
They’re located right next to Playa Escameca, so you’ll be right next to the beach here.
You can also combine surf and yoga at a yoga surf retreat here too.
If you don’t want to go to a yoga retreat, then you’ll find that most hotels and hostels will offer yoga sessions for either free or a small fee.
Overall there’s plenty of options here in San Juan del Sur, so it’s just a case of browsing well and picking the best option for you (in terms of budget, facilities and what’s included).
In peak season, San Juan Del surf is known for its heavy party scenes!
Actually every Sunday they have this massive pub crawl where all the backpackers gather and bar hop all day and night. It’s called Sunday Funday and it’s quite cheap.
There's even a Sunday Funday Pool Crawl for those looking to cool down in the heat!
That’s a great way to meet people and have fun, but if you’re not there on a Sunday, there are many bars in the area that have live music and lots of drink promotions during the week (such as tequila for less than $1!).
Iguana Bar is a solid option that has both an upstairs and downstairs bar, and is also located right on the beachfront. It’s actually open as early as 8:00am (until 2:00am all days of the week), so you can come for cocktails earlier in the day too.
So you can easily DIY your own pub crawl!
Here's some more information if you're looking to get involved in Sunday Funday which I highly recommend.
The Christ of Mercy (locally known as El Cristo de la Misericordia) is almost like a smaller version of ‘Christ the Redeemer’ in Rio and is set upon a big hill just west of the town.
It’s one of the most iconic San Juan Del Sur attractions and isn’t a difficult walk, but you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the city from the top (along with getting up and close with this giant 80 ft statue).
Although it’s stunning at any time of day, the views from the top are spectacular at night when San Juan Del Sur is lit up and shining.
It’s great walking up just before sunset too as the weather is much cooler and the colors of the sky that you’ll see are truly unbelievable!
The Christ of the Mercy is also easy to get to as you just need to cross the drawbridge on the beach and then walk up. From there, just follow the signs towards Malibu, and then you’ll come across signs for the Christ of Mercy.
Here's some more information about the route you should take to reach this iconic attraction!
It’s only $2 for the entrance fee too, so it is among one of the cheapest things to do in San Juan Del Sur.
Heading out on a catamaran is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in San Juan Del Sur.
You won’t be short of tour options either as there are lots of signs advertising this activity along the beach. However, one of the most popular operators for catamaran trips in San Juan Del Sur is Nica Sail!
You also won’t be breaking the bank to do this, as you can get a full-day package deal for around $70. This includes all your food and drink for the day, so take advantage of this by sipping cocktails on the boat throughout your trip.
Sounds like the life right? Honestly - I couldn’t recommend this experience enough!
The catamaran will also stop throughout the trip so you can jump out for a swim. You’ll also want to give snorkelling a go as the waters are so clear.
So if you’re looking for a fun and unique day out then make sure you add this to your itinerary!
You can find NicaSail just a block away from the Parque Central in town, so you can walk in and discuss the different options. They are currently open from 9:00am until 5:00pm all days of the week.
There’s also another great option for those who want a more authentic experience, which is exploring islets on Lake Nicaragua (which is close to Granada). We highly suggest booking this day tour which includes round-trip transportation from San Juan del Sur, as well as your professional guide who will show you the very best parts.
If you are picturing a stunning sunset whilst trekking along the beach on a beautiful horse - then you’re exactly right!
This is one of the most relaxing (and romantic) things to do in San Juan Del Sur, and is a popular activity with couples.
You’ll find numerous providers in town who offer horse riding along the beach, so it’s just a case of browsing until you find the best option for you.
If you want a more secluded experience in the outer region, then you can organize your horseback riding tours with Rancho Chilamate. They will take you to some of the most beautiful beaches in the area that are famous for their isolation and tranquility.
The guided tours can be taken at any time of the day, whether it’s during sunset, or early in the morning. They last for around 5 hours and cost around $65 per person.
This awesome day tour is also a great option if you’re looking to go horse riding along Playa Maderas which is a 20-minute drive outside of the city center. You’ll visit the Christ of the Mercy too as you enjoy these seriously impressive panoramic views.
Playa Maderas is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area - so be sure to bring your camera as it makes for the perfect backdrop!
San Juan del Sur is full of beach bars, so you’ll be spoilt for choice when wanting to get a few cold ones in!
Here we’ll also find plenty of restaurants located on the beach, which are lovely with great views, fantastic food and great 2-4-1 cocktails!
They are a little pricier than other restaurants, but for the views and the atmosphere, it’s definitely worth paying a little more.
These are great at both lunchtime (you can dip in the sea!), and in the evening to catch a sunset.
Nicaragua in general is a great spot to learn Spanish, but San Juan Del Sur specifically offers plenty of options when it comes to learning this awesome language.
Spanish is really useful to know if you’re planning to spend long periods of time in Central America, South America and Spain too!
One of the best ways to learn Spanish is by heading to one of the language schools in San Juan Del Sur. You can spend hours here learning if you wish, and the prices are cheap too.
You can actually get lessons for as cheap as $5 per hour in this city, so there’s no excuse not to learn!
One of the most popular options in San Juan Del Sur is Lago Azul Spanish School as it has plenty of great reviews. They even have a week-long immersive experience for just $250 which includes a homestay, all lessons and extra activities too!
If you are still unsure (or want to try something less intensive), then we highly suggest booking this Spanish lesson, where you can choose from different durations and also have meals included.
Now, this is one of the coolest things to do in San Juan Del Sur!
Everyone loves a good ATV tour, and there’s no better way to explore the surrounding region of this beautiful town.
Regardless of which provider you pick, you’ll find that all of the routes offer a fantastic and fun experience, and you’ll be in safe hands too!
We suggest pre-booking your spot on this ATV half-day tour, which lasts for four hours and offers a variety of route options. You can either visit some of the nearby beaches, head to the Christ of Mercy, or explore the jungle.
The ATVs are comfortable, safe, and easy to drive so you don’t need to worry about going on this tour. There will be local guides to help you every step of the way too, and they’ll even show you some of the city’s hidden gems.
One of the best things about this tour is that you can also choose when to start your tour, so there’s a lot of flexibility. The operator recommends starting around 2:00 pm, given it will give you plenty of time to enjoy the scenery before watching the sunset.
You can also find many other ATV Rental options within town, and San Juan ATV Rentals is one of the highest-rated. They are located on Avenida Vanderbuilt and are open from 8:30am until 5:00pm, Monday through to Saturday (and also from 8:00am until 2:00pm on Sunday).
Although San Juan Del Sur offers a beautiful beach, there are plenty of others to explore in the area.
This includes the beautiful Playa Maderas which is considered to be one of the best beaches in the country. It’s great for both surfing and simply relaxing and enjoying the Pacific sands.
Many people choose to hire a vehicle and then head out of San Juan Del Sur to explore the coast at their own leisure. Hiring a motorbike in particular is a convenient option, and you'll find plenty of companies who will hire them out to you for a good fee.
Alternatively, you can also join this fully customisable ATV tour. Here you can ask your guide to lead you out to some of the more remote beaches, making it a more novel way of exploring the outer region of San Juan del Sur.
However, if you’re not confident in driving a vehicle abroad then some of the hotels in the city offer shuttle buses to the closest beaches.
You’ll just have to have a look around and do some research to see which hotels are offering them currently.
Trust me - there’s nothing better than spending a day exploring all the stunning beaches this coastline has to offer.
Ometepe is one of my favorite places in all of Nicaragua and is a must-visit if you’re staying in San Juan Del Sur.
The best way to get there is to take a local bus to Rivas, and then catch the ferry from there (it takes roughly 3 hours in total). It’s not a difficult journey and is one of the best day trips to do in the area!
You can check out the ferry schedule here.
Once you reach Ometepe your best bet is to hire a moped so you can explore to your heart's content.
The two main walks on the island are the Concepción Volcano hike and the Maderas Volcano hike although it’s unlikely you’ll have time to do these if you’re just spending the day.
If you do plan on spending the night here, then you can easily join this day tour up Concepción Volcano which includes a private guide and lunch.
However, there are tons of places to visit on the island including a local waterhole, Charco Verde, and El Pital Chocolate Paradise (which is a local chocolate factory!)
Ometepe Island is located some 60 km east of San Juan del Sur.
One of our favorite things to do whilst we travel is to try the local cuisine! In my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to get to know an area or city.
Nicaragua's local dishes primarily consist of rice, beans, plantain and a form of protein which is usually chicken or fish.
One of the country’s most traditional dishes is Gallo Pinto which can be found in restaurants throughout San Juan Del Sur. Consisting of red beans, white rice, onions, eggs, and avocado it’s a taste overload! You can even add cheese to it if you wish.
In San Juan del Sur, one of the best local restaurants that you can head to is Restaurante El Timón, who do some highly-rated seafood. They are open from 10:30am until 10:00pm all days of the week (on Friday and Saturday they stay open later until 1:00am).
You’ll also find plenty of freshly made burritos and tacos in the city too so there are lots of options.
However, if you’re all riced out then you can head to the likes of Dale Pues which serves international dishes including tasty burgers (a perfect option for those day-long hangovers).
Playa La Flor (or La Flor Beach Natural Reserve as it’s sometimes known) is an impressive area of over 3,000 hectares, and is one of the best places in Nicaragua to spot Olive Ridley Sea Turtles.
If you’re lucky you might get to spot baby sea turtles hatch, as this area is one of the top nesting sites in the country.
The best time of year for this is between October and November, where you’ve got a high chance of watching these little turtles make their journey towards the ocean.
Although you can drive there yourself if you hire a vehicle, public buses and tours also run to the reserve from San Juan Del Sur. Entering the reserve is cheap too and costs around $7.
If you’re a nature lover like us then taking a trip out to this reserve is one of the top things to do in San Juan Del Sur.
Playa La Flor is located roughly 21 km north of the town, and takes around 40 minutes to arrive by driving.
There’s no better way to relax in the hot weather than by having a cold beer in hand. Luckily, you’ll find plenty of options in San Juan Del Sur for this!
I’d recommend heading to Cervecería which is one of the most popular bars in the city. Ran by the Nicaragua Craft Beer Co, this bar offers a variety of unique craft beers that have been brewed in the city itself.
You can always go for one of the local beers like Victoria or Tone, or you can try something completely unique!
Not only does Cerveceria offer a wide variety of local ale, but they often have live music on during the evenings. This makes it a great place to relax and end one of your days in San Juan Del Sur.
So make sure you leave yourself some free time to nip in!
Cervecería is located along Avenida Mercado, which is just a block north of the Parque Central. It’s open from 11:00am until 12:00am Wednesday until Monday, as well as from 3:00pm until 10:00pm on Tuesdays.
Granada is another awesome place to visit if you’re staying in San Juan Del Sur!
It’s just a 1.5-hour drive from the city, but ideally, you’ll need your own vehicle for this one (as you would otherwise need to change buses which can take longer). You can also book a shuttle here which costs $25.
Granada is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Nicaragua, and in all honesty, it requires a couple of days to explore! However, many travelers just don’t have this kind of time so I recommend spending at least a day here to see the main attractions.
The most popular spots to visit within the city include the Main Plaza, the iconic Granada Cathedral, and the Chocolate Museum.
Make sure you also take a guided tour of the city so you can learn about its history from a local. We recommend heading on this day tour where you’ll not only see the highlights of Granada, but will also have a boat ride to Las Isletas too!
Another memorable experience you can do here is to head into the Mombacho Natural Reserve. You’ll need the day to explore this beautiful green forest, and on this day tour you’ll have all transport as well as zip-lining activities included.
Granada is located just under 100 km north of San Juan del Sur, and if taking buses you can expect the journey to take around 3 hours.
Now, this is one of the more unique things to do in San Juan Del Sur!
The Art Warehouse is just a short walk from the beach and is a small art gallery and café that hosts workshops throughout the week.
Keep an eye on their Facebook Page during your stay, as this where they promote their art classes and events.
They also work with the local community, so a lot of the funds raised go straight to helping the local children get involved with art projects.
Not only can you get involved with a number of crafts here, but this place serves delicious food too! You’ll also want to try some of their tasty smoothies.
With awesome painted walls, a variety of workshops, and tasty dishes - this is easily one of the best things to do in San Juan Del Sur!
The Art Warehouse is located just a couple of blocks north of the Parque Central, and is open from 8:00am until 4:00pm all week (although you’ll want to check their website for news and current events).
The best time to visit San Juan Del Sur is around November to April, but the great thing about surfing in Nicaragua is that surfing is pretty much available throughout the year along the coast.
But, the best time will be in the “peak” season when the weather is dry and pleasant. (Still very warm!)
This will depend on what you want to do. If you want to learn how to surf then I recommend spending a couple of weeks at a surf camp in Nicaragua, or if you want to relax then a yoga retreat might be a great idea (which could be 1-2 weeks). If you’re just passing through on a Nicaragua backpacking route, then 3-4 nights is a great amount.
San Juan Del Sur is cheap! Much like the rest of Nicaragua. You will find the beach restaurants are a little more expensive, but head in land and everything is cheap as chips.
Accommodation is also not expensive, you can get double rooms for dirt cheap too.
You can get by on around $20 per day! Obviously, if you want to splurge more than you can.
Although you may find some tours available for San Juan Del Sur, there’s not really an option for exploring the city as a whole.
For this reason, you’re best to do a ‘self-guided’ tour where you can visit all the best attractions yourself. From there, you can take tours if you’re planning to go on a couple of day trips.
If you’re heading to Costa Rica, you can get a taxi to the border for about $20, or you can travel to the beautiful island of Ometepe and stay there rather than just take a day trip!
Or you can simply head straight to Granada!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my list on the top things to do in San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua. You might find San Juan Del Sur addictive and find you want to stay longer than planned, but don’t worry!
Check out our complete backpacking Nicaragua guide here.
If you've got any suggestions to add to my list, then comment below!
Happy travelling :)