Welcome to the vibrant shores of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua! Well-known as a Central American travel hotspot, this remarkable seaside town offers an enchanting blend of cultural heritage, bustling markets, incredible food, and yes, stunning beaches.
From breathtaking vistas to rich local cuisine, San Juan del Sur offers everything a curious traveler could possibly want! This sun-soaked paradise is the ultimate Nicaraguan travel destination, whether you’re looking to enjoy its idyllic beach or dive deep into its culture.
In the heart of Nicaragua, you can immerse yourself in vibrant festivals, dine at local eateries serving mouthwatering delicacies, embark on exhilarating expeditions, or kick back and enjoy the sublime sunsets at the edge of the Pacific. Each experience in San Juan del Sur holds a new discovery.
I visited San Juan del Sur in 2022 with the help of my friend Carlos from Visit Nicaragua. Together, we explored the hidden charms and secrets of this stunning beach town. I walked away with a newfound appreciation for this touristy town and was left with memories that would last a lifetime. This is my ultimate travel guide to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua!
Standing atop on a hill above San Juan del Sur is Jesús de la Divina Misericordia. Also known as Cristo de la Misericordia or Christ of Mercy, it stands 24 meters (nearly 79 feet) tall, including its base. The statue, completed by Costa Rican sculptor Max Ulloa Rayo in 2009, is made of metal and fiberglass.
Rayo said the statue, which stands a whopping 134 meters (439 feet) above sea level, would be observed from far away. Indeed, the statue is easily visible from many locations around the area and is the town’s most prominent landmark. It costs 72 Cordobas ($2 USD) for foreigners to visit. Climb the steps to the top to admire the view of the entire city and bay. It’s spectacular!
No matter where you go in the world, markets will always be one of the best places to get a taste of local life. In San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, the local municipal market is a lively and bustling place filled with friendly cooks and vendors. The market offers a variety of delicious Nicaraguan food, making it the perfect spot for a food adventure.
One restaurant called Clementina stood out, serving traditional dishes like gallo pinto and a creamy sauce with jalapeños, onions, and cream. The gallo pinto, prepared with red beans and accompanied by eggs, cheese, maduros (sweet plantains), and avocado, was particularly tasty. I suggest wrapping everything in a fresh tortilla—it’s phenomenal! And if you like some heat with your food, try their spicy picante sauce.
Elsewhere in the market, you’ll find butchers cutting meat and vendors selling home goods. Other vendors offer fruits, vegetables, chili sauces, scarves, and secondhand clothing. Come with an appetite and your wallet!
You can’t visit a beach town like San Juan del Sur without checking out the beach! Roughly twenty minutes outside of town is Maderas Beach, also known as Playa Maderas. The beach lies along the rocky shore of a picturesque bay, framed by the encroaching jungle.
The beach is a quieter alternative to the heavily touristed city, and is a haven for surfers. Along the beach, you’ll find restaurants, beach bars, and yoga and surf lodges. You’ll also find some budget-friendly hostels, including The Three Brothers. Whether you’re a surfer, swimmer, or sunbather, this small but beautiful beach has something for everyone!
Outside of its beaches and markets, another spot where San Juan del Sur comes to life is its boardwalk. Lining the coast is this lively recreation area with a nice mix of restaurants, food vendors, and shops.
Here, you can find common souvenirs like keychains and sunglasses, and even unique, wood-carved souvenirs. You can also try your hand at some street games if you wish! If you get hungry, I recommend the tajadas, or fried plantain chips. You can also find elote, or creamy street corn!
One of the most popular restaurants in San Juan del Sur is El Buen Gusto. This gorgeous, open-air restaurant overlooks the beach and boasts high ceilings. Best of all, they serve authentic Nicaraguan seafood!
Their tender shrimp cocktail is as fresh and succulent as it gets, and it has a bit of heat to it! I also highly recommend the fried red snapper, which has a beautiful, golden brown corn flour crust. Add some salsa to it and eat it with some of their fresh tostones!
To the untrained eye, San Juan del Sur may seem like your typical beachside tourist trap. And while a lot of the city’s identity is geared toward foreigners, there’s still a lot of authenticity there.
From its markets to its restaurants, San Juan del Sur offers a peek at everyday life in Nicaragua. Between the mouthwatering cuisine, charming locals, and stunning beaches, it’s a must when visiting the country. Plan a trip today to experience this amazing city for yourself!