San Juan del Sur is a small coastal town in southwest Nicaragua, considered the country’s one quintessential beach town. The town is situated on a horseshoe-shaped bay by the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by volcanic hills from above. San Juan del Sur is one of the friendliest towns in Nicaragua and has a laidback, lazy pace to it. The town very much resembles the beach communities on Costa Rica’s Guanacaste coast. San Juan del Sur has a pretty half-moon beach sheltered by two high headlands. It is this pretty sheltered beach and its billions of white sands along the shores of the Pacific Ocean that make the town such a popular tourist destination, especially among avid surfers.
San Juan del Sur was founded in the mid-1800s during the California Gold Rush and served as a major port for gold transportation. Gold from San Francisco was taken to San Juan del Sur and then transported to Lake Nicaragua on land before being loaded and shipped off to Europe.
The town has suffered a few attacks in its short history. In 1855, the American mercenary, William Walker, during his attempt at conquering Nicaragua captured San Juan del Sur. He erected a small fort that remains today; it overlooks both the town and the Pacific Ocean. In 1984, San Juan del Sur was also unfortunately attacked by U.S. forces in their support of the Contras.
In terms of attractions, San Juan del Sur is all about its two-mile stretch of white sandy beachfront. The breezy waves of the Pacific here make it perfect for surfing. The beach is always packed with sunbathers and swimmers and you’ll find many sport-fishers, divers, and deep-sea fishers as well.
You can also rent bicycles or take a taxi and explore the smaller beaches to the north and south of San Juan del Sur. Boat tours to the lighthouse across the bay of San Juan del Sur are very popular, as they provide the passenger with great views of the coast. You can also take a water taxi out to Playa Madera and get similar scenic views.
In recent years, the town’s beachfront has increasingly become a haven for European backpackers. Today, the boulevard is lined with hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs, shops, and open-air seafood eateries. The promenade, overlooking the pristine beach and the ocean surfers and boaters, has become very touristy. The atmosphere here is always lively and a draw in itself – a great place to sit back, chat, sip on some cocktails, listen to the beat of the bar music, and munch on the locally caught fresh fish of the day.