San Juan Del Sur: Two Years On

San Juan Del Sur 2015It has been two years since I was last in San Juan Del Sur during my first trip to Nicaragua, investigating the country as my retirement home. This is my fifth trip to Nicaragua and I chose to return this time to the same Spanish school for a week (Spanish Ya), that I enjoyed so much the first time in town, and to the same homestay family living right next door: a large family with an ever-revolving “cast of characters” of adult children, uncles, aunties, nieces, nephews and other relatives and friends. Since about a year ago, the patriarch of the family has been quite ill and is still on the mend. I was glad to see that he has a walker, a set of bars for practicing walking, an aide or nurse, and a physical therapist. He is gradually regaining mobility on the left side of his body and receives loving care and attention from his family.

The Spiffy New Street Lights

The Spiffy New Street Lights

The little town on the bay has changed! Attractive new street lights are going up that are tall enough not to get demolished by passing trucks, there are a plethora of bars and eateries of all varieties, and those that were here last time I visited appear to be flourishing. Bar Republika has expanded into the next-door space, so participants in Tuesday’s Trivia Night don’t have to sit at tables on the sidewalk obstructing foot traffic and inhaling traffic fumes.SJDS Looking Towards the Jesus Statue

El Timon has folkloric music and dancing on Thursday nights, and other tourist attraction activities on other nights, donuts have come to town (Dia de los Donuts) and, joy of joys, the obstacle course of up-and-down and often broken sidewalks has been replaced by a (mostly) flat walking surface that makes for more, and safer, walking on sidewalks and less in the (also improved) roadway. Uneven (and sometimes tiled) sidewalks may be charming and photogenic, but they can also be hazardous to the populace, especially elderly expats and drunken tourists!
The (formerly) little San Juan Del Sur Day School is moving to Finca (farm) las Nubes, just outside of town, where it will have more space,

SJDS Saturday Farmer's Market

SJDS Saturday Farmer’s Market

and the Saturday morning “farmer’s market” at Big Wave Dave’s continues its delicious weekly tradition, selling fresh produce, meats, kombucha, baked goods, and other delicious treats.

I understand there is now a new day care center to care for babies and young children when their mothers are working, and a school for those planning to work in tourism. There are a variety of health professionals and healers in town offering massage, chiropractic, acupuncture and health food, and a popular vet who moved here from Granada immediately won new fans with his patience and sensitivity in his work with their animals.
Last time I was here I was shown an ice-cream shop that purportedly sold Italian ices, but I never saw it open. Now it seems to have regular hours and a steady stream of customers, at prices approximately double those of the Eskimo parlor down by the beach, for what is obviously a different (and definitely delicious) ice-cream product. It is also possible to buy a wider variety of clothing in town than previously, and clearly, the surfing crowd are happy with the changes, as they are everywhere in town.

Backyard at Simon Says

Backyard at Simon Says

Shuttles run back and forth to beaches and hotels with pools tucked into the hills above town, and championship surfing contests are being held in the area (not to mention two recent Survivor series and a couple of the odd “ Naked and Afraid” television episodes). Driving through the jungle just to get to a surfing beach, you can see that here one could easily experience being stranded in the middle of nowhere with just a machete and a crudely-made sling bag to survive on what you can hunt and gather for 21 days with a newly-met naked partner.

Wait! Where was I? Oh yes! Changes in San Juan Del Sur. I’m sure there are more changes that a week here is too short to reveal, but even in this quick trip, it’s evident that this area is booming. Beachfront Bars & Restaurants SJDSWhether that makes it a suitable destination for retirees or would-be expats depends very much on the individual’s tastes and interests.Perhaps for aging surfers, this is a paradise, and for those who love walking on the beach each day, as I do. These folks will need their own transportation, since they are likely to live outside of the small town center.

Artwork on a small patio behind the door of a home.

Artwork on a small patio behind the door of a home.

Entrepreneurs could thrive here, as there is a market for many things and services, as could pioneering spirits who are prepared to tackle building or renovating a home. There are also retired expats tucked into homes in the hills who, I hear, rarely emerge to socialize, or alternatively, spend much of their time in the bars. There’s no way to avoid the fact that this is a party town full of surfers and vacationers having a good time. Why else would they have instituted something called “Sunday Fun-Day”? (Essentially an all-day pub-crawl). The most active expat community in the area appears to be that of young families with children, in which at least one spouse is typically working locally (or remotely). That said, I would not deter anyone from considering this area as a possible retirement destination. The town is now very walkable, the beaches are gorgeous and relatively unspoiled, and there is a wide variety of homes for sale and rent throughout the area, with help available from English-speaking expats when one is searching.

Little Crafts Market 2 SJDS

16 Responses to San Juan Del Sur: Two Years On

  1. Clark Kent says:

    Great article as usual. Yes SJDS is coming of age. The difference I saw in one year last month is amazing. I’m working on retiring there next year.

    • Claire says:

      Thank you for the positive feedback! Some people in SJDS are less happy about the changes. To be fair, there is a bit more crime, more drunken partying, and some people’s formerly quiet residential streets are becoming more and more filled with businesses. None of that should deter you, though, I think it’s still a nice little town with lots of different housing options and an increasing variety of things to do.

      I think you could be happy there.

  2. Pamela A. Wise says:

    Nice read. I havent been back since I spent 3 weeks there Feb 2014. Maybe time to check it out again for the weekend!

  3. John Safford says:

    Good report young lady!
    Wish you & your blog well.
    I will share this on FB.
    Our friend Andy will be thrilled!

    • Claire says:

      Thank you for the compliment and the shares–both are much appreciated! Next time I’m there I think I will come and lure you out of your lair!

  4. Gordana Govic says:

    Very nice article, enjoyed it and almost makes me want to go and revisit SJDS.

    • Claire says:

      Thank you, Gordana! Only “almost”? LOL! There are so many places to see and explore in Nicaragua that sometimes you just have to go somewhere new before revisiting places you’ve been to before. I really need to get my ass to some new places, too!

  5. Deborah Goehring says:

    Wonderfully descriptive, Claire. I guess we need to visit SJDS soon. It’s been ages.

    • Claire says:

      Thank you, Deb, for your kind words. I guess when you take the ferry to San Jorge it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to SJDS anyway, so why not! Especially maybe go on a Saturday morning early so you can pick up some yummies at Big Wave Dave’s! I was only sorry the kombucha people weren’t there last Saturday.

  6. Stanlee Panelle Cox says:

    Yay! Now … can I make it there before the requirements increase again? sigh … I’m so happy to hear you say this because SJDS has been the beach appealing to me … after some city time in Granada… but I gotta live near the beach!

    • Claire says:

      Which beach would you like to live near: Playa Hermosa, Playa Remanso, Playa Coco, Playa Marsella . . . ? Lots of choices, my friend! Hope you can make it here soon!

  7. RolloMartins says:

    Was thinking of going to San Juan del Sur next year or Granada. Wanted to stay at a Spanish language school. This was a repeat visit to Spanish Ya, so I guess you quite recommend it.

    • Claire says:

      I definitely recommend Spanish Ya. As far as I know, they are the only school in Nicaragua (or maybe now one of only a few schools) whose checking your teachers are trained to prepare students for the DELE exams in Spanish Language proficiency. They also offer the exam several times a year. What that means is that even if you aren’t interested in the exam, your teacher is evaluating your knowledge level and gradually taking you through a curriculum that will eventually cover all the necessary basics of Spanish. I like their teaching style, they have a variety of activities in the afternoons, and the learning environment is a relaxed and pleasant one. This time, I didn’t get taught any new grammar because I need to catch up on implementing what I’ve already been taught. So there was a lot of practice! My teacher always managed to find topics of conversation that would naturally engage me and I was essentially practising speaking Spanish for almost 4 hours intensively every morning, and then again the rest of the day in my homestay. It’s not for everyone, but it’s how I learn best.

  8. Ana says:

    I would love to visit SJDS, could you recommend good places to stay there?

    • Claire says:

      I’m afraid I really can’t help you with places to stay in SJDS because I’ve only stayed in homestays with Nicaraguan families for Spanish immersion and don’t really know the hotels or hostels. I would suggest reading TripAdvisor reviews first, though.

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