It 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 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.
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come to town (Dia de los Donuts) and, joy of joys, the obstacle course of up-and-down and often broken sidewalks has been replaced by a (mostly) flat walking surface that makes for more, and safer, walking on sidewalks and less in the (also improved) roadway.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,
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.
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. Whether 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.
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.