As promised, I’m writing about each week of my Nicaragua trip this summer. I spent the first week of the trip in San Juan del Sur before moving onto nearby Playa Maderas.
Just a tip: most people start their Nicaragua vacations in Granada, thanks to the small colonial city’s proximity to the Managua airport.My taxi to San Juan del Sur was around $70 (I probably overpaid, make sure you book in advance or haggle) and took 2.5 hours.
San Juan del Sur
When I arrived at my hostel, Buena Onda Backpackers, it was already dark out, so image my delight to wake up to this gorgeous view! Luckily for me, the hostel has a huge deck, which made it so hard to leave during the day. So, I often opted for relaxing instead and enjoying myself on “Nica time.”
Buena Onda is more of a backpackers’ retreat than a hostel, as it only has private rooms. Since I wasn’t quite up for staying in the dorms when I first arrived, it was a bit hard to meet people initially. My room was minimalistic but super comfortable. At $16 per night, I thought it was a total steal!
This trip took a while for me to get in a good travel rhythm, and it certainly didn’t help that the hostel didn’t have a particularly social atmosphere. I spent most of my two and a half days in San Juan hanging out in their hammocks, visiting El Gato Negro (a wonderful coffee house), taking classes at Zen Yoga, shopping, and exploring on foot.
Unfortunately, I can’t really say I did San Juan right.’Im kind of embarrassed to admit this but I was really nervous my first 2-3 days there as it was my first time traveling in Central America. Unfortunately, this limited my exploring at first. Most visitors also love Sunday Funday, which is essentially an epic bar crawl all around San Juan’s best bars and party hostels.
Another popular tourist option is the Open Bar Sunset Cruise. I didn’t really meet any travel buddies until the 4th day of my trip (sad, I know), so I didn’t really want to go out and drink alone. However, everyone I met who participated in either LOVED them! To be honest, I didn’t particularly love San Juan del Sur but the rest of Nicaragua left me speechless.
Since I wasn’t loving San Juan, I decided to give Playa Maderas a try. I’m so glad I did, as it was here where I met my traveling companion for the rest of the trip and got to experience some truly unspoiled beaches!
To get to Playa Maderas from San Juan del Sur, just hop on a $3 ($5 roundtrip) shuttle from Casa Oro! The ride takes around 20-30 minutes. Shuttles leave San Juan every 2.5 hours from 7 AM – 4 PM. You can find the schedule here.
My lazy hammock days continued here after checking in at Casa Maderas. After meeting others who weren’t huge fans of the crazy San Juan party scene, I was finally able to have a nice time! My new friends and I had a nice time walking along the dirt road to the rocky Maderas beach, where we watched several EuroCup games in a small open-air restaurant overlooking the ocean with some Toñas, which is Nicaragua’s national beer.
I don’t surf (I regret not taking there, they were very affordable) but it’s great spot for watching surfers, and it is known to have the best surf conditions in Central America. South of town, there’s a beautiful sandy beach known as Playa Remanso. I spent loads of time here as well, and usually had the beach almost all to myself! There’s also a highly recommended horseback tour that ends with a trot along the beach.
What really made my stay in Playa Maderas special was outdoor yoga! There was a resident yoga teacher at the resort, who offered daily classes on their beautiful promenade overlooking lush greenery. It was my first time doing yoga outside, and now I’m hooked. Everything about Casa Maderas (a mix of dorms and villas) was lovely. It even had a pool and several resident cats!
My only qualm was that you essentially had to eat most meals at the hotel’s restaurant due to the distance between places in the area. Still, I loved my six days in this happy little bubble in paradise. It was the perfect backdrop for catching up on work, swaying in a hammock with a book, and enjoying lots of mojitos poolside with new friends.
My next stop was Isla de Ometepe. Stayed tuned to read about it soon!
If you’ve been to San Juan del Sur or Playa Maderas, what were your favorite things to do!?