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We rented a scooter from the Tecali for 5 days which allowed us to get around the island to all of the tourist spots. We paid US$17 / day for the scooter (discounted down from US$20).
It was now time to move on and to get some ‘party’ beach time in San Juan Del Sur (SJDS)…
OMETEPE TO SAN JUAN DEL SUR (SJDS):
We didn’t want to walk 600 meters down the rocky dirt track with a heavy suitcase to catch the Chicken Bus(ses). The Chicken Bus from Santa Cruz usually takes you to Altagracia (about 1 hour). In Altagracia, you wait to catch another Chicken Bus to Moyogalpa (about 1 hour).
As we made our way out of the port grounds, we ran the usual ‘gauntlet’ of taxi touts. In front of the ferry, there was a Chicken Bus waiting to take people to Managua … we wanted one to Rivas Bus Terminal. One tout offered us a taxi to Rivas Bus Terminal for US$1 each (US$2 total) but, when he was unable to up-sell us a taxi ride to SJDS for US$10 each, he backed out.
We walked just outside of the port gates and waited for the Chicken Bus (which we knew was only N$10 to Rivas Bus Terminal). There was no bus there, so we waited. Another taxi driver offered us a ride to Rivas Bus Terminal for US$1 each. We took it. En route, he tried to up-sell a ride to SJDS for US$10 each – we declined. In the end, he halved his price to US$5 each – we took it.
It was a 30 minute ride to SJDS. I had to pay a ‘Municipality Entrance Fee’ of N$10 for the taxi to enter SJDS.
ABOUT SAN JUAN DEL SUR (SJDS):
SJDS is located 140 kilometres south of Managua. SJDS is popular among surfers and is a vacation spot for Nicaraguans as well as foreign tourists.
On September 2, 1992 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake generated a tsunami that destroyed an estimated 60% of the community.
Its population is now approximately 15,553: consisting largely of Nicaraguan families engaged in fishing or the tourism industry … and expats. The local economy has shifted towards tourism in the last 20 years.
SJDS sits on a crescent-shaped bay. A statue of the Christ sits above town on the northern end of the bay and is one of the tallest Jesus statues in the world.
SJDS has become a hot spot for international surfing competitions.
You walk back along the beachfront road past all of the beachfront bars to the center of town.
This walk only takes about 45 minutes.
WHERE TO STAY:
Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online within walking distance of the beach … this is for 1 night in the middle of December 2017 (the first month of their High Season) …
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 18% to the displayed price to get the final price. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first.
VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s …
No properties available.
PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Extra Fees (which can add as much as 16%).
In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.
There are many GRANDPAcking options to choose from in the US$18-25 price range.
Most places are already on the internet … but there are several places around town that are not. The off-internet hostels offer Private Rooms for US$15 but I don’t know if they have a Private Bathroom (Dorms are US$8). It is hard to find a ‘hidden gem.
You can stay anywhere around town … it doesn’t make much of a difference to your experience here.
At the cheaper end of our price range, the rooms looked small and unkempt. We were looking at something at US$25 to get a decent Double/Twin with a Private Bathroom.
In the end, we chose a property listed on AirBnB. It was listed as a ‘Large Room in a Boutique Hotel’. The asking price was US$23 / night after all service fees. Once booked and paid for, we found out that it was a room above the O’Shop.
When we arrived at about 1pm, the room wasn’t ready. Check in was stated as 3pm – so, we were early. But, we still had to wait until 5pm for the room to be ready.
It was listed as having a Double Bed and a Sofa Bed. The plan was for me to have the main bed and for my son to have the sofa bed. When we first arrived, there was no Sofa Bed … Bastien (the owner) had to go and find one. He finally arrived with one at 5pm – he forgot to bring linen for it. We got the linen the next day.
It was listed as having a Private Bathroom. It did not. There was a bathroom downstairs that serviced the restaurant. It was only ‘private’ when the restaurant / shop was closed. But, it was roomy and it had a hot water shower.
It was listed as having a Washer / Dryer. It did not. There was one downstairs but we weren’t allowed to use it. Laundry services around SJDS are expensive: about N$50 / kg. But they try and charge you what they can get away with – there is no set price per kg.
The downstairs restaurant area was pleasant and it had a constant flow of clients. The Free Breakfast was, also, very good. We had a ‘taste of everything’ on our first morning that included an excellent proper coffee.
Thereafter, we had a choice between Scrambled Eggs & Toast, Muesli & Fruit, or Pancakes … all included that proper coffee.
Have a look yourself:
INTERNET / WIFI:
You will find good wifi easily available around town.
I bought a Movistar SIMcard in Jiquilillo. I top it up as and when needed with N$100 and buy a new 7 Day MegaPack which comes with 500MB of data, 20 minutes of call time, 20 SMSs, and unlimited Facebook / Whatsapp. I already had credit on it from my last top up in Granada – I used that credit to buy a new 7-day plan whilst in SJDS.
PLEASE NOTE: Movistar run regular promotions (usually at least 2 per week) that can as much as Quintruple your top up credits. This only applies to call and text credits – not to data. Try and top up on a Promo Day. If you are a sports fan, they also do regular N$30 Promos that give you unlimited 4G internet for 24 hours … great for streaming weekend sports from back home.
PLEASE NOTE: When you top up in a store / tienda they usually charge you a 10% fee. If you top up for more than N$100, they usually charge you a flat rate fee of N$20. To avoid these charges, try and top up at a proper Movistar Store or a Movistar Stall found on the street.
You can walk everywhere around town.
There are regular Chicken Busses up and down the coast as well as back to Rivas and Managua.
Restaurants around town are, generally, expensive. Even the places listed as ‘cheap’ on Tripadvisor aren’t that cheap. Cheap Eats are hard to find … but, they are there.
Otherwise, the cheapest that you will find around the street cafes is N$90.
At the top end of Market Street (farthest away from the beach) you will find a couple of cheap cafes (e.g. La Lancha) where something like a Chicken / Fish Soup will cost you N$100.
HAPPY HOUR SNACKS:
The main restobars down on the beachfront compete for your sunset business.
Places like El Timon and the Iguana offer a small selection of Happy Hour snacks for US$1 each.
At the Iguana you can get Chicken Wings for N$10 each which come with a couple of dips. These are excellent value. They also do Nacho Chips with dip for US$1 amongst a couple of others.
El Timon, in my opinion, offer a better selection. We tried all 5 of their snack options: Vegetarian Rolls, Fish Wraps, Fish Tacos, Chicken Wings with Potato, and Cappaccio (Raw Fish in Lemon with Parmesan Cheese). The latter 2 were my favourites.
Expect to pay an average of N$90 / US$3.00 for a cheap Breakfast with coffee.
Expect to pay an average of N$80 / US$2.65 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average of N$155 / US$5.35 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / small Beer.
Drinks are expensive (for Nicaragua). You will need to follow the Happy Hours.
You will find many Happy Hours around town – the ones on the beachfront focus on getting you in for sunset. Most are 4pm-6pm. Most exclude Saturdays.
I found this useful ‘cheat sheet’ on the internet:
- Parlour: 1-4pm and 8-9pm Every Day = 2×1 Mojitos and Margaritas. $1 Tequila Shots All Day Every Day;
- Iguana: 2-7pm Sunday through Friday = $1 Beers and 2×1 Cocktails and US$1 snacks;
- Republika: 3-6pm Every Day = 3×2 Tacos, 40 córdobas Rum, 30 córdobas Victoria;
- Dale Pues: 3-6pm Every Day = $1 Beers, Rum Drinks and Tequila Shots;
- Cervecería: 4-6pm Every Day = 15% off Pints;
- Beach House: 4-6pm Monday through Friday = $1 Toña and Nica Libres;
- El Timon: 4-6pm Monday through Friday = $1 Beers and Rum Drinks and US$1 snacks;
- Pelican Eyes: 4-6pm Every Day = 2×1 All Drinks;
- Barrio Cafe: 3-6pm Monday through Friday = 2×1 Coffee Specials. 6-8pm Monday through Friday = 2×1 Rum Lemonade;
- Corto Maltese Bar and Lounge: 5-11pm Monday through Thursday = 2×1 Mojitos and Caipirinhas, $1 Victoria;
- Loose Moose: Specials Everyday.
Outside of Happy Hour, expect to pay N$50-60 for a 350ml local beer in any bar near the beach. There are few exceptions.
Casa Del Mar: Is one exception. You will find it opposite Isabella’s. It has an outdoor seating area, a small inside sports bar, and a larger inside seating area. Here, you can still get a 350ml beer for N$25-30 and a 1 liter for N$60 – all day. These are NORMAL Nicaraguan prices … so, you will see a lot of locals drinking there as well as tourists.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
Prices in SJDS are a bit higher than elsewhere in Nicaragua.
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:
There are several ATMs around town.
The usual withdrawal limit is N$10,000 … the Lafise ATM allows a maximum withdrawal of N$20,000.
You won’t find any Bureau De Change.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
SJDS has a low crime rate. There is no reason to feel unsafe.
As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
My son had his Smartphone stolen in the Iguana Bar. Google Maps / My Timeline showed that it was in the Iguana until 4:30am when it was switched off – the bar closed at 3am – this meant that one of the staff had it. We showed the manager the proof and he tried to find out whom without success. Whilst we were at the Iguana talking to the manager 2 days later, My Timeline showed the phone being moved from the Iguana Bar to the Boat Dock … the manager was still unable to track down which staff member had it. Many phones get stolen in SJDS so keep your possessions close to you.
There is a drug scene. Expect to be approached on the street. There are many reports of tourists getting ripped off. Drugs are illegal in Nicaragua – if you have 5 grams or more of Marijuana you can face a prison sentence of up to 10 years. If you are found with less than 5 grams on you, it is 5 days in custody, a fine, and a criminal conviction.
When I was there, mosquitoes were around but they weren’t a problem.
Don’t drink the tap water.
WHEN TO GO:
SJDS has a Tropical Savanna Climate with a monthly mean temperature above 18 °C (64 °F) in every month of the year and typically a pronounced dry season, with the driest month having precipitation less than 60 mm (2.36 in).
In the past few years SJDS has been in drought. Torrential rains are few and far between during the Rainy Season (May through November). December through April delivers bright, sun-shiny days–every day. While temperatures hover around 80 F to 85 F all year ‘round, ocean breezes offset the heat.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
Join in on Sunday Funday. This happens every Sunday and is said to be the biggest Pub Crawl in Central America. It costs US$30 / N$930 for a ticket. The ticket only includes entry and transport between locations … it doesn’t include drinks. It starts at 3pm and ends in the early hours of the morning.
We returned to Granada.
1 hour later, we were at the Rivas Bus Terminal. We immediately changed to the Granada Chicken Bus. It was full. Our bags went onto the roof and we squeezed down the central isle. We had standing room only for the first 45 minutes. For the second 45 minutes we had a seat. We arrived in Granada 5 blocks south of the Central Park at noon (N$32 each – this time, they did not charge for our bags).
We caught a taxi to take us the 1 kms from there to our hostel (N$30 for 2 people).
This is a detailed breakdown of costs for 2 GRANDPAckers holidaying here to GRANDPAcking standard.
As a reminder, this “standard” requires 2 GRANDPAckers to:
- Stay in an Hotel Double Room with Fan and Private Bathroom
- Eat 3 ‘balanced’ meals each day in a budget restaurant
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
MY ACTUAL COSTS:
My costs are purely provided for information purposes. I do not always follow ‘GRANDPAcking Standards’. In fact, I deviate from them all of the time! But, my costs are real costs and they may help you formulate your own budget.
I lived in SJDS to GRANDPAcking standard.
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
Accommodation: I stayed at the O’Shop for US$23 / night.
Transport: I walked everywhere and didn’t take any trips out of town.
Communications & Fees: I used existing credit to buy my Movistar 7 day MegaPack with 500MB of data, some call credits, some SMS credits, and unlimited Facebook / Whatsapp (N$100).
Food & Beverages: I spent an average of N$228 / day. My O’Shop accommodation included a free Breakfast. I had the occasional lunch. My main cost was Dinner where I spent an average of N$180 per day.
My COE was US$28 / day (51% of my total budget).
COST OF LIVING (COL):
In / Out Costs: It cost me US$29 / N$860 to get from my Ometepe hotel to my SJDS hotel. This covered a taxi in Ometepe (N$500 for 2 people), a Ferry to San Jorge (N$50), a Taxi to SJDS (N$300), and the Municipal Vehicle entrance fee (N$10).
Living Costs: I spent an average of N$165 / day on beer – this was a mix of Happy Hour and normal beer prices. I spent N$100 on getting some laundry done. I spent N$426 on Entertainment.
My total COL was US$40 / day (72% of my total budget).
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
COST OF EXISTENCE:
Accommodation: Book yourself into something for the first 2 nights at about US$25 / night. Anywhere around town will do. Once here, look around … get yourself into a decent budget hotel for US$20 / night thereafter for a long-term stay. Try and get a good Breakfast included in that price (but, it is not the norm) – if breakfast is included, you can look for log-term places charging up to US$25 / night (a cheap Breakfast on the street costs US$3 / N$90 each).
Transport: There is a budget for 2 people to go on a weekly day trip to a nearby beach or Rivas (an average of N$20 per person each way).
Communications & Fees: Your budget includes a N$50 Movistar SIMcard and 4x 7-day MegaPacks (N$100 each).
Food & Beverages: Your budget is N$662 / day. This is to eat all of your meals in a Comedor Economica, in US$1 Happy Hours, or from the lower quartile of a menu in a budget restaurant. You will need to buy your own water (which is unlikely to be provided by the hotel).
Your COE is US$43 / day (79% of your total budget).
COST OF LIVING:
This leaves you US$12 / day (N$340) to LIVE on.
LIVING on that will be ‘tight’.
SJDS makes it into my Retirement Reviews.
International Living do a pretty good write up on retiring in SJDS – but, I disagree with their costings. According to the GRANDPAcking standard, costs should be higher than International Living state in their article.
Accommodation & Transport: A 2 Bedroom Apartment somewhere around town costs about US$500 / month (International Living quote a 1 Bedroom Apartment near the beach at US$400).
Extra Costs: You will need to pay for your own electric usage. Electric is relatively expensive here. Budget US$95 / month for electric (more if you plan to have your aircon on all of the time).
Food & Drink: International Living state US$250 / month on food which includes eating out … NO WAY! Budget US$625 / month to eat all of your meals out in Comedors and budget restaurants (reduce that to US$400 if you eat all of your meals at home).
Health & Safety & Visas: Travel Insurance is from someone like World Nomads. The Visa costs are for a 5 Year Retiree Visa apportioned over that period… if you don’t have a Retiree Visa, you will need to do a Visa Run to Costa Rica every 3 months (budget US$100 per couple for each Visa Run).
Many GRANDPAckers will enjoy the lifestyle that SJDS has to offer.
But, it is ‘up there’ with Granada as one of the most expensive places in Nicaragua.