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Nicaragua: A Little Piece of Paradise

Written By: Lauren Vikander

Photographed By: Lauren Vikander and Joel Johnson

It’s difficult to capture the attraction Nicaragua holds in words. Its landscape and culture are unmistakably beautiful, but modernization here is slow, and its people face adversity daily. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you are willing to open yourself up to something real, you’ll gain a whole new perspective on life.

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America and is bordered by Honduras and Costa Rica and located entirely within the tropics. Yes, it’s gloriously warm. The Pacific Ocean lies on the west coast and has the country’s best surf and on the east coast lies the alluring turquoise Caribbean Sea. In between you can find the largest lake in Central America, Lake Nicaragua, which is home to freshwater sharks and Isla Ometepe, which was formed by two volcanoes rising from the lake. You would be hard-pressed to imagine a more scenic place; it’s truly straight out of a fantasy novel.

This country first gained traction from its natural wonders and amazing colonial architecture. However, once the secret got out about its epic surf spots, the wave chasers started pouring in and not long after, the backpackers came looking for a good time. My group of friends and I wanted a little of both and settled on a little surf haven on the Pacific Coast called San Juan Del Sur. Known for its killer waves and toned and tanned vacationers, this little piece of paradise was the perfect hub for adventure.

We were a group of six, artists, writers, yoga instructors, and adventurers all sharing a mind-blowing house in the jungle just outside the little town. We had a week to surf, bronze, see monkeys and get a taste of life in the tropics and were determined to take it all in.

Our first night there, our Airbnb host guided us to the outdoor fish market in the harbor of San Juan Del Sur where local fisherman sell their catch of the day. We scored eight lobster tails and a pound of shrimp for only $26.00. and just like that, our belief it was going to be a cheap trip was confirmed. Nicaragua is a budget travelers paradise, most Nicaraguans live on only $3 a day, and travelers can easily exist on $20 a day, (paying tourist prices) even in resort towns.

One of the most striking things about this area is the sheer energy it radiates. Whether it’s the warmth, the ocean, the youth or maybe just the abundance of rum, it’s clear that everyone in this town is completely stoked on life and the feeling is contagious. After only a few days here, we had unknowingly adopted this philosophy and experienced a little shift in priorities. The internet is unreliable here at best, and most of us completely unplugged allowing life to really unfold, and forcing us to be present. Life is slower here, and spending it enjoying nature, surfing, exploring the jungle, and amazing Nicaraguan food and cocktails with friends was a welcome escape from the everyday grind that reality is at home.

We weren’t the first to experience this shift, San Juan Del Sur has captured the hearts of many who have come here, which has sparked immeasurable growth in the area. Often called the ‘next Costa Rica, ’ travelers are staying, and opening businesses are spurring development. There is truly something for everyone now, whether you want a yoga retreat, surf lessons, a booze cruise, or simply to relax on the white sand beaches, the possibilities are endless.

Toronto Photographer

WHERE TO STAY

Airbnb Jungle House (AKA Forrest Surf Villa)
www.airbnb.com/rooms/1213115
www.casasdebalcones.com

Cost: $200night/sleeps 7 (This is where we stayed)

Vibe: Imagine an amazing open floor plan in the jungle with your own pool, kitchen private beach and tribe of howler monkeys. (Does it get better?!)

Native Knowledge: Rent a 4×4 SUV to get here, it’s truly in the jungle!

Budget

Pacha Mama
www.hostelpachamama.com

Cost: $10/night/pp

Vibe: Get ready for wild and crazy times. This place is a 24/7 party hostel.

Native Knowledge: Book in advance, everyone wants to be here.

Splurge

Pelican Eyes Hotel & Resort
www.pelicaneyesresort.com

Cost: $220/night

Vibe: Set on the hillside overlooking San Juan Del Sur, this property has one of the best views around. If you’re looking for a little pampering, look no further.

Native Knowledge: If you don’t want to stay here you can still experience the killer views from the bar. Go at sunset.

WHERE TO EAT

Chicken Lady

In true Nicaraguan fashion, this little old lady BBQ’s on the side of the street. Five USD will get you half a chick served with Gallo Pinto (the traditional Nicaraguan side of beans and rice) and fried plantain chips. To. Die. For. She sets up across the street from the San Juan Del Sur Cerveceria (below) around dinner time.

Taco Stop
www.tacostopnicaragua.com

This little taco stand with a few locations throughout the small town serves up solid Mexican food and is the perfect place to get that late night craving satisfied.

Native Knowledge: Buy a taco for one of the local kids that hang around here. You’ll make his day.

Mercado Municipal
Corner of Avenida Mercado and Av Gaspar Garcia Laviana

Located in the center of town, here you can buy, fruit, veggies, clothes and get a cheap breakfast at one the Commodores. This is where the locals eat breakfast, the food is amazing, and $2-3 USD will get you an entire meal.

WHERE TO DRINK

San Juan Del Sur Cerveceria
www.sjdsbrewers.com

If you’re in the mood for some micro brews, amazing craft cocktails, killer nachos and an atmosphere that’ll make you feel at home, stop by the SJDS Cerveceria. Ask for the Maracuya Mojito. It’s made with local passion fruit juice, fresh mint and limes.

WHERE TO PARTY

Naked Tiger Hostel
www.thenakedtigerhostel.com

This spot located just outside the city has shuttles running to and from the pool party 24/7. A word to the wise, it’s a trek but it’s sure to be raging, the people that party here are livin’ la vida loca.

Henry’s Iguana Beach Bar & Restaurant
www.iguanabeachbar.com

Located on San Juan Del Sur’s main beach, this dual-level bar has some killer views, cheap drinks and lots of internationals. Prepare to get down to some serious 90s tunes.

Tiki Bar & Grill
www.facebook.com/tikibarsanjuan

This intimate little spot meant to hold 15 people max, often three times that overflowing into the street. This is one of the few places you can hear house or EDM music and has a unique vibe.

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WHERE TO BLISS OUT

Zen Yoga
www.zenyoganicaragua.com

A great studio with a great reputation, solid instructors and a killer juice bar. Namaste.

WHERE TO BRONZE

Eye Candy:
Playa Maderas. This is the best-known surf beach and is chock-full of the young and the beautiful.

Relax:
Often called the most picturesque beach in the area, and known for the sea turtles that lay their eggs in the sand, La Flor Beach/Natural Reserve is not to be missed.

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WHERE TO SURF

Playa Hermosa:
This is an amazing stretch of sand with great waves for all abilities as well as surf rentals and a rad little bar and restaurant. There’s a $2 fee to get in, but it’s well worth it.

Playa Maderas:
This is the place to see and be seen. There are multiple restaurants/bars on the sand blasting loud reggae music and loads of surfers and backpackers enjoying the rum as much as the surf. It’s a little drive outside of San Juan Del Sur so plan on staying for the day.

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DON’T MISS

Sunday Funday:
www.facebook.com/pages/Sunday-Funday-Pool-Crawl/234507820089936

A fraternity inspired party full of debauchery, drinks, bikini’s and loud music. I know, I know, but do yourself a favor. Try it once. You’ll have fun.

Christ of the Mercy Statue:
Overlooking San Juan Del Sur atop the hills rests the Christ of the Mercy Statue. Hike up there for sunset to take in the amazing views.

Best Western in Managua:
www.lasmercedes.com.ni

I know this sounds ridiculous, but I promise you will not regret stopping in the restaurant at the Best Western Managua. They have the best ceviche and the coldest beer in Nicaragua. Located directly across from the Airport.