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“I’m planning a trip to San Juan del Sur, what can I expect?”

“I’m planning a trip to San Juan del Sur, what can I expect?”
South end of the Beach Road; The Malecon"

San Juan del Sur – 27th September 2018.

Now is the time when many of our Canadian and American visitors start planning their winter trip, looking at flights and checking the local social media sites for updated information about what to expect when they get here. In fact, it’s a regular question on many of the facebook pages that offer information about the San Jun del Sur area, such as; Life In San Juan del Sur. 

This article assumes that you have at least a basic understanding of the sociopolitical crisis that Nicaragua has experienced since April of this year because I can’t (and am not going to) discuss that here, other than to acknowledge the loss of lives and the grief that the families of those victims are going through.

In addition, it has to be noted that this crisis is not directed at tourists, visitors or ex-pats. The Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR by its acronym in Spanish) has made it clear that Nicaragua is “Open to Tourists”.

Having made those two comments, you will also find people on social media and in the press arguing the point that given the current crisis, tourism should not be promoted at this time. As you pick your way through all of the information in order to plan your trip, you will no doubt reach your own conclusions on this and other points of discussion.

In reality, tourism has suffered an economic crisis. Those of you familiar with San Juan del Sur understand how many locals rely on tourism to feed their families. The tourism sector is no different to any other business sector where for instance, communities rely on local work from factories producing goods for export or coffee farms and workers rely on a good crop for export. All of these other sectors are operating as best they can and tourism should be no exception.

This article is intended to assist those making the decision to visit Nicaragua this winter. They will be visitors that many locals are hoping for and relying on for their economic survival.

In no way is this article intended to downplay or demean the events of the past 5 months.

Flights to Nicaragua

There have been route cancellations of flights into the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport (MGA). When booking your flight, you may find some changes to the regular times, dates and flight numbers. In recent weeks, picking up and dropping off passengers at Managua airport has been non-problematic. Most people are recommending using the service of an experienced transport business.

Some visitors have been flying into the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Liberia, Costa Rica, just a short distance over the border south. Managua airport needs the tourist business as much as any other business does, and thousands of visitors have arrived and departed with no problems at all.

However; if connections don’t work for you because of the reduced amount of flights, then Liberia in Costa Rica is a good second option. It isn’t that much different in time and costs versus Managua to SJdS.

Should things change before you get here or while you are here, then you are not committed to Managua for air travel and you are only a very quick cab ride to the Costa Rica border.

This option may appeal to Canadians as flights from Canada at this time of year (now until next spring) increase in frequency with the addition of the seasonal flights servicing snowbirds visiting Costa Rica.

In addition, some local transport companies here in SJdS are now very experienced with the Costa Rica border crossing for seamless pick-ups and drops-offs. Check the social media sites for those transport companies that are being recommended for this service and who have the proper paperwork necessary for a straight through trip to Liberia (or even San Jose, CR).

You can also look at the Costa Esmeralda Airport near Tola for connections from Liberia, Cost Rica and Managua.

San Juan del Sur

As mentioned previously, San Juan del Sur has experienced huge losses in revenue due to the crisis. Although we didn’t have any of the problems other tourist areas had (e.g. Granada and Masaya), the local economy has suffered with some business closures and some with reduced hours. Many businesses have reorganized shifts in order to keep as many people employed as possible.

A lot of the popular locations have managed to survive and are looking forward to the regular winter clientele returning. Right now, you will notice that it’s quieter with much less traffic, reminiscent of a decade or more ago. Not all the way back to the much overused “Sleepy fishing village” description but understandably comparable.


Those of you that have been looking at hotel accommodation or to rent a house or apartment have probably noticed the good deals on line. San Juan del Sur has every type of accommodation available from a dorm room at a few dollars a night to luxury hotels. Rental units range from a room with a family up to a beach front villa with swimming pool and staff.

Some businesses have re-invented themselves. For instance; Pelican Eyes Resort is now concentrating on long term rentals at very competitive prices, rather than the hotel traffic. You can now rent a one or two bedroom villa (with access to pools) for a monthly rental price that previously would have been the cost of a long weekend.


All of the regular services; express buses, chicken buses and taxis etc. are operating normally

Stores and Services

Gasoline and diesel, as well as propane for cooking are all available at this time and have been for many weeks. Electricity, water and internet have been surprisingly consistent throughout the unrest with power outages in particular being less than normal.

Local grocery stores are open and the regular “must go there stores” such as Silvia and Gloria Sanchez are looking forward to serving their regulars. Pali is open and fully stocked. There really is nothing that you would have to leave town for during your vacation.

Surf trips, transport to the beaches, motorbike and quad rentals as well as fishing trips and sailing adventures are all available.

What’s the Same?

Although the country has been through a difficult time (as it has many times before in its long political history), the many reason visitors love Nicaragua remain just as they were;

  • The sun shines every day (even during the rainy season which has about a month or so to go) and the post rainy season scenery is beautifully lush.
  • The pace is slow and you have plenty of time to smell the excellent Nicaragua coffee.
  • The waves that make Nicaragua a surfing paradise continue to break, every day.
  • The beer is still cold and the rum is still the best in the world.
  • Most importantly, many people in San Juan del Sur have the same need for the support of the people who have helped them over the years by returning year after year to boost the local economy, volunteer in the community or simply be here to give a little back.

What’s Different?

Probably the biggest difference is how quiet it’s been in town. Obviously the tourist businesses are all hoping that won’t be the case for much longer and the high season will see visitor traffic pick up.

The marches and demonstrations continue around the country. We have had peaceful marches here in San Juan del Sur organized by government supporters and also by those against.

There has always been a mutual respect for the safety and security of the population of the town.

What Could Change?

Life is all about “Hoping for the best and planning for the worst”. Travel is no exception and Nicaragua has never really been any different in that regard. All the usual personal safety and security measures still apply.

Visitors should plan for the possibility of things changing from the time they booked their trip, to the time they get here, as well as what could change while they are here.

Stay informed by checking your country’s web site in relation to travel advisories for Nicaragua.

These notices are designed to protect their citizens abroad. However, by nature they have to be generic, countrywide and often overly cautious in their approach. The comments in the travel advisories (and the level of warning) won’t apply to all areas of the county, however; your country has no control over where in Nicaragua you will visit once you get here. You can often register with an embassy and receive Email updates.  Here are three of those sites;

USA – Nicaragua Travel Advisory

Canada – Nicaragua Risk Level

United Kingdom – Nicaragua Travel Advice

See You Soon!


  1. A very informative and well-balanced artcile, Kelvin. You’ve performed a service. I’ve been coming to SJDS since 1999 with friends and family. My wife and I will be back next month. For my money, this is the best time to visit since quite a few years back. The big bump in millenial tourism recently was likely a net win for the local community. For tourists like us, and for some locals too, town was maybe getting a little westernized and hipsterized. Be that as it may, the clock has effectively been set back, as you point out, and we will likely see a more authentic, chiller, and appreciative environment. I will look forward to that, but I would also encourage anyone considering a visit, as I will encourage my friends. For a start, you serious surfers, waves are still great, with fewer kooks in the water (sorry, kooks). And you are intrepid travellers, not easily discouraged by some civil unrest. Take advantage of dirt-cheap lodging.

    As I know that the vast majority of our spending will go to locals who need to make ends meet, I have no qualms (nor any stated position) on how my tourist dollars will influence national politics. When it comes down to it, the relationships and transactions are one on one, and thet’s where you can make a difference.

    I have faith that Nicaragua will get through this cycle- I’m sticking with it.

    • John, On your behalf, if I may, qualify what a “Kook” is for the readers. “Someone who pretends to be a surfer will certainly be called a kook. … A kook is a pre-beginner surfer, an aspiring wave rider, a nerd, or someone who tries – and fails – to mimic the surfing lifestyle.”

      Just in case anyone (like me) is using an older version of what that word means!!

      Thanks for the comment my friend.

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