This is uncharted territory for us, a place we’ve never set foot before, and to be honest we aren’t exactly sure what to expect.
This is Nicaragua: a country much poorer than it’s Costa Rican neighbor.
The shuttle driver told us how people were jumping the boarder, eager to get over to the safer, wealthier Costa Rica. And as we drove from La Fortuna to the Nicaragua boarder, this became ever so clear.
As we stepped off of the bus, we felt as if we had entered into a different world. Men and women were flashing huge stacks of Nicaraguan money at us, attempting to rip us off with absurd exchange rates if we hadn’t yet exchanged our Costa Rican colones for Nicaraguan cordobas.
As we entered the building, passports in hand, it became clear to us why so many Nicas were outside trying to rip tourists off. All tariffs must be paid in Nicaraguan cordobas, and of course we had no cash on us.
Don’t be those people. Don’t be us. Bring US or Nicaraguan cash on you when you cross the border from Costa Rica.
Entrance from Costa Rica to Nicaragua is $13 USD for foreigners, and $1 USD for Central American residents. From Nica to Costa, entrance is $3 USD for foreigners. There is also a Costa Rican exit fee that must be paid first (this can be paid with card), totaling $7 USD. So crossing from Costa to Nicaragua, expect to pay about $20 USD total.
Note: Keep all of the square papers they give you until you leave Nicaragua.
Getting To San Juan del Sur
We came into Nicaragua from Costa Rica through the Peñas Blancas border. From here, it is only about 45 minutes to San Juan del Sur. For this trip, we booked a shared shuttle from Arenal, as we heard it can take forever to get through the border on large buses.
The shuttle cost us a whopping $65 USD each, but the trip can be done much cheaper if you aren’t rushed on time and are okay wasting an entire day (or two) traveling. The information below will help you get from La Fortuna or Liberia to San Juan del Sur via bus:
You can find directions here to get from La Fortuna to Liberia via bus, a trip which will cost about $9 USD total by traveling on three different buses, and will take 4-5 hours.
From Liberia, you can shuttle to San Juan for $35 USD via Caribe, or you can bus to the border at Peñas Blancas for $3 USD, about a 2 hour trip.
From the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border at Peñas Blancas, get on one of the many chicken buses heading to Rivas for less than $1 USD. One leaves about every 20 minutes, so you likely won’t have to wait very long to board one. This is about a 40 minute ride.
From Rivas, a bus leaves every 45 minutes until 5:30p.m. to San Juan del Sur and again costs under $1 USD. This ride takes 45 minutes.
So to get to San Juan del Sur from La Fortuna via bus, the total trip cost is about $14 USD and takes about 8-10 hours, depending on how long it takes to cross the border. From Liberia, the trip costs about $5 USD and takes between 4-6 hours.
Via Shuttle, from La Fortuna the trip is between 5-7 hours, and from Liberia between 2-4 hours, depending on how long it takes to cross the border.
Where To Stay
- Surfing Donkey Hostel
Accommodation Type: Party Hostel Price: $
We booked our stay at Surfing Donkey not realizing it was a party hostel. The beds were decent, and you get a free drink when you check in (woohoo!). The workers will be able to tell you where to go to party (and will probably party 10 times harder than you because they’re basically legends). They also have different activities every night, like trivia or beer-pong tournaments!
- Casa Oro
Accommodation Type: Eco Hostel Price: $
This comfy hostel, which is also a surf school, is where we would have stayed if we knew about it ahead of time. This is where we rented surf boards, and also where we took the shuttle to the Managua airport. If you won’t be partying every night until the sun comes up and want to get a decent nights sleep, we recommend you stay at Casa Oro.
- Hotel Victoriano
Accommodation Type: Luxury Hotel Price: $$$
Easily spotted from the San Juan del Sur beach, this old victorian mansion is now a hotel with some of the best views in town! They even have full and half-day yacht services that take you around different beaches or out deep-sea fishing!
- Pelican Eyes Resort
Accommodation Type: Luxury Resort Price: $$$$
Pelican Eyes Resort is perched on the hillside looking over the bay. This luxury resort and spa is sure to have you feeling like you’re in heaven with its three infinity pools, spa, two restaurants, and even yoga classes that take place in a butterfly garden!
Where To Eat
- Buddha’s Garden ($$): This vegan restaurant offers a variety of plant-based options and fresh, cold-pressed juices. Sara got some delicious watermelon-cucumber-lime juice (yum!), and Pat got the Taco Salad with house-made cashew crema (is your mouth watering yet?!). Need a pick-me-up? They also serve coffee with house made coconut milk and almond milk!
- Buffets ($): There are numerous little buffets around San Juan where you can get a full plate of food for under $2 USD! There’s one right down the road from Surfing Donkey Hostel. And another buffet right by that one. And another one down the block. And, well, you get the picture. Many are unnamed and don’t have a set menu. Instead, they offer one or two different meat options, rice and beans, and whatever else the owners felt like cooking that day. Pat was in love!
What To Do
San Juan del Sur is known for it’s infamous Sunday Funday pub crawl held every week on, you guessed it, Sunday. Google “San Juan del Sur” and Sunday Funday will inevitably be the main topic of just about every article. For this reason, we decided not to discuss the weekly shit-show that takes over the town. However, for those particularly interested in drinking so much overpriced alcohol that you wake up unable to remember why all of the money in your wallet is gone, this article by The Partying Traveler is for you!
Playa Remanso: This is where most shuttles will take you to surf. We loved this beach. There are two restaurants here that serve yummy food and fresh fruit smoothies that you can add liquor to, yum! The waves were great, the only drawback is that the beach is very rocky and if you wipe out be careful of rocks under the water that will cut you up.
Playa Maderas: We never got a chance to check out this beautiful beach but we wish that we had. With restaurants and hotels, it would be easy to stay here and never leave. The beautiful rock formations that jut out of the ocean and jungle cove make this beach a hidden paradise of Nicaragua. Located just 20 minutes outside of San Juan del Sur, this beach is a must see for surfers, as well as those just looking to relax on the sand!
Jesus Hike: One of the 10 largest Jesus statues in the world, this iconic statue can easily be seen from the San Juan del Sur beach looking north. Located atop an oceanside mountain, it is quite a hike that will reward you with some truly breathtaking views.
Follow the road into La Talaguera, a neighborhood located on the north side of San Juan del Sur. From here, find the stone stairs.
At the top of the stairs, turn right onto a paved road and follow it up the hill. At the top of the hill lies a small parking area (you can drive up if you’re feeling lazy). From here, just climb up the steps to the entrance.
There lies a security guard, to whom you pay a small entrance fee ($1 USD).
Now you can enjoy the beautiful 360 degree panoramic views of San Juan del Sur, surrounded by mountains and the beautiful Pacific Ocean!
- All-You-Can-Drink Catamaran Ride
cost: $23 + $1 entry fee at port casa el oro
- Party (non-Sunday Funday)
- Zip-Line or Rappel Down A Waterfall: Da Flying Frog Adventures $30pp ziplining
- Yoga: Zen Yoga, attached to Buddha’s Garden, offers drop-in classes for $10 and has a variety of different classes to chose from.
- Horseback Riding: Casa el oro horseback riding $30pp
About Sunday Funday
Okay okay, we can’t write an article about San Juan del Sur without mentioning Sunday Funday, since it is the reason many backpackers stop by here on their way to and from Costa Rica.
San Juan del Sur is a huge party town, especially if you visit around the weekend. Known for the infamous Sunday Funday, an overpriced, tourist trap in which one pays $35 for a t-shirt and entry into 3 bars, where you spend the entire time in crowded lines trying to push your way to the bar and claim your free drink at each one. It’s been called the “Full Moon Party of the Western Hemisphere”, and truly is the most well-known party in Central America.
We highly recommend skipping the official Sunday Funday and going to any other bar to drink and party. Since the entire town is basically one giant party every Sunday, save yourself the money and chaos and go to any other packed bar to drink. You can also just pay $10 for entry into one of the Sunday Funday-affiliated bars (comes with free drink) if you are short on cash, just want to save the money, or don’t feel like being packed like a sardine for hours on end.
Have you ever been to San Juan del Sur? Did you participate in Sunday Funday? What were some of your favorite activities here? Comment below!
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