San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
News editor Paula Szuchman on the remote beaches of Nicaragua.
What to do: San Juan del Sur, on Nicaragua’s southwestern coast, is wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the massive Lake Nicaragua — best known as the home of the world’s only freshwater shark. Just outside San Juan are some of the few perfect beaches left in the world, both accessible to tourists and virtually empty. To the south, Playa Remanso has a soft wave (nice for swimmers and beginner surfers) and a beach bar under a thatched roof. A little farther down the coast is Playa El Coco, where you’re least likely to see any surfers because the waves are puny by Nicaraguan standards. South of El Coco is Playa La Flor, a national wildlife reserve and turtle nesting site where, during the nesting season from July to about January, thousands of turtles crawl up onto the shore. Nicaragua Surf Report gives surfing lessons staring at $50, which includes a ride to the beach and back; non-surfers can also get rides for about $10 round-trip — probably a better bet than renting a car since the roads are harrowing (50 meters behind the Texaco station,firstname.lastname@example.org). For the requisite zip-line jungle canopy tour, stop by Da Flying Frog (Carretera a Marsella, Tel. 505-465-6781; $30). Locals gather for Sunday-morning baseball games between San Juan’s team and neighboring towns at the stadium just south of town.
Where to eat: Restaurants with views line the beach in downtown San Juan, and though they all have similar menus, Josseline’s stands out. A piña colada paired with a whole grilled pargo (red snapper) or churrasco (steak) makes for a great lunch (in front of the Casa Marina condos, Tel. 505-563-7000). The Bambu Beach Club on the north end of the beach is San Juan’s answer to South Beach, with a pool and lounge music and a menu of duck wraps, lobster tempura and yellowfin tuna (Tel. 505-568-2101). On Sundays, try the local tuna sushi at El Pozo (near the market, one block south of the central plaza, Tel. 505-937-4935). Every night on the central plaza facing the church, Vilma Asado grills marinated chicken. A half chicken comes with fried plantains and cabbage salad and costs about $2.50.
Where to stay: Perched on a hill overlooking the town and the bay, Piedras y Olas has individual bungalows with balconies, three infinity-edge pools and one of the best restaurants in town Be sure to try gallo pinto, a flavorful rice-and-bean dish that goes great with fried eggs in the morning (rates from $180 to $300 a night, Tel. 505-563-7000, piedrasyolas.com). Morgan’s Rock is an all-inclusive eco-resort with a private beach, bungalows on stilts and a friendly band of howler monkeys who swing from the tree tops (rates from $219 to $298 per person, per night, including meals. Tel. 506-2-232-6449, morgansrock.com). Surfers should try Dale Dagger’s Hidden Bay Surf Lodge in Gigante. Rooms are spare but clean, and a boat takes guests to remote surfing spots ($1,500 per week, per person, including meals, airport transportation and boat rides, Tel. 505-416-8464, nicasurf.com).