Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Central America, Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

After our relaxing stay on Isla de Ometepe, Mak and I were ready for some action.  Our next destination?  The beautiful beach town of San Juan del Sur near the Costa Rican border.

As you may recall from my September monthly roundup (I’m asking you to think back nearly six weeks, I know–I won’t hold it against you for forgetting) I hinted at some of the things that went wrong during my stay in San Juan del Sur.  There were plenty of things that went right, but my week-long stay turned downright nasty toward the end.  Therefore, rather than outlining this story chronologically, this post will be presented in three sections: The Good (what I loved about SJDS), The Bad (the things that could have been better) and The Ugly (the things that made me want to kill a bitch).

The Good

The Setting
The beaches of San Juan del Sur were the Central American beaches I’d been waiting for.  And the sunsets?  Among some of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere, ever.  The town is quaint and walking around the streets with my camera (may she rest in peace) was a pleasure.  Hiking up to the statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the town (even better, at sunset) gave the best view of all.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Beauty is not lacking in San Juan del Sur.

Spectacular sunsets are the norm.

Spectacular sunsets are the norm.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

The view from Cristo de la Misericordia.

Viewpoint in San Juan del Sur, NIcaragua

The best? A hike to the statue at sunset.

The Food
When I couldn’t stand pancakes for breakfast at the hostel for the fifth consecutive morning (I don’t care if they’re free!) I had a plethora of food options to choose from.  San Juan del Sur offers plenty of local hole-in-the-wall type joints serving heaping plates of meat, rice and vegetables, as well as a host of international restaurants.

The Taco Stop: Cheap tacos, burritos, quesadillas and the like.  The highlight of their menu for me was the chocolate quesadilla filled with nutella and bananas.  At least I remember it being delicious, I wasn’t very sober when I ordered that.

Taco Stop, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Taco Stop, the original (well, the street truck version of the original) Mexican restaurant in SJDS.

The Taco Spot: A copycat of the aforementioned Taco Stop, but arguably the more popular of the two.  The menu is a little shorter but prices are slightly cheaper; Mak ate here daily.  Yes, daily.

Taco Spot, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Taco Spot, the copycat. Special appearance by my other travel buddy, Terrence.

Cafe El Gato Negro: This place was my jam.  Half bookstore half hippie-western cafe, the food, smoothies, coffee and atmosphere are all fantastic.  I spent several mornings here getting work done (but do NOT call them an internet cafe) while indulging in western comfort foods and sipping my chilled “Dharma Love” smoothie made with no fewer than 9 superfood ingredients (think: raw cacao butter and dates).

El Gato Negro, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Oh, this? This is just a bagel smothered in nutella and topped with sliced almonds and dates.

The Loose Moose: A Canadian pub best known for their extensive poutine menu.  What’s poutine, you ask?  Allow me to explain.  Step 1: Put a heaping pile of french fries in a bowl.  Step 2: Drown french fries in gravy.  Step 3: Top with shredded cheese.  Voilà!  Poutine (it comes from French-speaking Quebec, obviously).  In their variations on this simple-yet-delicious dish, fun toppings like bacon and onions are added.

Cafeticos: I just couldn’t wait to try Costa Rican cuisine (or El Gato Negro was closed, one of those two things) so I popped in to this little place for breakfast one morning.  The food was good but just like the real Costa Rica, the prices weren’t exactly the cheapest around.

The Friends
We made some fabulous friends in San Juan del Sur.  What can I say?  Alcohol has a way of bonding people.  In any case, the friendships we formed during our week in a party hostel were definitely worth the hangovers.

Sunday Funday, Nicaragua

Sunday Funday friends.

San Juan del Sur

Friends on a hike.

Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur

“Those” friends.

Happy hour in San Juan del Sur

And of course, the old standby.

The Parties
While San Juan del Sur was always one of our intended stops, we’d only learned of the town’s infamous weekend pool party dubbed “Sunday Funday” during our stay in Managua earlier that week.  As soon as we learned what this “pool crawl” entailed, we knew we wanted to get in on the debauchery.

I’ve heard plenty of travelers bemoan the cost of attending Sunday Funday, and I agree, it’s a little unreasonable.  As guests of Pacha Mama, one of the hostels that hosts the event, our tickets were half-price ($15 instead of $30–I definitely wouldn’t have paid $30) but the only things provided during the day were t-shirts and transportation from hostel to hostel.

We went into it knowing full well we’d spend a lot on drinks throughout the day (or we found sneaky ways around buying drinks inside the party); being mentally prepared to splurge at the outset allowed us to enjoy the day, and enjoy it we did.  See for yourself…

The Bad

The Water Incident
Our hostel room had been having all sorts of issues over the weekend.  It seemed there were constantly hostel employees or repairmen coming in and out, fixing this or cleaning that (the overpowering smell of cleaning solvent in our bathroom nearly made me pass out on a daily basis), never once asking permission or excusing themselves for entering when I was half dressed.

Since it didn’t look like the intrusions were going to end, I’d thought it best to tuck my luggage into the corner near the bathroom, out of the way of the constant flow of (unwanted) traffic.

Then, I came back to the hostel one evening to find Mak in a state of shock. “LEAH,” he stopped me as I made my way to our room.  “Something happened to your stuff…” was pretty much all he could get out before I shoved past to determine just what he meant by “something.”

You see, September in most of Central America is, conveniently, hurricane season.  Thunderstorms and torrential downpours can happen at any moment, and rain was pounding on the rooftops as we spoke.

That “something,” I soon found out, was that a portion of our ceiling had collapsed from the heavy rainfall–a portion of our ceiling that just happened to be directly over my luggage tucked neatly into its “safe” little corner of the room.  Just moments before I arrived the floor had been flooded with several inches of water.  Everything in my possession was soggy, sodden, dripping-drenched wet.

Somehow, some way, my electronics were far enough from this “something” to be spared any real harm (well, except for my brand new external hard drive, but after spending the night in a bag of rice it turned out fine as well).  I surveyed the damage and determined at least three-quarters of my things would absolutely need to be laundered the next day.  I should have looked more thoroughly; I’ve since realized that just about everything in my bag was damaged in some way.  My leather jacket from my trip to Buenos Aires earlier this year has a real vintage look to it now.

The worst part?  When the only semi-sober hostel employee around said to me “Well, you know, this IS Nicaragua, you have to expect things like this.”  I nearly lost my shit.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t remind him of the fact that I was paying money for a roof over my head and a dry place to sleep (the leak was not fixed that night so we had to expect the floor to be wet until morning); maybe I should have, but I didn’t.

The Illness
“So, you had a good time at Sunday Funday, didn’t ya?  Do some day drinking?  Swim in some filthy pools?  Things got a little crazy, didn’t they?  You stayed up pretty late dancing…and drinking…it’s HOT here in Nicaragua, you really should have drank more water.  HAHA silly girl, I’m going to make your life hell.” -My body, Monday

The Ugly

The Illness
I tried to wait it out, this illness that was consuming me.  The fevers, the headaches, the back pain, the severe coughing, they would all go away with time, I thought.  But when I woke up four days later feeling the worst I’d felt yet, something had to give.  I’d go to the pharmacy for antibiotics.  I’d move to a quieter hostel where I could actually sleep.  I packed up my things…

The Camera Theft
…and realized my most prized possession, my baby, my everything…my Canon Rebel DSLR…was nowhere to be found.  Through sniffles and coughing and back pain and tears, I ransacked the room.  I explained to my roommates what had happened (oh, did I mention Mak had already left for Costa Rica?) and they helped me continue the search, but to no avail.  My camera was gone.

The Hostel Staff
As I checked out of the hostel that awful morning, sick as a dog and now sobbing at the loss of my camera, the hostel staff could not have been less sympathetic.  They refused to investigate the situation despite knowing full well how many of their own employees and contractors had been in and out of my room over the last several days on the grounds that “Our employees have never stolen anything.  It must have been another guest.”

In absolutely no state to deal with their insolence any further much less file a report with local police, I left Pacha Mama that morning feeling completely defeated both physically and emotionally.

The staff at Pacha Mama–from the cleaning staff to the receptionists to the management–lacks a basic understanding of decent customer service.  After the disrespect I received in just about every adverse situation that came my way during that week, I would never recommend that hostel to anyone.

One Day I’ll Look Back And Laugh

Travel is a fickle mistress–one day you can be all smiles, and the next, a sobbing mess.  I still haven’t learned to expect the unexpected, but at least I do know that the bad memories, well they don’t fade so much as morph into funny memories instead.

Ok, so the stolen camera will never be funny; what IS laughable is how much bad luck the universe decided to jam into my two weeks in Nicaragua (to recap: lost luggage, food poisoning, water incident, horrible illness, stolen camera).

I already look back on San Juan del Sur with mostly fond memories, if you can believe that; the laughter shouldn’t be too far behind.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you while traveling?

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  • Reply Franca November 16, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Sorry to hear about your camera, the accident at the hostel that damaged your stuff and the illness too.. Oh dear! It’s such a shame, these things can really leave a bad feeling about a place at least they would for me. It’s nice to see though that you are still acknowledge the positives and at least made some nice and funny people.
    Franca recently posted…Guggenheim Museum & ‘The Bilbao Effect’My Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera November 16, 2014 at 7:15 am

      It was really awful, it just felt like one thing after another and that the universe was conspiring against me! But because I’d made some good memories at the start, I’m able to look back on my week there fondly, which I am incredibly grateful for. It would be unfair to judge SJDS based only on the bad things since it really does have a lot to offer travelers. And yes, we made some wonderful friends who helped me get through it all!

  • Reply Justine November 16, 2014 at 2:33 am

    Jeez, I can’t even comprehend how much bad luck you had in Nicaragua. That is just insane. It’s one of my favorite countries so it makes me sad you couldn’t catch a break there. Although I am super impressed that you have mostly fond memories of SJDS. I loved it there! I don’t know what my worst travel incident was…Probably the time I got $500 stolen from my room in Cuba. Being an American I had to travel there with enough cash to sustain me for one month of travel (since I wasn’t able to use credit cards or ATMs). I was staying in a local family’s house and since they know Americans carry obscene amounts of cash on them, they searched through my backpack while I was out and found my stash. Thankfully they didn’t take it all, but It kind of put a damper on my last couple weeks (I had to stick to a ridiculously low budget). I made it through, but the moment I realized what had happened there were lots of tears! I’m still not sure I can look back and laugh on that one though 😉 Are you going to buy a new camera?
    Justine recently posted…A Frugalista’s Guide to Kuta, BaliMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera November 16, 2014 at 7:12 am

      The local family you were staying with robbed you!?! That’s awful! Did you continue to stay with them after that happened or did you go somewhere else? I guess you probably didn’t have money to spend on a hotel or anything…that’s terrible. Why weren’t you able to use credit cards or ATMs in Cuba? Excuse the ignorance, I’ve never been there myself 😉
      LaMochilera recently posted…Isla de Ometepe: Beaches, Volcanoes, & BicyclesMy Profile

      • Reply Justine November 18, 2014 at 12:52 am

        In Cuba hotels tend to be fairly expensive and staying with families in what are called ‘casas particulares’ is really common. I’ve been there twice and always stayed with families in towns across the country. And I never had any issues expect that one time. Yes, one woman did rob us! I didn’t notice until I was in a taxi going to another city (like 3 hours away). When I went to pay the taxi driver I realized a HUGE chunk of our money was missing. There was nothing I could do at that point. As American’s we can’t use credit cards or ATMs because we aren’t legally allowed to be there. I don’t think our cards work there. And if they do you’d probably be found out! So yeah, I don’t think Americans have any other option but to carry cash. We were walking around with enough cash for two people to last a month. Definitely not something I would ordinarily do!
        Justine recently posted…A Frugalista’s Guide to Kuta, BaliMy Profile

        • Reply LaMochilera November 18, 2014 at 7:27 am

          Wow so it sounds like it was a pretty complicated situation! That’s such a bummer that you thought you could trust them and they treated you so horribly. Just one of those fun lessons we learn while traveling, eh?

  • Reply Alex November 16, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Loving all these Nicaragua posts… they are getting me excited for what I hope will be an upcoming trip 🙂

    RIP, camera.
    Alex recently posted…Gratitude at Twenty FiveMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera November 16, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      OoohooOOoh I like the sound of that!

  • Reply Andrew and Emily @alongdustyroads November 19, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Great write up Leah and some lovely images of SJDS. So sorry to hear about your camera, hostel and flooding incident. The staff behaved like absolute dicks to you.

    We’ve also spied our travel buddy from El Salvador and Guatemala in your video!

    Loving your work.

    • Reply LaMochilera November 19, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      No way, that’s hilarious! Haha such a small world. Thanks so much for the compliment guys, just wish my photography was half as good as yours! Let me know when you make it to South America!

  • Reply Charlie November 29, 2014 at 5:47 am

    Other than the gorgeous view us viewpoint, San Juan del Sur sounds like my total nightmare. We actually opted to stay in Ometepe Island for an extra couple of days rather than go to San Juan – just because we liked Ometepe so much and we’re not really that into beaches or drinking – and I have to say it was probably lucky for us!
    Charlie recently posted…Why Those That Love Dolphins Shouldn’t Watch Them in Bocas del ToroMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera November 29, 2014 at 10:56 am

      I mean, SJDS is what you make of it. If you don’t want to join in on the party scene then you don’t have to by any means. But if you don’t like beaches either, well, probably not much reason to go there ha. The food is great though, I will say!

  • Reply Max July 28, 2015 at 11:47 am

    What hostel did you stay at? I am going to sjds next week and Ive heard Pacha Mama and Naked tiger are some fun places to stay at…which hostel would you recommend? Thanks!

    • Reply Leah Davis July 29, 2015 at 5:02 am

      Hi Max, in the post I mentioned that I do not recommend Pacha Mama. I have no opinion one way or the other about Naked Tiger, but since they both run the Sunday Funday parties, you get the benefit of a discounted ticket.

  • Reply Bryony Clapperton (travelsandmore) September 3, 2016 at 7:12 am

    Wow this is so indepth. I wrote a similar post a few weeks ago about my time in SJDS and Sunday Funday I think people leave having the same feelings but it’s definitely an experience worth having.

    So bad that your camera was stolen 🙁
    Bryony Clapperton (travelsandmore) recently posted…Visiting Central America – BudgetingMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis September 4, 2016 at 1:53 am

      Yeah the camera was such a bummer! I wanted to write about my experience in detail, because it wasn’t ALL bad. Thanks for reading Bryony!

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