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Exploring the Northern Beaches in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

This is the beach that everyone was raving about…? I could see more stones than sand. What was going on? It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone – the beach that I’d heard so much praise for turned out to be really terrible. There was a happy ending to this tale though, as all it took was a short walk past that horror movie section of beach to reveal a tropical (and completely empty) seaside paradise.

Playa Maderas: One of the best beaches in San Juan Del Sur

The beach I just described is Playa Maderas, the most popular of the northern beaches in San Juan Del Sur. This is prime surfing country and the surfers all seemed to hang out on the worst part of the beach. I even saw someone sunbathing on rocks. We walked for about 10 minutes past all the action and had a huge expanse of sand almost all to ourselves. The water was pretty rough so we spent our time relaxing, eating at a little seaside shack and walking on the fine sand. I had almost written Playa Maderas off as one of the biggest disappointments of this trip so far – luckily we kept walking and found the “real” beach! I was surprised how good Playa Maderas is, I can’t imagine any of the beaches in San Juan Del Sur beating it, but we kept walking around the coast to put that theory to the test.

Playa Maderas - one of the best beaches in San Juan Del Sur for surfingPlaya Maderas, one of the finest of the northern beaches in San Juan Del SurPlaya Maderas - the best of the beaches in San Juan Del Sur?

Playa Santo Domingo

The lady at the beach shack/restaurant told us the fastest way to Playa Santa Domingo from Playa Maderas was to walk around the rocks, which would have been fine if we were champion long jumpers (spoiler alert: we aren’t). We reached a huge gap in the rocks filled with wildly swirling water – we had to head back and take the path. It literally took 2 minutes to reach Playa Santo Domingo via the path; the shack lady was either screwing with us or her directions were lost in translation. Playa Santo Domingo, as with Playa Maderas, is broken up into small sections which are essentially different beaches. The first section of Playa Santo Domingo felt like a ghost town. We saw what looked like an abandoned resort and another rocky headland – we’d have a scramble over more rocks if we wanted to get to the best part of the beach. It was worth it though, that part of the beach was stunning and completely deserted, apart from a really fancy looking house on the hill above the beach.

Playa Santo Domingo: One of the deserted northern beaches in San Juan Del Sur, NicaraguaPlaya Santo Domingo: One of the deserted beaches in San Juan Del Sur

Playa San Lorenzo

We didn’t actually set foot on this beach. We decided to walk around the rocks instead of taking the road, but again we were foiled by our lack of long jumping ability. It looked nice from a distance though.

Playa Marsella

We headed back to the hotel after being defeated by rocks near Playa San Lorenzo. We made a slight detour to Playa Marsella, which is quite close to Playa Maderas. It’s a nice little beach and is quite a bit more developed than the others in the area. We didn’t stay long though as we’d had a long day of beach walking!

Playa Marcela, one of the best beaches in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

San Juan Del Sur Town

We had planned to see some of the southern beaches in San Juan Del Sur as well but the transport is either really inconvenient (the first bus left at 1 pm!) or really expensive (private taxis). We hung out in town for a while but there’s not that much to see, although it’s nice enough. The beach is OK, nowhere near as good as Playa Maderas though.

San Juan Del Sur town, Nicaragua: the best beaches in San Juan Del Sur are elsewhere

The Details

The beaches in San Juan Del Sur are quite spread out and aren’t really designed for exploring – most people seem to pick one area and stick to it. Surfing is huge in these parts but the beaches have enough to appeal to non surfers as well. We were invited to stay at Mango Rosa (check out Gia’s review) which is about a 30 minute walk (or a short, free shuttle ride) from Playa Maderas. It was great; we had our own kitchen and a pool.  San Juan Del Sur is easy to reach and is part of Nicaragua’s “tourist triangle” which also includes Granada and Isla Ometepe.  If you’re planning on visiting those 2 places and are considering skipping San Juan Del Sur (which was our original plan) maybe rethink your decision – the beaches are nice, and deserted (in low season anyway), and it’s a great place to spend a few days.

Further reading: Granada, Nicaragua: Where History and Nature Collide, Ometepe: A Magical Volcanic Island in Lake Nicaragua

Have you been to any beaches in San Juan Del Sur? Do you think Playa Maderas is the best? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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