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San Juan del Sur: Beautiful and Wild

San Juan del Sur, known as “the capital of fun,” lives up to its name with an abundance of bars, restaurants with live music, and discos; surfers ride the waves of the Central American Pacific and tourists from around the world have ended up making their homes in this Nicaraguan city, creating a multicultural community.

Text and photos: Demian Colman

In San Juan del Sur on Nicaragua’s southeast coast, the vast beaches conjure thoughts of bare feet, tanned skin, and beachy hair. People shop in their bathing suits and daytime is for lounging in the sun. While both neophyte and expert surfers ride the waves of the Central American Pacific on the nearby beaches, the city wallows in the uninterrupted tranquility of people who only wish to bob in the sea. The peace and the heat of the sun attract tourists from around the world as they pass through Central America; some have made this small city home, creating a multicultural community with a broad range of choices in cuisine. Dining in San Juan del Sur offers great variety, including Thai, Israeli, Italian, and Mexican dishes, not to mention seafood, all types of meat, vegan offerings, and of course, Nicaraguan cuisine.

Tourism has developed quickly in recent years and become one of the area’s largest sources of income. Since tourism in San Juan del Sur focuses on raising awareness and reducing environmental damage, incentives have been provided for the development of eco-tourism, which benefits both the town and its visitors. Whale watching demonstrates how much better it is to enjoy these wild animals in their own habitat rather than confining them in cramped aquariums in amusement parks.

The Playa La Flor Nature Reserve is the crown jewel of eco-tourism options. Located 14 miles from the city, it is a sanctuary that protects 7,400 acres of jungle and beach, along with the attendant fauna. The main mission of the men and women who work in the sanctuary is to protect the arrival and retreat of the Olive Ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea). These defenseless animals, measuring some 26 inches long and weighing nearly 100 pounds in adulthood, are the smallest of the sea turtles, and like many of the species, the Olive Ridley is in danger of extinction. Polluted seas, the loss of nesting beaches, and predation —even before the turtles hatch— are causing these incredible animals to lose ground.

Between July and January there are seven mass arribadas (arrivals), the name given to the days and nights during which hundreds of turtles crawl out of the water at the same time to lay their eggs in nests they dig in the sand. Some of these nests hold more than one hundred eggs, which will hatch some fifty days later if luck is on their side. Unfortunately, turtle eggs are in high demand as food, turning egg snatchers into a high-risk factor in the survival of this species.

In fact, less than 2% of every one hundred eggs reach adulthood. The mission is thus to increase the survival rate by raising awareness and including the community in the process. The sanctuary invites tourists to experience the arribadas close-up, while teaching them how to respect the species. Later in the process, the nests are observed by experts and occasionally transported to a safe place where they can be monitored to identify the best way to protect the eggs. In addition to watching the impressive arribadas, lucky tourists might see the turtles being born. Walking barefoot in the San Juan del Sur sunshine feels like creating a spiritual connection to the place, a feeling that is valued more than ever by today’s travelers.

We leave the turtles nesting in peace in La Flor under the watchful eyes of their guardians to return to the city before nightfall. The sun soon drops, the lights come on, and music drifts through the air. San Juan del Sur, known as “the capital of fun,” lives up to its name: bars, restaurants with live music, and discos come to life in the moonlight. Surfboards are tucked away and people hit the town for a night out.

Any time is a good time to dance in this city on the Nicaraguan Pacific coast and there is always a party somewhere. Sunday Funday was organized by various tourism bodies to keep tourists in town and banish any complaints of “There’s nothing to do here.” The idea is to go party hopping in the city’s best night spots and wake up on the beach, ready to start all over again.

As a final incentive, the Pelican Eyes Resort, the highest point in the city, awaits with its incomparable view. You can opt for a stay in its villas, a relaxing massage, a delicious meal, or a plunge into its infinity pools, which offer the best way to enjoy the panorama. The energy of the sea refreshes your spirit and lets you enjoy the life you always wanted to live.

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©Editora del Caribe