In the mid-1800s the sleepy fishing village of SAN JUAN DEL SUR was a crucial transit point on Cornelius Vanderbilt’s trans-isthmian steamboat line, on which people and goods were transported to Gold Rush-era California. The town is enjoying a second wave of prosperity, thanks to its popularity with wave-hunting Westerners, and you’ll find few places in Nicaragua more geared up to backpackers.

Located in a lush valley with a river running down to the town’s beach, the setting is beautiful; the beach itself is a long wide stretch of fine dark sand running between two cliffs. With excellent seafood restaurants, gringo-packed bars and an increasing number of good places to stay, San Juan is the kind of place where a two-day stay can turn into a two-week reverie. The locals are mostly happy with the attention, but there are occasional reports of muggings on the quieter beaches – get local advice before heading off on your own.

The lack of conventional sights in San Juan del Sur means that most people are engaged either in sunning themselves on the beach or undertaking something more energetic in the surrounding azure seas. While the waters around town aren’t the cleanest, the stunning cliffs, reserves and beaches just along the coast are easily accessible.

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