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Underwhelmed in San Juan Del Sur

October 4th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

We were so certain we would dig Nicaragua’s central surf hub.

Numerous people had raved to us about their time there, usually centered around some manner of yoga and/or surf retreat.  It seemed to be the gem of the country, the one place to go if you only had one to pick.

And yet after our quite smooth journey in from Ometepe (having done our previously-mentioned route in to Merida, the bus ride/ferry ride/taxi ride/2nd bus ride out to San Juan seemed a non-event), our impressions of the town were surprisingly underwhelming.  Surprising not just for the consistently rave reviews, but also because for literally months we’d been telling people–as part of our account of anticipated World Tour features–that Nicaragua would be mainly a month in San Juan with a place near the beach where we’d learn how to surf.

I’ve reported that factoid so many times my imagination is well primed with images of what it would look like.

We arrived in the afternoon, got settled in a cheap hostel as a base for our explorations & apartment hunting, and proceeded to explore and apartment hunt.  The beach was lovely, yes, but littered with the usual cadre of overpriced and (reportedly) mediocre restaurants.  It turns out there was no surfing in the horseshoe-shaped bay on which San Juan is located, it’s all to be found at beaches 10 or more minutes to the north or south.  This means that surfing, rather than be a “hey let’s go walk to the beach and surf!” sort of affair, was instead more destined to be more like chaperoned events (hire a cab or sign up for a bused excursion, plan the return in advance, pay around $10 per person each time).

So 20 minutes of recon revealed a highly developed touristy beach and surfing logistics that were way less appealing than the rosy picture lodged in my brain.  How about the apartment hunting?  Internet searches revealed only fancier, pricier, on-vacation-for-just-a-week-and-don’t-mind-a-splurge type options.  Lovely for sure, but not right for us for us trying to settle in for a month and live.  So we hit the streets looking for “Se alquilar apartamente” signs around.

What we found was on the other end of the spectrum: options from $200-300 for a month, essentially having us move into someone’s home while they would go crash elsewhere for the month.  Or some windowless bunker that kinda resembled a perhaps high-end prison cell.  Budget friendly for sure, but also not right for us trying to settle in for a month and live.

We sought a middle ground, and despaired to not find it in San Juan1.  But we didn’t sulk for long.  Though we’d be reneging on the forecast we’d given countless times, we remembered we had every right to remix our plans when the contemplated ones proved ill-fated.

Finding a nice apartment to live and surf in San Juan proved ill-fated, so we were going to remix our October plan.

I really liked Granada, much more than the beach front party environment of San Juan, so I took to googling “granada nicaragua apartment rental” to see what we might find there.  After Craigslist and AirBNB, result #3 was granadahomerental.net.  One click from there brought me to Vista Mochambo, a 10-unit apartment complex featuring hammocks, a pool, a rooftop terrace, banana trees growing in the courtyard, and well appointed everything.  All but the biggest unit were $550 a month.

Now that’s a middle ground worth usurping incumbent plans for.

The website clearly stated “These are all long term rentals from six months or more.” followed immediately by “However EXCEPTIONS can be made but there will be no overnight or weekly rentals.”  Would our bid to up the owner’s occupancy by 10% for the month of October be well received?  I wasted no time to find out.  Using my spiffy Google voice account I dialed the proprietor’s Austin-based phone number.

The kindly and paternal voice of Glenn greeted me on the other end of the phone.  I introduced myself, let him know of mine and Tracy’s underwhelm with San Juan, and told him if he’d be open to making an exception for a one-month stay, we’d be happy to be his guest for the current month and could get ourselves there tomorrow.  Our offer was well received, immediately making me glad I’d mustered the audacity to propose a stay term 1/6th the prescribed norm.

Glenn turned out to be fantastically hospitable, even in just the way he outlined the process for getting us settled in.  “Just give me a call when you get to Granada and I’ll come pick you up, we’ll go to the store first so you can stock up your fridge and pantry.  Don’t worry about getting your own sheets, we’ve got a spare set and will have it all set for your stay.”

The experience of being thoroughly handled upon arrival is welcoming indeed.  Excited that our bust of a visit to San Juan had morphed into a really nice setup in Granada (I mean, did you click the link above?), Tracy and I retired for the night.

The next day our transition went off without a hitch, even the legitimate hitch that presented itself was a delight: the power was out in Granada.  It went out that morning, and Glenn, during our driving tour of the city, explained that this happened from time to time and it was usually only for a few hours.

This was a delight because, as darkness descended and the day’s power outage stretched to a record duration, we just dealt with life without power.  With our new friends Katie, Kelly, and their visiting friend Chris downstairs and made a night of it.  We walked in the darkness to the generator-powered grocery store a few blocks north, got some provisions for an evening picnic (baguette, basil and cheese, a bottle of rum and of coke, and a rotisserie chicken), picked up a few a few candles on our way back at a small street-side tienda, and settled back at our place for a great evening of good food, drink, and life story swapping.

No lights, no internet, no problem.

So San Juan’s disappointment gave way to Granada’s delight.  Now we’re set in a in a great apartment with a great landlord and some great neighbors, and as of 10pm our first night the power is indeed back on.  October is looking good again.


  1. It turns out the rave reviews San Juan got were from folks who stayed at more resort locations on or around the surfable beaches to the north or south.
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