San Juan del Sur is a small coastal town in Nicaragua that is a wonderful family vacation spot with tons of things to do with kids. We traveled to “SJDS”, as the locals call it, last summer for a week long vacation with another family.
Having never been to Central America, we had no idea if it was a family friendly destination or not and we were thrilled when we arrived and saw many children and families in town. We were even happier to discover that the owners of our VRBO vacation rental were an American family of 4 who chose SJDS as their home ten years before and lived onsite.
San Juan del Sur is about an hour and a half drive from the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. Transportation was easy to secure ahead of time through Iskra Travel and was recommended by our vacation rental owners. When we arrived in SJDS, we immediately set about finding things to do as a family – besides laying out by the pool of course! There are plenty of things to do with kids in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua. Here are our favorites!
Relax on one of the many San Juan del Sur Beaches
The beaches of Nicaragua are unspoiled by tourism and truly beaches….there were waves, there was seaweed, there were no people. The town of San Juan del Sur is famous for it’s beachside location, but the actual beach it sits on is quite dirty. The beaches outside of town are much better. Most of the beaches had no entrance fee and limited amenities except for a shack on the beach serving beer and soda (and a bathroom). We had heard that Playa Hermosa was the most family friendly beach, with the best amenities and views, but Survivor was filming their next season there, so that wasn’t an option. We opted for Playa Coco and Playa Marsella.
Playa Coco was about 45 minutes from town, had wonderful views and waves that weren’t too overwhelming for the kids and they were even able to bodysurf a bit. We set up camp at El Coco restaurant, which served food and drink and was right on the sand and had a small pool.
Playa Marsella was a bit closer to SJDS, but had much bigger waves and was a bit more rustic. The views were spectacular. There was a small restaurant, but no pool near the beach. Out of the two, Playa Coco was the most family friendly.
Book a Boat Tour in San Juan del Sur
We had a great time on a Catamaran cruise of the bay and the pacific coast with the company Nica Sail and Surf. Our kids were definitely the only children on the boat–as a matter of fact, the entire cruise consisted of 22 year old French Canadian females from a surfing camp, much to Keith’s delight.
Our kids didn’t care who was on the boat and had a blast. The boat leaves from the SJDS harbor and sails north along the coast,where we saw dolphins and plenty of fish. The crew served drinks, ceviche and chips and salsa the whole time.
About an hour into the sale, they anchored off the coast of Playa Blanca, an uninhabited beach and we were able to swim to shore (they had small lifejackets for the kids). On shore, we built sand castles, had some drinks and watched the wild boars that were wandering up and down the edge of the forested area. We left the beach at 4:30 and took the relaxing sail home.
Explore Granada for the Day
Granada, Nicaragua’s sixth most populous city, is about an hour and 45 minute drive from San Juan del Sur. We booked our tour through Iskra Travel and they picked us up in the morning and took care of us for the rest of the day. The tour had several stops that the kids loved.
Upon arrival in Granada, the first stop was Granada’s oldest Cathedral. The kids enjoyed the steep staircase all the way up to the bell tower to see Granada from above.
After the Cathedral, we cruised around town and our guide let us walk around Granada’s Central Park and then recommended some great lunch places for us. We chose The Garden Cafe, which was not only beautiful but had fantastic food. Friendly service and a relaxed, casual atmosphere perfect for kids.
After lunch, our driver found us and arranged for a horse drawn carriage ride through Granada. It was fabulous and the kids loved it. Max even got to “drive” the carriage. Along the way we saw churches, cemeteries, neighborhoods with spanish colonial architecture and we stopped at a cigar factory, Dona Elba Cigars, which was fascinating. The factory was a spanish colonial house with a courtyard in the middle, filled with people hand rolling cigars. And a hilarious, huge parrot that the kids loved.
The last bit was a ride along the Lake Nicaragua waterfront to a boat dock, where we jumped on a boat for a tour of Lake Nicaragua. Admiring Mombacho Volcano in the distance and waving to fishermen fishing for their evening meal, it was a fantastic experience. There were many small islands in the lake, many of them with huge mansions on them and the kids in particular liked Monkey Island, an island with monkeys living in the trees.
Our guide told us that legend has it that the monkeys were abandoned there by owners who didn’t want them anymore. Tourists feed them and our guide gave the kids some marshmallows to feed to the animals. Overall, our day trip to Granada was a hit.
Explore San Juan del Sur on Foot
We spent one of our days in SJDS simply walking around and exploring the town. It’s a small town and easily walkable. A few activities we all enjoyed: a walk through the center of town to the SJDS suspension bridge, which leads you to the hills surrounding the town and the famous Jesus statue; exploring side streets and enjoying the colorful architecture; visiting El Gato Negro, a fabulous little coffee shop; hanging out at several of the beachfront bars, in particular El Timon and people watching and talking to the locals.
Older Kids Love Ziplining in San Juan del Sur
There was one zip lining company that every seemed to use (including hotel tours) in SJDS – Da Flyin Frog. We did not zip line while we were there because on our last day, we wanted to simply relax and hang out at a beach but we asked out vacation rental owners for some recommendations. Da Flyin Frog offers zip lining, rappelling adventures, horseback riding and the “Tarzan Swing”, where you can swing on a cable from a very tall tree a la Tarzan.
A word of caution however; when we called we were told that all participants have to be at least 7 years old.
Check out the Sea Turtles in San Juan del Sur
The season to see turtles laying eggs is July through December, so we missed it, but apparently it is a sight to see. The turtles lay their eggs at the La Flor Wildlife Reserve, about and hour south of town and there are several ways to view it. Be aware, however, turtles lay their eggs in the dark, late at night so if you have very young children, this might not be an option. San Juan del Sur Surf and Sport is one option for tours. Another good option is Casa Oro Hostel.
We loved San Juan del Sur as a family. It is still a relatively unspoiled, undiscovered town and definitely off the beaten path. You will not find Disney anything in this town and we loved that about it. There were plenty of activities but also plenty of time for relaxation, as well. I highly recommend SJDS for a family vacation!
Have you been to San Juan del Sur? What else would you recommend doing here?
This is a guest post from Melissa, a family travel blogger over at The Roaming Family. Originally from Chicago, Melissa is currently a resident of Denver, Colorado. Currently, she is a busy portrait photographer. She is also a wife to Keith and mother to Max and Zoe.
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