Fishing Village Turned Surfing Oasis

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The Pacific coastline of the greater San Juan del Sur area is a stunning layout of sandstone cliffs, hidden alcoves, and an overpriced yet efficient web of independent shuttle buses ready to whisk you to any given beach destination within an hour of town. According to most of the people we’ve talked to, San Juan del Sur was ‘discovered’ as a tourist destination by dedicated explorers (er, surfers) about 15 years ago. The little fishing village has maintained it’s dignity throughout the subsequent rush of travelers, yet it is very clear that the new economic influence has caused a lot of changes to this small town.

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The scruffy fishing bay on the western side of town is aglow with sandy restaurants offering lobster dinners and happy hour beer specials. There are a handful of colorful bars that stay open until well past 3am, and a variety of hostels advertising surf trips and private lessons. But somehow, this little beach town keeps things feeling rather genuine. Yes, there are tourists, but the personality of the town shows through. It is a reminder that tourism doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

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The little neighborhoods scattered through the valley display a spectrum of brightly colored houses in magenta, orange, and yellow. Bougainvillea plants wrap tightly around fence posts, telephone poles, and chicken wire (the chicken wire seems to do nothing to keep the chickens from wandering freely around their town). The neighborhood grocery store sells a tempting arrangement marinated meats, fresh cheese, and papayas the size of watermelons. There are street vendors offering plastic bags full of soft drinks made from corn and fruit, tables of macrame jewelry, and the large sheets of lottery tickets we’ve grown used to seeing all over the developing world.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise about San Juan del Sur is the odd scattering of jaw dropping houses in the hills– it is almost as if southern California is trying to peek through this little developing town on the edge of the pacific. A town that, just a few decades ago, was one of the entry points used by the US Marines to invade the country. What a difference a few years can make.

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