#6 San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
Population: Just over 15,533
Average Annual Temp: 86°F
As the hub for surfers seeking a perfect wave, vacationers looking for a sun-drenched getaway, and expats who appreciate the opportunities that the Pacific coast of Nicaragua holds, San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua has many special qualities that make it number six on our list.
Located only two and a half hours from Managua, San Juan Del Sur, may be one of the better kept secrets in Central America. Originally established by Spanish conquistadors as a safe harbor for their ships, this quiet fishing and port village remained off the grid until the middle 1800s when the gold rush brought prospectors from the eastern coast of the US who needed a place to rest and rejuvenate before continuing on their quest for the riches awaiting them in California.
As part of this wave of adventurers, the financial tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt proposed building a canal across Nicaragua to make the trek between the gold fields and the East Coast shorter. While this plan did not attract the kind of support Vanderbilt was hoping for, he went on to establish the Accessory Transit Company. Passengers would be transported across Lake Nicaragua and the San Juan River and then receive a carriage ride that would take them to San Juan Del Sur to board one of Vanderbilt’s steamships to complete the trek to California.
The first modern day foreigners settled in San Juan Del Sur while working to lay submarine cables for the Central and South American Telegraph Company during the 1880s. Many of the historical buildings that are focal points today were built during this time. One, the Hotel Victoriano, is even rumored to have had Mark Twain as a guest.
What Makes San Juan Del Sur Special?
Perhaps the single most attractive feature of this Pacific location is the fact that it is still retains much of its colonial and 19th century ambiance while, at the same time, flowing seamlessly into the present day. There are many Victorian style homes that line the streets which are laid out in a grid. Being small, the preferred way to get around town is to walk.
In addition to the surfing-which is some of the best in Central America-there are plentiful opportunities for anglers looking to catch dinner. There are a number of affordable restaurants that provide fresh local produce and meals that reflect San Juan Del Sur’s traditional role as a place where the fruits of the sea are harvested and enjoyed.
The imposing statue of Christ of the Mercy stands 82 feet tall and, from its location overlooking the village, is actually 440 feet above the Pacific Ocean. It is ranked as one of the tallest statues of its kind in the world. Taking the hour long hike to this edifice certainly adds a unique element to experiencing this Nicaraguan beach community.
For the truly adventurous, seeking some divine and natural inspiration, make the journey near the end of the day, and experience some of the most beautiful sunsets in Central America in the shadow of an awe-inspiring monument.
Getting to San Juan Del Sur is easier than might be imagined. Flying into Managua’s Augusto Sandino International Airport (Central America’s fifth busiest) and then taking the regularly scheduled bus will deliver expats and explorers to San Juan Del Sur in roughly two hours. Another option that many might not be aware of is to fly into Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose,Costa Rica, and take the new shuttle service that offers professional drivers and air- conditioned modern vehicles.
Great Growth, Great LIfe
Nicaragua is in the midst of an expat renaissance as the government is actively trying to lure foreign investors to build and settle in many of the attractive destinations within the country. San Juan Del Sur already has a following among the adrenaline crowd and Nicaraguans seeking to escape the more frantic pace of the larger areas.
Real estate in this beach village is still quite affordable. One of the most attractive aspects is that the market has been relatively static; the crash of 2008 did not drive down prices as much as in other areas. As a result, the resurgence in the market hasn’t caused prices to rise. Nicaraguan law allows 100% property ownership by foreigners.
Retirees will find San Juan Del Sur especially attractive with the recent changes in residency and retirement programs. Being able to bring personal items and vehicles into the country, while being exempt from import fees and taxes, makes living by the ocean on a fixed income much easier and desirable. Real estate taxes are also quite low making ownership here even more affordable.
A good predictor of the investment potential of a given location is the growth of the tourist trade. In the case of San Juan Del Sur, this trend is definitely on the upswing. The nightlife in the town is considered a major drawing card for the party crowd from surrounding beach locations as well as the village itself. The numerous surf camps, nature tours, and a number of yoga and spa retreats provide additional entertainment options for the adventure-minded or those seeking to reconnect with their inner person.
This Nicaraguan destination will continue to attract attention as investors decide to tap the potential that awaits on the shores of the Pacific. The sugar brown beach, great combination of adrenaline and spiritual vibes, and a classic ambiance, all available at good prices, will ensure that San Juan Del Sur is poised to be one of the go-to places in Central America.