Marty is a co-founder of Badfish, a mix of a creative agency, outdoor brand, and band of renegade photographers. They specialize in creating films and photography for companies in the fishing, hunting, and travel space. You can check them out on Instagram @Badfish.
As an outdoor creative agency we’ve been extremely fortunate to have traveled to some amazing places to shoot for our clients: Hitting almost every state in the US, road trips across wild parts of British Columbia and the Yukon, plenty of tropical fishing destinations, even a few stops in Asia.
However, we have a couple places that we save for ourselves. Where it’s not about work, and more about pressing the reset button mentally & physically.
San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua is one of those places. A perfect blend of hardcore surfers, digital nomads, yoga junkies, and warm and welcoming locals.
Our crew first discovered this surf town a couple years ago and we fell in love with it. As we boarded the plane after our initial trip we were brainstorming how quickly we could get back. Unfortunately political conflict and violence basically shut down all tourism for over a year. Many of the people and ex-pats we became close with down there left the country and had to abandon their businesses. It was an uneasy time to say the least.
Long story short, things got better. As soon as we found out folks were returning and it was safe to go, we booked a personal trip. Even when we’re in amazing places, if we’re working for a client it can be difficult to stop and smell the roses sometimes. We’ve found it’s important to take a trip like this at least once a year where we don’t have to worry about filmmaking or shooting a catalog set. So if you’re in need of a personal trip for the body & mind here’s some inside tips on a S.J.D.S adventure.
It’s no secret starting your day with some yoga is a sure bet for a fulfilling day. Yoga is huge down here with plenty of beach yoga and classes at the hostels. I recommend Hush Maderas who hosts a class up on a beautiful patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean as the sun comes up.
From there, fuel your system head into town to a local cafe. There’s a handful of great cafes with exceptional coffee and traditional Nica breakfasts. Our favorite stop was Ding Repair Cafe. A newly redone health food cafe run by a couple of awesome girls from the states who made the full time move to San Juan. We quickly became friends with them after our first trip when we’d come in for green juices and açaí bowls after a couple late nights at the beach side bars. Instant recovery.
Many people come for world class surf. I am however, about the opposite of a world class surfer. Whether you’re a pro or someone who’s never surfed before this is a perfect place to hit the waves. Playa Maderas is an absolutely gorgeous beach with warm clear water and beautiful rock formations on the horizon. Surf here can get big depending on the time of year but in general it is a fairly consistent and manageable break that is great for learning. Surf board rentals and lessons are available right on the beach and there’s a few solid beach restaurants for ceviche and cold cervezas. Look for José at Sunset Maderas bar and get a chocolate banana smoothie, you’ll thank me later.
For those feeling more adventurous you can hitch a ride up to Popoyo for some bigger waves. Another option is getting a crew together, renting a Panga, and shooting up to some breaks that are only accessible by boat like Colorados or Panga Drops to the North of town.
Post surf head into downtown San Juan del Sur. There are a few bustling farmers markets to stock up on provisions. If you’re in the mood for a taco and a beer the Cervezeria is a craft brewery that makes a killer Michelada and fish taco.
Across the street from there is a little restaurant run by a local family that sets up a pretty impressive grill arrangement on the street starting around 6pm or so. Locally known as “chicken lady”. The grilled pork she does is phenomenal, but as expected, the grilled chicken is the stuff of legends. On every table are glass jars filled with finely sliced onions and habanero peppers. I strongly advise covering your grilled chicken with these but do so at your own discretion.
For something a little more off the beaten path there is a little blue house converted into a restaurant on the way to Playa Marsella about 15 minutes outside of town. It can be easy to miss but if you’re lucky enough to stumble on it the seafood there is phenomenal. Locally known as “lobster lady”, (noticing a theme here?) the woman here makes an unbelievable grilled lobster with garlic sauce.
As far as lodging there are many affordable AirBnB options around town that we’ve used a few times but the hostels around the beaches are excellent options as well. We recommend Vintage Surf Club up towards Playa Maderas. There always seems to be something going on around the community of hostels and villas and everyone is incredibly welcoming. I think that is the thing that really stuck with us the most and keeps us coming back. There are people from all parts of the world that all share this amazing sense of community. You instantly become part of the local family.
The surf, the food, the beautiful scenery are of course amazing, but the people and positive vibe everyone shares is infectious and makes San Juan del Sur truly special. So next time you're looking to hit recharge the creative batteries, revitalize the body, or just plain destress and relax, this might just be the surf town for you.
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