Pretty much anyone who visits San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua knows that there are plenty of gorgeous beaches for building sand castles and awesome breaks for catching that perfect wave (check out www.innicanow.com for a great description of the local beaches). Surf shops offering board rentals, ding repairs, and lessons abound, as do some pretty amazing pirate ship sails, catamaran tours, yachting and fishing tours. And these are all not to miss opportunities! But here are some great family-friendly alternatives in case you need a break from the rays or just want to get your kids moving!
There is no shortage of hikes in San Juan thanks to the steep cliffsides and lush landscapes. Hike up early in the morning to listen for the howlers or wait until evening to catch a glorious sunset. The most popular hike in town takes you up to one of the 10 largest Jesus statues in the world. To walk the entire hill, start at the entrance to Pacific Marlin and follow the road. Alternatively, if your kiddos are tired at the end of a busy day, you can drive to the base of the statue and then hike just up the final steps. Be sure to bring a few cordobas, as there is an entrance fee. For a greener hike, consider a hike to the old lighthouse and fort, located at the south end of the bay where you will find a spectacular view of the bay from the south, looking towards Jesus. Parque de Aventura las Nubes (see below) also offers well maintained trails and there is rumored to be a small waterfall in the hills behind El Encanto del Sur, along the Chocolata. Be sure to wear sturdy sneakers, hat, sunscreen and bring plenty of water!
Just outside of town and next door to San Juan del Sur Day School is Parque de Aventura Las Nubes, which is located on the Continental Divide of the Americas. Best known for its zipline/canopy tour, the park also offers a climbing area for kids, hiking trails, spectacular views of both San Juan and Lake Nicaragua/Ometepe Island and even an Iguanarium. Learn about the green iguana, what they eat, where the live and you may even be lucky enough to hold a baby iguana under the supervision of a trained and knowledgeable guide. It’s also a great place to view howler and spider monkeys, as well as toucans and sloths in their natural habitat.
If the canopy tour didn’t get your blood pumping fast enough, you might consider rappelling down a 45 meter waterfall all the while enjoying spectacular views of the San Juan del Sur Bay and Palermo valley. This adventure, courtesy of Aracne Rappelling Tours, is not for the faint of heart, but the adrenaline rush alone makes it worth it! Led by skilled guides, including founder Javier Baldovinos, the tour includes all the safety gear and instruction and even ends in a hike to see petroglyphs where you will learn a few things about the indigenous population that lived there long ago. Older, confident children are invited to rappel solo, provided that a guide and parents have given the green light. Confident, but super lightweight kids can also go solo, but a guide assists them as they lower down during the descent. Younger children can descend attached to a guide. The majority of children who participate are 7 and up, but Aracne and their skilled guides have rappelled with children as young as 5!
Looking for a little shade and some quieter time with the kiddos? The San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Movil is one of the longer standing institutions in San Juan and the first lending library in Nicaragua. Founded by Jane Mirandette, and run by a staff of lovely individuals, the library provides over 12,000 books in a mix of Spanish and English, a computer lab, and acts as a community center for the 4,800 registered card holders. Children and young adults gather daily to create crafts, play games, do homework and study. Stop in to play in the children’s room or lighten your travel load and simply borrow a few kids books to be returned before you depart!
Múúv Dance and Yoga is one of the newer additions to San Juan del Sur and a much welcome one! Teacher Maggie Purce began offering dance to children of San Juan at the end of 2015 and just this month opened her own yoga and dance studio. Maggie has quickly become a kid favorite with her upbeat classes and fabulous enthusiasm. Classes are suitable for all skill levels and are a wonderful way for your child to get creative, practice body & mind discipline and of course have tons of fun. Currently offering ballet, hop hip and creative movement to kiddos ages 4-12, Maggie also has some fun adult offerings, including zumba, salsa, and yoga. Drop-ins are welcomed! Visit her facebook page for class schedule and more details.
There are a handful of options in San Juan del Sur for horseback riding. The folks over at Da Flying Frog offer short tours for families. If you are interested in lessons, your best bet is the Lil’ Wranglers Riding Program at Rancho Chilamate with Cowgirl Alex, a trained instructor and a certified therapeutic horse training professional. Or, try private or group classes with Linda Giordano at El Encanto (info coming soon).
Tae Kwon Do
Juan Pablo Lopez of TKD San Juan del Sur offers Tae Kwon Do instruction throughout the week, across the street from Hotel Villa Isabella. The benefits of learning a martial art are numerous – in children, it instills a sense of discipline and respect while also teaching concentration and self-confidence. It also helps to improve strength and balance and has even been proven to reduce aggression in children. Juan Pablo is a seasoned instructor who teaches children not only the physical aspects of Tae Kwon Do, but also the discipline and self control required of this martial art.
Juggling, magic, hula hooping and aerials are all in a day’s work (or should we say, play) during circus classes offered by Momentom Collective. The Collective is a group of certified instructors and performers of yoga, cirque arts and illusion- based magic in Nicaragua. Classes are open to children ages 6-11 years old and are offered at Escuela Adelante at 9:30 AM on Saturdays with Lindsay Novah – price is by donation and languages spoken include English, Spanish, and clown. They even offer private adult classes in aerials at Zen Yoga and Yoga classes at Casa Oro yoga inspired by circus arts.
When school isn’t in session, San Juan del Sur Day School offers day camps. During this upcoming summer break, there will be two weeks of camp, from July 25-29 and again August 8-12. Kids ages 2-12 are welcome to participate. The day runs from 9 a.m. -3 p.m. and includes transportation from town, lunch, field trips and activities. Children have the chance to ride horses, practice yoga, swim, surf, dance, play games, make art and more. For more info, visit the school’s camp page here.
San Juan del Sur is bursting with volunteer opportunities thanks to wonderful organizations like Comunidad Connect, Barrio la Planta, The Mobile Library, Vacation With a Purpose, to name a few. If you are only visiting for a brief period of time and would like to find a way to help out, consider involving your family in the San Juan del Sur Community Cleanup, spearheaded by the Boychuk brothers of Surf Ranch Resort. Help clean up trash for two hours (bags, gloves are donated) and then enjoy a great BBQ and splash in the pool out at the ranch as a thank you afterwards! Follow their facebook page for updates on location of cleanup.
Speaking of Surf Ranch, they are actually best known for their fantastic skate park. The Surf Ranch skateboard park is located on site at the resort in San Juan Del Sur, and is the largest skatepark in Nicaragua. The park is open to everyone, free of charge. The park has areas for beginners, intermediate and pros, with everything from flat bars and manual boxes to hubbas, quarter pipes and handrails. All outside guests are welcome. Skateboard Rentals – $2 per hour. P.s. they also have a climbing wall (ages 8 and up), an airbag jump (ages 10 and up), pool, and restaurant (extra fees apply).
The Trade School is a volunteer-led learning space that runs on the barter system. Members of the community can create and teach just about anything and offer it thru the trade school website. Instead of cash, instructors post a list of items that they might enjoy as a trade for their service. Bring a fresh loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, some children’s books and you are good to go! Past courses include gardening, natural building basics, and fiction writing. For kiddos, there was a bilingual storytelling and craft hour. The trade school is a wonderful addition to the community, but it can’t run itself. If anyone is interested in helping to drum up more classes, please check out their facebook page for info.