Nicaragua | Exploring San Juan Del Sur

This visit to Nicaragua was my first time to Central America, and it exploded my comfort zone wide open in several important ways. Nicaragua was a country I started to hear more about a couple years ago through friends who loved it and photographers I follow on Instagram. I picked it as my next destination since I wanted to do something quite different in terms of language, culture, and climate from my most recent trip to Iceland.

I discovered the tour company El Camino Travel and was quickly captivated by the itinerary they had created, past traveler testimonials, and their beautiful photos -- all of which come from a photographer that they send with each group to help capture the memories so you can be more in the moment.

Our group was super lucky to have Sabrina Hill as our trip photographer. Sabrina fit right in with everyone, was such a joy throughout the trip, and was game for anything she had to do to get the shot. We’ve had a couple fun opportunities to reconnect back home in LA and in NYC when we hired her through my work to capture photos for a social media campaign. Just look at all her stunning photos included in my Nicaragua posts and it’s easy to see why!

Our first leg of the trip was spent in beautiful San Juan Del Sur at Hulakai Hotel, which overlooks Playa Maderas. It is roughly a 2.5 hour drive from the Managua Airport and the last portion of our route involved a very bumpy ride in a sedan over rocky dirt roads. It’s off the beaten path for sure, but once you get there it’s quite a shock to see your reward: a gorgeous ecolodge nestled into the wild landscape. Heads up that AC and hot showers are not a thing here so you become one with the humidity pretty quickly!


This was mostly used as a travel day from the Managua Airport and we spent the evening meeting others in our group. HulaKai does family style dinners and we enjoyed the super delicious, flavorful food every night we were there.


This day was MAGICAL. It started with a morning yoga session, followed by a delicious breakfast. The beach is about a five-minute walk down a hill so we headed straight to the waves and next came tacos for lunch. Playa Maderas is a fairly small beach with just a few restaurants and surfboard shacks, and the atmosphere was warm, relaxed, and intimate. A little while after lunch, we had our surf lesson which was SO.MUCH.FUN. I feel like a bad Californian because I had never given it a go prior to this trip. I spent many summers at the beach growing up, but I got caught in a gnarly rip current when I was a teenager and that’s kept me out of the deep water ever since. What makes Playa Maderas so great for beginners is the shallow water so you can find your footing the whole way out if needed and the waves that roll in at a regular, mellow pace, making the whole experience gentle and easy-going. Ended the night with yummy pizza, an incredible massage, and a deep, contented sleep.


On our last full day in San Juan Del Sur we headed over to explore the town. It is a bustling and vibrant kind of beach town and we spent the morning roaming the streets and shops. After a quick lunch at a brewery, we headed out on a catamaran tour. We pulled up to a private beach, jumped ship, and hung out on the shore for an hour or two. I remember... the shockingly salty water after a bunch went up my nose + the conversation I had with my new Aussie friend, Kate, who got me set on a future visit to Byron Bay + the fresh ceviche and hummus we had back onboard + the music snob drama that came from collaborating on a shared playlist + the rainbow sunset that turned us into living heart-eyed emojis as we pulled back into the harbor.

The following day we headed over to Granada, which I cover in this post.

San Juan Del Sur Recommendations

Simon Says - Smoothie bar with a hippie vibe and a garden dining area.

El Gato Negro - Best coffee in town.

The Taco Spot - Quick taco stop.

Auric - Surf style apparel.

Nicaragua Craft Beer Co. - New brewery, stopped for drinks and tacos.

Nica Sail & Surf - Catamaran tour company.