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February 2006 update for San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

By doina — last modified Jun 18, 2007 11:50 AM

Published: 2007-06-18 11:50:58
Countries: Nicaragua

From: Eric Blackburn, S/V Chickadee



Latitude 11’ 15.14 N, Longitude 085’ 52.61 W (anchorage)

Bahia San Juan Del Sur is the southernmost port of entry/exit in Nicaragua and fast becoming a popular stop-over for vessels entering or departing the country. The cruising grounds in this region of Nicaragua are some of the best. San Juan Del Sur provides a good jump off point for exploring the many hidden coves and bays along the coast.

The entrance into Bahia San Juan Del Sur is half a mile wide. As you enter, you will see a lateral navigational buoy off to your port side. The buoy marks the outer edge of a reef and its breaking surf. Enter in the middle of the channel keeping the buoy to your port side. If you do find yourself entering in the dark, the lateral navigational buoy is equipped with a WHITE LIGHT, GROUP Fl (6) every 3 seconds. On occasion, the lateral navigation buoy light may not be working. Making landfalls at night is never recommended.

The best place to anchor is as close to the south side of the bay as swinging room will allow. Local pangas and fishing boats take up the prime spots, so you will have to anchor north of them. Do not anchor anywhere within 91 meters (300 feet) of the shoreline as a swell can roll into the bay between the months of May to October. Good anchoring can be taken at 10-meters (33 feet). It is essential to lay sufficient scope to be sure the anchor is well seated. Care is needed when anchoring in the vicinity of other boats to prevent swinging into them during tidal changes.

After you have anchored, expect to be boarded by personnel from the Port Captain’s office. Usually one or two polite representatives dressed in naval uniform will be ferried out to your boat to conduct the first stage of the check-in procedure, which on occasion may include a light-hearted search of lockers and cupboards. The Port Captain representatives will process your Zarpe. If you previously checked in at another Nicaraguan port, there is no cost added for the entry zarpe. There is a $25 fee issued upon exit for your international zarpe. The Port Captain’s office is conveniently located within the shipyards compound.

Immigration office was located next door to the Port Captain’s office, however due to construction taking place at the shipyard, the Immigration office has now been relocated back to “La Frontera” (also known as “Pena Blanca”), the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. You will need to grab a taxi to Pena Blanca in order to check in and out with immigration. It’s a 45 minute ride each way.

If San Juan Del Sur is your first Nicaraguan port of entry, the fee to Immigration is $9.00. ($5.00 for a tourist visa, $2.00 for Despacho, and $2.00 for entrada.)

There is also a one time $15 duty applied to International flagged vessels upon arrival, and $15. duty applied to International flagged vessels upon departure. (The duty on national Nicaraguan registered vessels is $10.00 in, $10.00 out.)

Winds in Bahia San Juan blow 90% of the year out of the east. Between November and April the Papagayo winds blow strong and consistent for days, without letting up. Holding ground in sand is excellent. Fetch is minimal so there is no worry of swell building when the dry season’s easterlies are blowing.

Do keep in mind Bahia San Juan is an open roadstead to the west. During the rainy season, (which coincides with the months of May to October) southwesterly wind and swell becomes more of a concern making for a rolly anchorage. The probability of stormy weather rises dramatically in late September. You can be guaranteed 2 or 3 storms out of the southwest between September and October making the anchorage very uncomfortable.

Getting to and from boat to shore, on occasion, can be a cumbersome affair in most seasons. You can land a dinghy at the local boat ramp clearly visible at the south end of the bay, within the shipyard compound. The ramp is made of concrete. A gated chain-link fence surrounds the boat ramp so your dinghy and belongings should be safe within its confines.

Another alternative may be to tie up at the fishing wharf. I would not recommend it since the wharf is often busy loading or off loading local pangas, wooden trawlers, launches and an assortment of anything that floats. The tidal range can be high (5-7 feet).

Arrangements to get ashore by water taxi can be made with “Mario” who operates a little green tugboat shuttle service. Mario’s fee seems to vary with mood and month, but an excepted shuttle price is about $1.00 per person each way.

If you have an abundance of fuel and provisions that need to be shuttled out to your boat by water taxi, a few extra dollars would be fair trade and appreciated.

As far as going ashore in your own tender, the beach in front of town is another option to land an inflatable. When the surf is up, you will have to time your landings. A good boat handler can motor through the surf with little effect. Rowing is more of a challenge. With timing and experience it is possible to make a landing without putting on a show for folks in the many beach side restaurants.

BIG WAVE DAVES, is a popular English speaking cruiser’s hangout. BIG WAVE DAVES monitors VHF channel 16 and 22.

A few doors up from BWD’s is café El Gato Negro. Here you can enjoy some of Central America’s finest gourmet coffee, espresso and cappuccino in a comfortable homey atmosphere. El Gato Negro also offers a large inventory of new English books for sale. See:

Haul-out and dry dock stowage is possible in the local shipyard, though not recommended unless an attempt by the shipyard is made to put in a travel lift at some future date. The dock at San Juan Del Sur caters primarily to the fishing fleet using two out-of-date Russian hydraulic cranes with extendable booms.

Boats with draft over 2.43 meters (8 feet 1 inch) cannot be hauled out due to the limited depth near the break wall. High tide will have to coincide with scheduling the haul-out with Miguel in advance. The dock or muelle (moy-yeh) is run by E.P.N ( Empresa Portuaria Nacional).

Note: As of January 2006, construction has begun to expand the shipyard, install a break wall and better accommodate haul-out and boat yard facilities in San Juan Del Sur. The project is being co-sponsored and funded by the Japanese government.

The field operation manager’s name is Miguel Granja. Talk to Miguel first regarding haul-outs and other shipyard facilities. Another important contact in the office at E.P.N. is Marvin Arguello. Marvin is in a good friend and very accommodating and helpful.

For diesel engine repairs, ask for Julio Sanchez. His reputation is second to none. Julio is known for being the pride of the fleet with many years of overhauling Detroit, Cummings and Volvo engines. Francisco Castro is another recommended diesel mechanic specializing in repairs to Caterpillar engines. Emilio Lopez and his crew can handle most fiberglass repairs.

For any work associated with VHF radios, short wave or Ham radio, depth sounders and radar repairs, the local fleet go to Wil Serrano. Manual Ruiz is known for repairing refrigeration units, alternators and starters.

Exotic woods are inexpensive in Nicaragua. For carpentry work and fine craftsmanship ask for Hector Rivera. He has the most complete shop in SJDS and can be found across the street from the city park. Alberto Sanchez and Juan Noguera are boat builders who specialize in heavy hull construction.

If you need your bottom cleaned or propeller examined, Fermin Estrada, knick named “Pin-Pin”, has diving gear and is often called upon. There is also a dive shop in San Juan Del Sur where one can have their tanks refilled.

Diesel fuel and water are available at the dock. The water is safe for drinking although heavily chlorinated. Gasoline is available 24 hours per day from the only Texaco station 1 mile up the road. Provisions, canned food, processed foods, coffee, cheese, yogurt, beer, liquor, postcards, clothing and cosmetics can be found in any of the countless “pulperias” in San Juan Del Sur. The two best stocked are “Sanchez Pulperia” and “Calderon Pulperia”. Both are easy to find, just ask a local or see the following map. There is a city market in front of the bus depot where one can buy produce. The market is dirty and run down, but does provide an authentic shopping experience.

Rivas, about 35 minutes away by taxi, is another good spot for provisioning. Rivas has a modern supermarket called PALI located across the street from BAC ( Banco America Central). PALI stocks just about everything you could ask for, at good value.

Rosio’s Laundry, located behind the Catholic Church in down town San Juan Del Sur, offers a pristine clean same day laundry service. English and Spanish is spoken.

Though limited in supplies, the best place in town to buy hardware needs; nuts and bolts, anti-fouling, paint, SS fasteners, fiberglass resin and a basic assortment of tools can be found at Ferrateria Maria Celeste. Propane bottles with standard North American fittings can be re-fuelled in Rivas. There is a propane drop-off depot in San Juan Del Sur. Cube ice is available at the Texaco station.

Phone and postal services can be found at the ENITEL building; another beautiful old colonial building one minute walk from the shipyard.

There is no shortage of affordable restaurants in San Juan Del Sur. The catch of the day can be enjoyed at one of many fish and chip palapas along the beachfront for about US$6.00 per meal. Cheap eats for about US$1.50 can be eaten in the market everyday at noon.

For a more varied European cuisine of vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals try Marie’s Bar on the strip. One block east of Marie's, you’ll find BIG WAVE DAVES specializing in a varied menu to the highest gringo standard. BIG WAVE DAVES provides a wide variety of services to the cruising fleet including showers, tours and water taxi.

Piedras y Olas Pelican Eyes Hotel offers San Juan Del Sur’s finest dining in decadent style with a stunning view of the bay to match. They also offer a wireless high speed internet service. You can sit by the pool and surf the internet. Pelican Eyes Hotel monitors channel 22.

Jerry’s Pizza Bar, across from the market is a popular traveler’s destination. The pizza at Jerry’s is simply the best.

If in San Juan Del Sur and you need to change $US dollars for the local currency of Cordobas, stop by “Sanchez Pulperia” and talk to Sylvia. Currency can also be exchanged at Big Wave Dave’s.

There are 2 ATM’s in town. BAC (Banco America Central) has an ATM set up at Hotel Casa Blanca. BAC’s cajero automatico dispenses either US dollars or Cordobas. BDF is a full service bank, however it’s ATM dispenses only the national currency. If you need to send or receive money from home, Western Union has an office in Rivas.

There is no shortage of internet cafes in town. Hotel Casa Joxi, Cyber Leos, Casa Oro and Super Cyber all provide internet service at $3.00 per hour. For those wishing a taxi to the airport in Managua, contact Francisco Cantillano at 458-2106 or 889-9783. Francisco is professional and on time. Stop by his house or leave a message that you wish to go to Managua and he will be there for you. Ricardo Morales is another very professional, prompt and experienced taxi driver, well known, liked and trusted in the community. Contact Ricardo at: 882-8368.