For those taking a Panama Canal cruise between Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles, one of the Pacific ports visited by some lines is San Juan del Sur. It’s located in Nicaragua, a fascinating destination with much to offer.
This is the largest country in Central America, slightly smaller than New York State. It’s been typecast as a place of instability, civil wars and revolution – the opposite of Costa Rica. Fortunately, days of the turbulent Somoza regime and Contra rebels are in the past.
These days Nicaragua is out to court more cruise business by offering an improved entry port to attractions like Colonial Granada, Lake Nicaragua and capital city Managua. The government is investing over a million dollars to upgrade the existing tendering port and the seaside town of San Juan del Sur. This season the town will host about 30 cruise ship visits.
The new terminal is different than others. The strategic intent is to create a favorable setting not just for cruise passengers, but a place that everyone can enjoy – locals and visitors alike. When fully developed, the port facility will be an entertainment complex with restaurants and retail shops, projected to open this fall.
“Everyone knows what’s really needed to attract more cruise ships is a new pier,” says Axel Melchior, managing director of Careli Tours, the country’s largest destination management company. “But this represents a great step forward. It will add more jobs and benefit the economy – it’s something to get excited about.”
Right now passengers coming ashore have to negotiate narrow stairs and ramps on a pontoon barge. At best, the tight quarters can only accommodate two tender boats. It takes time for the loading and unloading of passengers.
When current construction is completed, there will be space for four or more tender boats. Wider ramps will allow guests easier access to reach tour transportation or to visit the four new buildings filled with shops and restaurants.
“When fully open, the project will create more than 120 new jobs,” says Rodrigo Castro, onsite security officer who showed me around the development. “One of the buildings was to have offices for the port authority, but now it will feature a disco and restaurant.”
When passengers arrive ashore and step out their tender boats, they will first pass through a colorful artisans’ marketplace. At present vendor stalls are found in town along the streets. There will also be four new large stores and eight restaurants, according to Castro.
“The new port is a very positive sign for tourism development,” says Elizabeth Camille, spokesperson for Gray Line Nicaragua. “It will mean we can better service the cruise visitor and bring new appeal to the area.”
When you go
San Juan del Sur is a tranquil fishing village (pop. 18,000) nestled at the head of a horseshoe-shaped bay on the Pacific coast of southern Nicaragua. The photographic bay is studded with small, private yachts and commercial fishing boats. It compares to Cabo San Lucas 40 years ago. See it now in its natural state.
The California Gold Rush made the town part of a travel route created to ease the journey between the US west and east coasts. The California Gold Rush made the town part of a travel route created to ease the journey between the US west and east coasts.
Locals make their living fishing, diving and catering to visitors. Many are surfers and backpackers. Information: www.visitnicaragua.com.