I like to have a good time but I also love to be in bed by 10pm. Usually.
I had been hearing about Sunday Funday since Panama City and knew it was a pretty big deal. While staying at a backpacker resort in Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua, I met a lovely lady, Claire, who invited me to her 30th birthday party that was happening in San Juan Del Sur. It was to be on a Friday night, followed by a weekend of festivities with the big event on Sunday at Sunday Funday.
I happened to meet up with a couple that I had first met also at Laguna De Apoyo, Nate and Alex, and we started travelling around Nicaragua together The week leading up to the birthday weekend we ended up in Isla Ometepe, a volcanic island in the middle of a large lake. We opted to stay in an eco-style hostel outside of town and after a few days of being at one with ourselves we decided to give Sunday Funday a try. How bad it could it possibly be?
Traveling from Ometepe to San Juan Del Sur involves getting the ferry across to Rivas, catching a taxi to the main bus station and then a chicken bus to San Juan Del Sur. Once we got to Rivas we had already had a long morning and were more susceptible to the suggestions of the taxi driver to pay him to take us all the way to our hostel in San Juan. On arrival to the centre of town though, he said he wasn’t willing to take us all the way up to our hostel and would only drop us in town, unless we paid him more money of course. We thought it was just another ploy from an entrepreneurial cabbie but it turns out that our chosen hostel is actually located at the top of a pretty steep hill and the road up was all gravel.
I remembered that the hostel had a free shuttle from town so we wandered around trying to figure out where to meet it. Luckily we spotted some people we had met in Apoyo and then Ometepe who were also going to the party. This happens so much when you’re backpacking and is even more prominent in Central America as it’s such a small region and everyone is sharing the best places to go and the best hostels to stay in.
They were having some drinks in a little bar and were going to catch the next shuttle as well so we settled in for our first drinking session in San Juan Del Sur! Turns out the shuttle is a pickup truck so we climbed into the back and headed up the steep windy road to our new home for the weekend. The Sensible Susan in me thought this was not really the safest way to transport a bunch of tipsy backpackers but these are the sorts of situations you get to experience when you’re backpacking and sometimes I have to remind myself to just embrace the good times and appreciate it for what it is. Looking back, some of my best experiences on this trip have been in the back of a pickup truck, watching the world go past and interacting with locals on their way to and from work.
The birthday party
Arriving at the hostel was a bit of a shock. We were not in Nicargaua anymore, Toto. The party had well and truly begun and there was a lot of people already dressed in flouro and leopard leotards, including several brave men. Oh, I forgot to mention that this was an 80’s workout themed party! Very important information so you can understand my outfit below.
We weren’t prepared enough to have fun 80’s outfits with us but Clare and her friends had thought ahead and raided a few op shops before getting to San Juan del Sur. Yes, there are op shops in Central America. After checking in to the hostel and receiving our complimentary welcome drink we rummaged through a pile of questionable outfits and eventually picked out some of the semi-ok options that were left.
The three of us quickly settled in to the dorm room and our beds, got dressed and then head downstairs to join in the fun. As Claire has spent the previous two weekends at the hostel just getting ready for her birthday party by way of drinking as much as possible, she was pretty much Naked Tiger family and the guys at Naked Tiger had pulled out all the stops for her. There was only 80’s music, lots of little surprises throughout the night and a huge birthday cake that they helped Clare’s best friend organise.
It was a super huge night and I quickly became comfortable with my residence in a party hostel. These people were just like me! Only drunker. And even though I was drinking more than I usually would, I felt very safe and in control at Naked Tiger. The staff were pretty much functional alcoholics, required as they were, to drink from the first thing in the morning and make sure the party was always on at the hostel.
The hostel itself is amazing. It’s basically a huge mansion located at the top of a hill with amazing views and a huge pool area. It’s seriously one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed in and it only cost $12.50 a night. The hostel has in-house food service so you can order breakfast, lunch and dinner there along with the always open bar. There are several places to hang out, including a large balcony upstairs, the pool deck and indoor seating areas.
As I was settling into bed on my first night in the partiest of all party hostel, I also got to experience what seemed to be a regular event at the hostel, a guest throwing up in bed. Not to get too graphic, I will say that this person was on the top bunk and luckily the person on the bottom bunk hadn’t made it to bed yet. Very lucky. I got one of the staff from downstairs who came up, grabbed the mattress and just put it outside on the deck. He said the cleaners would take care of it in the morning and that was it. Another day, another vomit covered mattress. Poor cleaners! The spewer was nice enough to tip the cleaners in the morning but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t their favourite person for the rest of the weekend.
One activity that was rampant throughout the whole weekend was getting “Iced”. This basically involves one person, let’s call them the “Icer”, hiding a bottle of Smirnoff Ice in a spot that the Icee would stumble upon it. This could be under your pillow, in your backpack or in the shower. Once you’ve found the Smirnoff Ice, it’s up to the Icee to drink the whole drink in one go. Besides the fact that Smirnoff Ice’s are disgustingly sweet, your bottle may also have warmed up significantly by the time you discover it. Now imagine being hungover and discovering one of these bottles at nine in the morning after a big night of drinking. Truly awful.
Detoxing on Saturday and exploring the town
The next day after a late breakfast in the hostel, Nate, Alex and I decided to head into town to check it out and get away from the alcoholic influences of the staff and threat of getting Iced. San Juan del Sur is a pretty small town and it’s as touristy as I’ve seen in Central America. There are burger joints galore and loads of expat-run clothing stores with short shorts, tiny two-pieces and a backpacker favourite – flip flops, or thongs as we call them in Australia.
That’s not a bad thing really, as I don’t think anyone is coming to San Juan for cultural experiences, unless that cultural experience is the ancient rite of getting smashed, taking loads of drugs and then stuffing your face with chilli cheese fries the next day. You know, like the ancient Mayans did.
San Juan is a great place to relax into the comforts that a thriving expat community bring to town. I even found an amazing gelato place that needs to be experienced. It's called Superfrutto and is next to Hotel Estrella.
The beaches aren’t great in town, they're fine but if you head a little bit outside of town you’ll find pretty, deserted beaches to relax in and some beaches with great conditions for surfing. Besides the beach, drinking and eating, there isn’t a lot more in terms of entertainment so make sure you bring a good book if you’re going to be hanging out for a while. Naked Tiger had a great movie lounge set up, with a projector and loads of DVDs, along with a variety of games, a book exchange and of course the beautiful pool area to just lay around in.
Getting ready for Sunday Funday
On the morning of Sunday Funday, the official reps of the event show up bearing wristbands, official shirts and glitter! Once you’ve paid for the event, you can choose your favourite shirt design and then head to the decoration station. This was one of my favourite parts of the day! What begins as a calculated effort to carefully design your Sunday Funday body art masterpiece ends up with everyone drawing crazy designs on everyone else and glitter going everywhere. You will definitely find specks of glitter weeks down the track, perhaps as you’re traveling in a small river boat on your way to a remote jungle village, and will think back fondly on a crazy weekend.
Heading to the first party
The first pool party is located in small resort closer to town. There will be pickup transportation from the other two hostels to get there at different intervals. Once there you will be greeted by a row of bouncers who will check your bags to make sure you aren’t trying to bring anything too crazy into the party and mostly to make sure you’re not smuggling in drinks. Be prepared for your first shot as you walk in!
This pool is located right on the beach so there’s a great view of the surf. It was at this pool party where one unfortunate guy dived into the pool and hit his head. You know how something happens at a party and the people who most want to help are usually the drunkest and least able to actually help? Well imagine dozens of people who see this incident and start to fuss over this poor guy. Utter chaos! Luckily the organisers are obviously used to this situation and were quick to respond. Getting the drunkeys out of the way and tending to the poor guy who kept insisting he was fine and ready to party on while having blood spurting into his eyes from his head wound and streaming down his face.
This pool party was the best for dancing. The DJ was awesome and there was a dedicated dance floor right next to the pool. I felt like I had already had a great time several hours in but there was still a lot of fun to be had and two more pool parties yet to go!
The second stop in the travelling pool party was Naked Tiger. It was a good opportunity for some chill out time in the dorms, as only hostel guests were allowed in the upstairs section and you could consider indulging in some of the free alcohol that you might have hidden up there to avoid spending too much on the expensive Sunday Funday drinks. They also plan this as the second hostel so you can view the amazing sunset from the highest point in town. This was my favourite spot and definitely had the best atmosphere as I felt by then most people had reached that sweet spot of buzzed but not too drunk.
By this stage everyone had caught up and there was a lot of people to talk to. Even a socially awkward anti-socialite person like me managed to find some very fun and interesting people to talk to. I learnt that a lot of people travel to San Juan del Sur and Nicaragua just for Sunday Funday. There were a lot of people outside of the traditional hostel crowd you would usually get to meet. When going through my phone the next day I had a lot of Facebook friends that I couldn’t remember meeting and Whatsapp numbers that were just entered as: “N” or “blonde guy”.
At this point it was getting quite late so some of us were considering just staying at Naked Tiger instead of heading to the last hostel, which is back in the centre of town. We eventually decided that we had to see it through and ended up at the last point – Pacha Mama Hostel. This hostel had more of a plunge pool rather than the bigger pools we had during the day but at this stage no one was really into swimming. There was more dancing and a lot more debauchery as the stayers were in the mood to party all night long.
After a couple of hours I decided to head back to the hostel with the next pick-up as they were less regular the later it got. On the way I met some fun people who were staying at the hostel behind us, Casa De Olas. This was also supposed to be a really cool place to stay and they have some little rooms located at the back of the property that’s worth checking out. I ended up hanging out with some guys at their little cabin and chatting until the early morning while swinging in thier hammock. Oh, how I love hammocks.
When I made it back to the Naked Tiger there were still a lot of people up and hanging out but the party was definitely more toned down. I got to bed by about 3 am and considered myself lucky. I met some people the next morning who had been out the whole night and even met the poor guy who had hit his head at the first party. He was not a happy chappy and didn’t enjoy everyone asking him about his accident. Poor guy. There were also a few people passed out in some unfortunate places and unfortunate positions.
The morning after
I was ready to just escape and head back to Granada the next day but for those who are keen to stay and sleep it off, Naked Tiger offers a special deal for your fourth night free. Just consider how much you will actually save as you will have to have all your meals at the hostel unless you take the free shuttle into town of course. This might not even be an option though for anyone nursing a hangover.
I said a quick goodbye to my travel friends who had been with me for three weeks by that stage and Alex gave me a present and a big hug which almost made me cry. I jumped into the back of the shuttle, backpack and all, and tried to forget about some of the stupid things I had said and done that weekend. As I drove down that steep rough gravel driveway for the last time I thought about how party hostels aren’t all bad and how alcohol can actual help stimulate conversations for an introverted person like me.
That weekend is still one of my most treasured travel memories. Naked Tiger is actually a very lush hostel and if it wasn’t for the fear of constantly getting Iced I would have enjoyed a longer stay there.
Should you go to Sunday Funday?
I do not go looking for a party. Usually I like nice quiet chats in a cool bar somewhere with a small group of people. Sunday Funday was never on my "must do list" for Central America and it certainly isn't for everyone. When I ask myself if I would do it again, though, my answer is always yes! I had a great time at Naked Tiger and Sunday Funday and even though it can be viewed as hedonistic and a huge spend in an otherwise cheap country, it's also one of the craziest times I've ever had.
I danced, I chatted, I drank, I did other things that I won't mention and I had an amazing day. I would recommend you at least give it a try and if you hate it, then you've only lost $15. Chances are you'll love the experience and look back on it as one of the craziest pool parties you've ever been to.
Sunday Funday Tips
- Sunday Funday is on every Sunday!
- If you stay at the Naked Tiger or Pacha Mama hostels you get half price entry
- The event staff come to the Naked Tiger hostel the morning of the event at about 9:30 to organise payment and hand out wrist bands and shirts which saves you from having to go into town
- The event officially starts at 2 pm
- No need to bring a bag and definitely best to leave any valuables at your hostel. Just bring as much cash as you think you’ll need for drinks
- Definitely don’t bring your phone, unless it’s waterproof. There were a few people who were thrown into the pool!
- There's a BBQ at the second stop, Naked Tiger, with veggie options. Don't forget to eat!
- Although it’s a pool party, I wouldn’t actually recommend swimming in any of the pools. They get pretty gross...
- Have fun and don't think about it too much. It's a party!