Getting Robbed in San Juan del Sur at Knife-point

Robbed in San Juan del Sur

It’s been one week since we were robbed at knife-point in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Since then I’ve had a multitude of emotions and feelings: anger, frustration, forgiveness, vengefulness, regret.

As a traveler or tourist you expect to get your pocket picked on a crowded bus, you expect to get your purse jacked in a bar, you expect your hotel room to not be completely secure.

Perhaps I was a bit naive, but I did not expect two teenagers to come down off the hillside, observe us taking pictures, wait for us to come around the bend, pretend to ask us a question while cornering us against the cliff face, put their shirts up over their noses, and produce foot-long butcher knives out of thin air.

Robbed in San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

I remember saying hola and making brief eye contact as I would do passing anyone. And within what seemed like a second, I had a knife in my face and was being pushed back by the fear of getting cut up. Emolyn was in the same situation but knew enough to say “bag…they want the bag!” after they mumbled “bolsa“. We both threw our bags to the ground, Emolyn got out of the way, and they were still inching towards me with the knives. I had no idea what else they could want since my bag was already theirs and my tee-shirt was with the bag. Eventually, they picked up the bags and scurried around the edge of the cliff where they could no longer be seen.

This all took place on the rocks, at the end of the beach, under the mountain with the statue of Christ on top. On our way out, we passed families spending the day in the sun. Our guidebook described it as a good day hike: rockhopping the northern curve of the bay and around the point, minding the tides, and bringing plenty of water. Done and done. What about the kids with the knives?

The night of the incident we were pretty shaken up, and even for the first few days afterward I was still angry. We looked back on the situation a million times and went through every possible what-if. I don’t know how much of a threat these chicos were. Were they prepared to use force to get what they wanted? Were they as frightened as we were? Had they done this a hundred times before? Was it their first time?

I couldn’t believe the utter disinterest in the police about the case. We had run a half-mile on the beach to the nearest bar to make the call. They arrived quickly but had no interest in radioing over to another officer who might dart to the scene of the crime, or to the road which was the only escape out.

The situation could have been much worse if we lost a passport, a major sum of cash, my camera, or got sliced in the stomach. But these hijos de puntas did get some good spoils. Some, like our handmade journals and Spanish notebooks, had value to us and none to them. With a week’s worth of notes, we planned to study from these for the remainder of our trip.

They got a nice camera from Emolyn and an IPOD mini. A hat, two pair of sunglasses, a watch with alarm, a flashlight, and a Moon Nicaragua Handbook: things that make life on the road easier. My father’s copy of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and Herman Hesse’s Demian are now theirs. In a country like Nicaragua, good books in English are hard to come by. Add to that a blue metal water bottle from Quechua in France. They even got the tee-shirt off my back!

I still don’t regret choosing Nicaragua over other Central American countries like Costa Rica, Honduras, or Guatemala. Here´s what my up-to-date Moon Nicaragua guidebook (I had to buy another one in Granada) says about the topic: Believe it or not, Nicaragua is, for the moment, still considered one of the safest countries in Latin America. If you´re traveling south from Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala, you should notice your anxiety level drop noticeably.

Although I doubt I’ll be racing back to any one of these Central American countries anytime soon: almost every person we met had a similar story about themselves or travelers they had met who got robbed somewhere between here and Mexico.



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13 thoughts on “Getting Robbed in San Juan del Sur at Knife-point”

  1. Stephen – I am SO glad you wrote about this. It is reality when traveling in other countries and can happen to anyone, even the most experienced traveler. Just happy you and Emolyn are safe.

  2. Your episode has made this an exciting (harrowing?) trip for us as well… as mere observers!

    Your story leads me to ask the extent to which this is a Nicaraguan- specific thing or a general travel hazzard. Your take on this will inevitably influence how you characterize Nicaragua to your readers. The event is a reminder to travellers everywhere while the response (or lack of it) by the police is telling us something about the country?

    1. David,
      This is a Latin American-specific thing. From what I read and hear, robberies against tourists are much worse in Guatemala. And the gang violence in El Salvador and Honduras is awful. So I still think Nicaragua is among the safer places in Central America. The stories we heard about robberies in Nicaragua mostly took place on the Pacific coast, where there are lots of tourists that make easy and lucrative targets. The rest of the country, (excluding Managua and perhaps Granada and Leon to a lesser extent) is relatively safe– especially the villages and countryside.

      But in more than a decade of travelling in over 40 countries, this has never happened to me. Not until I came to Latin America. But I almost never put myself in risky situations. Nor this particular time–walking out on the rocks–did I think I was putting my self at risk.

    1. Stephen,

      thank you for your story. I must have in san Juan del Sur a week before you were at that time. Last fall I traveled in Costa Rica and Nicaragua by myself for 7 weeks with no incident at all. But I did hear of a mugging of two girls at gun point walking to the beach north of san juan del sur when i was there the last week of november. BUt as I had no problems myself and had such a good trip I decided a few weeks ago to come back to nicaragua to take more spanish classes, i flew into managua late last night and decided to stay here for a day before getting the bus to esteli. I looked through my moon guide about what there was to possibly see in managua. decided against going anywhere that they said not to go because it said i would be mugged BUT the moon guide recommended going down to the Plaza de revolution & Palacio National de la Cultura so i took a taxi down there. After looking around there for a bit i walked down to the edge of the lake which was just one block away. I thought to myself, I am not sure if i should be here, as it was a really run down area. But it was the middle of the day and there was no one around. i looked ahead and saw some other tourist with a back pack and a camera taking pictures, this made me feel a little better so i walked toward them and toward this bar where i thought to myself i will regroup and find a taxi out of here. I stopped to take one photo then turned to head to the bar a few hundred feet away and i saw a young nica walking toward me. I started to make a wide path around him and he kept stepping into my path. It took me a couple of seconds to realize what was happening and realize that this was one of the two boys that i noticed a few hundred yards away from me a couple minutes before. I looked behind me and there was the other kid coming up to me. Luckily i had a second to tighten my grip on my bag and camera. One went for my bag the other for the camera in my hand. I started screaming not letting either of them go. One of the boys ran away the other one was still intend on getting my camera. I fell to the ground hoping to get momentum behind my fall to loosen his grip on my camera, then i bit his arm. my screaming finally produced a couple people out of the bar to see what was happening and he ran away. I walked away from the incident with all of my belonging just a little dirty and a bruise on my arm. Luckily they were not armed and didn’t know what they were doing, otherwise i could have gotten hurt. I was not scarred when it was happening. All that kept running through my head was this prick is NOT getting my camera. Anyway….i will be spending the rest of my few hours in Managua in my nice little hotel in my nice district of town. I also think that i have been/was really careful about not putting myself in dangerous situation. It just pisses me off, i would prefer to be one of those “other people”, like i was on my first trip, where i could just say:” yes people talk about crime but I MYSELF have not had any problems, so it’s just lovely here! But my radar DID go up….next time i just need to listen to it immediately and not think “ok I will get back to thinking about my safety AFTER I take this picture.”

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  4. Wow your story is a lot scarier than mine. Mine just had a small knife and held it close to their body rather than directing it towards us.

    I still believe Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America. And while Managua is a disaster I had an amazing time elsewhere and highly recommend it.

  5. No es ‘hijos de puntas’ es ‘hijos de PUTAS’! You don’t want to sound like a tourist when you’re hurling expletives! Sorry to hear about your experience. It’s amazing no one bothered to warn you about how dangerous that beach can be. Forewarned is forearmed.

  6. Glad you okay man! Thanks for posting and your spot-on regarding the emotions that one goes through after getting robbed. Same thing happened to me in Turkey. Stay safe moi brat.

  7. Funny. I was staying at that hostel nearest to where you were robbed. the one straight across the foot bridge with the pool. forget the name. but two girls were robbed in the same exact way at the same exact spot. as i was reading your article i was thinking that you must have been them but not the same year. police probably know the people doing it and get a cut.

  8. You’re lucky you weren’t physically hurt. Unfortunately, robbery and assault do happen… all the time. It’s just a numbers game… and sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. I was robbed 10 years ago in Guatemala. I would never go there again. I am thankful I came out with my life. From on Guatemala:
    The number of violent crimes reported by U.S. citizens and other foreigners has remained high and incidents have included, but are not limited to, assault, theft, armed robbery, carjacking, rape, kidnapping, and murder, even in areas of Guatemala City once considered safe, such as Zones 10, 14, and 15. Since December 2008, 31 murders of U.S. citizens have been reported in Guatemala, including six in 2011 and three in 2012.

    It’s one thing to read reports of statistics and quite another to be one of the statistics.

    Good luck & stay safe.

    1. Wow. Thanks for the stats. I knew Guatemala was dangerous, but still a lot of Americans and other foreigners go there every year. I know there are a lot of fascinating things to see there, but I’ve always been a little hesitant to travel to Guatemala myself.

  9. I’m a Nicaraguan (brown skin), raised in the US for 54 years in the state of CA. I went to visit and stayed in Granada. Had my phone stolen by a girl that ask me if I would buy her some food for her baby that seemed that he had not eaten for the day.
    While we were seating down I laid my phone on the table. When we finish eating I got up to go on my way and she took off with the child, I realized my phone was missing. I saw her get into a taxi and I ran and got into another taxi to chase her. We caught up with her because the taxi cut in front. I got out and confronted her and told her to me my phone or I’m going to call the police (everyone was watching around us). She said if you do I’m going to bust this phone to pieces. I had important phone numbers in it. So, I offered money, she said give me 40 dollars. I told her to give the phone to the taxi driver and will give her the money. This is in Granada
    Every time I have gone there I had something stolen.

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