San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

San Juan del Sur Prepares for Semana Santa Rush

SAN JUAN DEL SUR – This bustling little beach town is once again bracing itself for the annual Semana Santa tourism invasion March 17-23, during which time some 140,000 mostly national tourists will flock to town and pack the streets, beaches and local hotels and restaurants.

Considering that San Juan del Sur has an estimated capacity of 50,000, Semana Santa is nothing less than a full-blown tourist occupation. It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s crowded … and it’s great for local businesses.

The Mayor’s Office of San Juan del Sur, under the leadership of Mayor Eduardo Holmann, is faced with the daunting task each year of trying to establish order out of chaos, and trying to balance summertime fun with hedonistic anarchy.

Under the slogan of “Security, Order and Cleanliness” – which in Spanish spells out the acronym SOL, or “sun” – the mayor’s office on Feb. 15 implemented its Summer Management Plan (Plan Verano), which aims to regulate the high-season tourism months of February, March and April.

The town’s regular police force of 12 has been reinforced to 146 officers, with help from national and municipal police, and 70 other volunteer firefighters and rescue workers from other parts of the country will also be on hand to maintain public order.

As has become the custom during Semana Santa, three of the larger discos from Managua – Chaman, Blue and Megafest – will block off parts of the beach strip with their massive disco-tent parties, and the Managua fast food joints will set up mobile units to make sure no one has to go with greasy chicken.

A 105-member “ecological brigade” will also be on shifts to ensure that the garbage produced by the tourism invasion doesn’t end up on the beach or in the ocean.

Holmann said that his year, unlike past years, the number of street vendors will be dramatically limited to allow free circulation  on the streets. Of the 250 local businesses, only 25 will be allowed to set up temporary stands on the street. Other street vendors will be shuffled away.

Traffic is another major consideration during Semana Santa. Last year, San Juan del Sur was flooded not only with hundreds of cars from Managua, but also hundreds of school buses that bring people in for the day from all across the country. In just one day last year, 120 buses showed up in town, Holmann said.

To prevent a total bottleneck, vehicle circulation will be limited to those who live in town, who will pay 30 córdobas (about $1.57) for a circulation sticker. Buses and other vehicles will park out by the entrance of town after dropping people off. And no vehicles will be allowed on the beach, where beach soccer and volleyball courts will be set up for weekend tournaments.

The cost of establishing order for Semana Santa and the high-season tourism influx is around $79,000, about half of which comes from municipal funds and the other half of which comes from the private sector beneficiaries of the party – the beverage companies, fast food joints, gas stations and cell phone providers.

But for now, perhaps the biggest logistical challenge to getting everything ready before Semana Santa will be finishing the roadwork, which currently has the main street next to the Central Park all dug up. Construction crews are working furiously to get the road finished before next week.

“If we don’t get it done in time we’ll be in trouble,” Holmann said with a laugh.


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