Its population is approximately 15,553, consisting largely of families engaged in fishing or the tourism industry and foreigners from the United States, Canada and Europe. While the local economy was, for many years, based on fishing and shipping, it has shifted towards tourism in the last 20 years. In October 2002, to mark the city's 150th anniversary, it was formally designated the "Port of San Juan del Sur" and a "Tourism City of Nicaragua."
San Juan del Sur, set beside a crescent-shaped bay, was a popular resting place for gold prospectors headed to California in the 1850s. Correspondingly, San Juan del Sur served as a hub for Cornelius Vanderbilt Lines.
A statue of the Christ of the Mercy sits above town on the northern end of the bay. The Mirador del Cristo de la Misericordia sits at on one of the highest points on the bay and is one of the tallest Jesus statue in the world.
The town is near the site where Survivor: Nicaragua and Survivor: Redemption Island were filmed. Those seasons aired in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The 29th U.S. Survivor season, Survivor: San Juan del Sur, was also filmed there, as was Season 30, Survivor: Worlds Apart, which aired in 2015. San Juan del Sur has become a hot spot for international surfing competition.
San Juan del Sur is the port on the Pacific that has been focus of many historic and modern day Nicaragua Canal proposals because of its location on the narrow isthmus of Rivas between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Nicaragua.
U.S. backed forces engaged in armed conflict in San Juan del Sur on March 7, 1984.
On September 2, 1992 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake off the central coast of Nicaragua generated a tsunami that devastated many communities along the Pacific Coast. Run-up values along the coast ranged from 2m in the north and south to up to 10m in some central locations. Run-up values in San Juan del Sur were approximately 5m. As a result of the tsunami an estimated 60% of homes in the community were destroyed, approximately 800 residents were displaced, and businesses and homes along the Malecón suffered severe damage.
Tropical savanna climates have monthly mean temperature above 18 °C (64 °F) in every month of the year and typically a pronounced dry season, with the driest month having precipitation less than 60 mm (2.36 in) of precipitation. The Köppen Climate Classification subtype for this climate is "Aw". (Tropical Savanna Climate).