Getting a Tattoo in Nicaragua at Dark Love Ink

Image by John Maxwell

Call me reckless but I couldn’t shake the vision of having a pictorial roadmap, quite literally, embody the memories I gather along the way.

I promise that I haven’t lost my marbles. Keep in mind that I’m not making these choices lightly. These are completely sober and fully thought out decisions. For the most part, any tattoo that makes the cut is one that has been on my mind for at least six months to a year.

The Tattoo

This particular one is a coral reef and acts as a tribute to my passion for scuba diving. I knew I wanted to get some version of this when I completed my Open Water Certification in Roatán, Honduras. I fell in love with the topography created by the coral, from the cave-like swim throughs to the massive wall drop-offs. Taking this in is exhilarating but also incredibly relaxing. I’m not sure if I have ever found anything that brings me both thrill and Zen, but scuba seems to do it for me.

Images by Steve Rose

Why Nicaragua?

Pretty simple actually, I was able to find an artist. John Maxwell has been tattooing in Canada for over 10 years and moved down to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua in 2015. After doing some work as a resident artist in a local shop, he decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of opening his own shop.

The whole tropical lifestyle bit didn’t hurt either.

I came across him literally one week after he moved into the building that will become his new shop. I couldn’t have been more excited to be one of his first clients at his new location. Which, score, was only a 2-minute walk from my hostel. You can check him out at His website gives a rundown of him and his shop, along with things to do in the San Juan del Sur area. Just look at the views, who wouldn’t want to vacation here while getting some ink?

The consult showed that John knew his stuff. He perfectly balanced my vision with his artistic expertise. He gave me a time estimate, we discussed his rates, and he did a run through on his equipment and sanitation practices.

The drawings and color schemes he sent me that evening proved that he conceptualized exactly what I was looking for. There was plenty of room left for suggestions if he hadn’t quite captured what I wanted.

The Session

It ended up being a bit eventful… though this is kind of an understatement. We had a few unexpected interruptions due to the fact that he was, you know, launching his first business. My favorite was the company that came by to install cable and internet. Apparently in Nicaragua they give you a 72-hour window for installations, which is insanely inconvenient. You just have to hope that the timing will, at best, not suck.

Even though the interruptions were not John’s fault, I could see him stressing the distractions. This was rather most obvious when one of the cable installation workers was literally standing over me and staring as John worked. He offered me a break multiple times and apologized for the lack of privacy. I understand how this could bother many clients, but I found myself amused. It served as a good distraction for me from the awkward arm angle, the tattoo pain, and the lifelong struggle I have with sitting still. And it obviously gave me that much better of a story!

From Paper to Ink

I found John to be focused on his work but conversational whenever I chatted with him. The beginning of the session consisted mostly of me asking about Nicaragua and his plans with the new shop. The conversation picked up the pace with more time, definitely due in part to having plenty of other activity in the shop.

By the end of the 4-hour session, I could see John getting visibly excited with how the tattoo was coming together. Seeing an artist get excited like that was a first for me! It must mean that I’m finally starting to get some decent body art by their standards. In the end, it was safe to say that we were both thrilled with the end product.


Verdict: 10/10

I have received so many compliments on it already, as the work speaks for itself. I would recommend John to anyone looking to get a tattoo while traveling through Nicaragua. While the decision to work with him was made quickly, it’s never a good idea to commit without thinking the design through thoroughly. After all, this will last you the rest of your life.

Another tip: vet your artists extensively. I spent a good amount of time perusing John’s portfolio and website to make sure that he 1) was a safe and clean artist that uses quality products and 2) could do the work that I wanted. You should make sure that they meet your expectations through the consult too. I was perfectly alright with walking away if something didn’t seem right to me.

If I had the time to return for more work, I would. If you ever find yourself in San Juan del Sur, be sure to keep John and Dark Love Ink on your radar.


This post my personal story that reviews Dark Love Ink Tattoo in San Juan del Sur. The opinions and experiences given here are voluntary and tell my personal experience.

Want more travel resources? Sign up to receive regular e-mail updates!

Pin It!



  1. Rika | Cubicle Throwdown April 5, 2017 at 4:44 am - Reply

    This tattoo is AMAZING!! I’m waiting until the end of my time here in Japan to get my reef half-sleeve… with the tattoos I have now, life here is tough enough (they are looked down upon really strongly here – I’m banned from lots of things like gyms, swimming pools, and hot springs). Once I’m out of here though!! Love the vibrant colors on yours, it really pops. Did you see the one I got of a queen triggerfish? It’s on Insta… I got one of the mouth markings in the shape of Roatan 🙂
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted…What I Wish I Had Known Before Coming to JapanMy Profile

    • Katie Fitton April 5, 2017 at 11:31 pm - Reply

      The queen triggerfish tattoo sounds amazing! I like the idea of that subtle customization for Roatan, it really makes it your own. I’m finding you on the social networks now to check it out 🙂 That reef half sleeve is going to be sick, can’t wait to obsess over it once you make moves. Also, props on being the first comment! I haven’t even released this to friends yet… as you can see I’m still getting everything ready to go.

      And that aspect of the Japanese culture would bother me so badly, I don’t really do too well with tattoos or piercings being looked down upon. Part of the reason I broke out from the desk job, you know?

Leave A Comment

CommentLuv badge