Rio San Juan

The river starts at the southwest corner of the Lake Nicaragua (San Carlos town), and flows for 119 miles (199 km) to the Caribbean Ocean (Greytown). It is the natural border with Costa Rica. The whole area is considered a tropical rain forest. The bio diversity is spectacular. All along the river you will see hundreds of different bird species like: Chestnut Toucans, Harpy Eagles, Boat-billed herons, Great Egrets, Jacanas and Cormorants. Other species as caimans (crocodile), turtles, monkeys, red arrow frogs.

The city of San Carlos about 190 miles southeast of Managua, is the lake port gateway to the area. Lake Nicaragua (covering 5,067 square miles) is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. It is no local legend that the lake is home to sharks, sawfish and other saltwater species. They swim from the Caribbean, up the San Juan River and return.

The area just south of the Archipelago, and on the Nicaraguan side of the border with Costa Rica, is known as Los Guatuzos, a nature reserve to make the most experienced naturalist's eyes bulge. Birds, reptiles, and mammals of almost every description live and frolic in the exuberant foliage. Boat trips through the Solentiname islands and the preserves can be obtained in San Carlos.

Traveling down the San Juan River, in the direction of the Caribbean is spectacular. Your first major stop is Castillo La Inmaculada Concepción where the ruins of an old Spanish fort stand on a hill guarding the river communities from Caribbean pirates. It was here in 1780 that Horatio Nelson, then a young captain, met defeat in an attempt to capture Granada and Leon, to assure the British a route between the Atlantic and Pacific.

The Río San Juan is a special area where nature reserves have been established, and strong conservation measures are taken, to keep civilization from intruding on the natural wonders of the area. It is now possible to take a boat from San Carlos all the way to the mouth of the Río San Juan at San Juan del Norte. San Juan del Norte (originally known as Greytown) is the Caribbean delta terminus of the San Juan River.

Access to San Juan is by Hydrofoil service from Granada, daily flights from Managua airport, or from Costa Rica via Los Chiles (Frio River). The Hydrofoil boats cover the distance in 4 hours, and the flight takes 50 minutes. From San Carlos you can take river transportation to El Bartola Lodge (recommended), or El Castillo Lodge or to the mysterious Solentiname islands, site of the Mancarron Hotel (recommended).

There is immediate access to Costa Rica via Los Chiles, (20 minutes ride) from San Carlos through the Frio river. From here there is an excellent highway to San Jose (5 to 6 hours). This enables any combination of tours starting in Costa Rica, continuing to Nicaragua or vice versa. San Carlos is an international entry point for Nicaragua, if you enter or exit Nicaragua through this town, normal immigration and customs procedures and costs will apply.

Hydrofoil service:
From GranadaDaily except Tuesdays8:00am

Returns same days2:00pm
From ManaguaDaily6:45am

Returns daily8:50am

  • "Canoe trips": through small creeks full of animal live and intense vegetation. Night trips to see caiman (crocodile species). Bird observation.
  • "Sportfishing": Tarpon and other species
  • "Jungle Trails": on selected areas around San Pancho or Bartola. With local guides.


  • San Pancho Lodge: 10 rooms, 2 air-conditioned (not necessary for the cool jungle nights), private bathrooms. Good food. Managed by owners. Tours and boat rides available. Electricity, telephone. Located at the south river bank, 11 km from San Carlos. Transfer service. Best choice on the river.
  • Albergue El Castillo: Located at the town beside Fortress. 9 rooms. No private bathrooms. Electricity until 11:00 p.m.
  • Bartola Lodge: 8 rooms. Located down the river at the beginning of the SIAPAZ National reserve. Excellent jungle trails and canoe trips. Lunch is served here on some of our tours.

Other Areas: [Bluefields] [Corn Island] [Granada & The Isletas] [Leon] [Managua] [Masaya]
[Los Pueblos] [Ometepe] [Rio San Juan] [Selva Negra] [Solentiname]

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