The beautiful 170km-long Rio San Juan marks the border with Costa Rica and runs from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean Sea. Strategically important, it has a hectic history of disputes and attacks from outside Nicaragua and within. The remarkable fortress at El Castillo, built by the Spanish to repel pirates (although Horatio Nelson briefly held it after capture by stealth), bears witness to that. However it’s now a peaceful waterway passing through thick tropical jungle, where efforts are being made to encourage eco-tourism. Downstream from El Castillo is the primary rainforest of the Reserva Biológica Indio Maíiz, possibly the largest nature reserve in Central America.
When to go
Situated well within the tropics, Rio San Juan has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures all year round. May - Nov is rainy season, but places on the eastern coast, the Caribbean side, tend to be rather wetter, and to have a longer rainy season, than those on the Pacific coast to the west. There’s a risk of tropical storms or hurricanes Jun - Nov.
Getting local currency
Córdoba. Notes can be obtained from money exchanges (casas de cambio
) and also from banks which will supply advances on a debit or credit card. There are ATMs in large towns where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts may be limited. There is no ATM in el Castillo, bring dollars and córdobas with you. Obtain your local currency needs before travelling to Rio San Juan.
GMT -6 hours.
A stay at Morgan’s Rock, the well regarded eco-lodge on the Pacific Coast; a few days in the tranquil tropical islands of Solentiname in the southern part of the lake, a 1 hour boat ride from San Carlos at the source of the river.
San Carlos, at the lake end of the river, is reached by air from Managua (1hr) or by scenic drive through rolling cattle country on a paved (in 2013) road (3-4hrs). El Castillo is accessible by river from San Carlos, although a bridge makes road access possible from 2014. San Juan del Norte is accessed from Nicaragua by air or by road (3-4hrs) to San Carlos then by river via el Castillo (8-9hrs); there is an erratic service to Bluefields.