Travel, but travel with responsibility

Rio San Juan – Following the pirate´s track

We continued our journey through Nicaragua from Isla de Ometepe to San Carlos. From San Carlos it is possible to take a “Lancha” (big motorised boat) and explore this gorgeous tropical rainforest river. Beautiful landscapes, stunning nature, mangrove forests, water birds, small settlements at the riverside and the big pirate castle “El Castillo” – all these things can be experienced while traveling along the Rio San Juan.

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This river connects the Caribbean Sea with the Lake Nicaragua, which is located well inside Nicaragua, and was hence a famous route for pirates, in order to enter and plunder the country. El Castillo was constructed in order to defend the country from the pirates and if you are visiting this fort today, you can really feel the huge history, including a lot of fights, blood and drama, behind this old walls.

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Rio San Juan at a glance:

  • Broad river with many mangrove forests and water birds
  • Possibility for long trekking-tours in the jungle, starting for example from El Castillo or El Sábalo
  • Traveling along the Rio San Juan to Greytown, at the Caribbean Coast, possible
  • Lancha (motorised boat) from San Carlos to El Castillo costs 150 C$ (around 7 $) and takes around 3 hours
  • Daily buses from Managua to San Carlos (high frequented route)
  • Hostel Peña a clean and cheap hostel option (250 C$, 10 $) in San Carlos
  • Hotel “Tropical” in El Castillo a good option for 10 $ per person with breakfast
  • In El Sábalo the hostel “Clarissa” (250 C$ for the room, 10$) is a good option


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Water birds in the river


When we started from Isla de Ometepe, we took a ferry to Rivas and from there a bus to Managua. In Managua we had to change the bus station, because from where we arrived, there are no buses to San Carlos. Just tell the taxi driver you want to go to the station, from where buses to San Carlos start. They will know! There was a bus then already almost immediately starting to San Carlos. The journey takes around 7 hours and costs about 7 $.


Central park of San Carlos

Colourful central park of San Carlos


We arrived in the evening in San Carlos and since there were no more boats to El Castillo (last one around 5 pm), we had to search for a hostel for one hight. We found the hostel Peña, which is a clean and cheap option for 250 C$, about 10 $. There is everything you need for just one hight.


Promenade of San Carlos

Promenade of San Carlos


When we got up the next morning and opened our windows, there were some beautiful hummingbirds, flying around :)


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San Carlos is not very special, but just a good spring-board to the Rio San Juan and it´s outstanding nature.


Fishermen in San Carlos

Fishermen in San Carlos


At 10 in the morning on the next day, we took a Lancha to El Castillo for 150 C$ (ca. 7 $ per person). The boat was full with locals. Their children through garbage into the river and nobody of the adults, let alone the parents, said something…

That´s one of the huge drawbacks in Nicaragua…there is no awareness existing for nature and the protection of nature – but that is another story for another day!


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Inside the Lancha


Along the Rio

Along the Rio


I just laid back and enjoyed the boat ride through this wonderful nature! Great landscapes,  small settlements and pasture land with cows grazing on it, palm forests, water birds, mangrove forests, banana plantations – everything could be observed!

When we arrived in El Castillo after around 3 hours in the boat, we were quite tired and looking for a place to stay. The hotel “Tropical” is a good option and since we were travelling in the off-season, the price was very cheap (10 $ per person with breakfast). Here the hotels and hostels in general are more expensive than in other parts of Nicaragua. I guess it´s because they are so remote and have to bring all the commodities by boat. Moreover, there were almost no tourists, when we were there!

We really liked this hotel and it´s location directly at the river – the food was delicious, by the way! 😉

Balcony in hotel Tropical

Balcony in hotel Tropical

Houses in El Castillo

Houses in El Castillo


The flair of this tiny village on the riverside was very special – the people were calm and friendly and we could feel already an influence of the caribbean laid-back culture! :)


We were walking a bit around, exploring the village and visiting the pirate fort. It´s truly a remote tropical paradise and I felt very comfortable and safe here!

El Castillo from above

El Castillo from above

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Village curch

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The fort

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View from the fort

View from the fort

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At the entrance of the pirate´s fort, we had to pay 40 C$ (about 1.80 $) and we were asked, if we want a tour in english or spanish. We didn´t even know, that there is a tour included and quite surprised. The tour guide explained a lot about the history and construction of the fort – it was very interesting and since there were no other tourists, a private tour :)

A little museum was also constructed.




Later we saw a huge grasshopper – an insect like not from this world!


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I guess it was like 15 cm long or so.

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El Castillo

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It started to rain and we decided to go back to our hotel in order to relax a little bit.

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River way


Wall painting

Wall painting


The next day, we continued to El Sábalo, another tiny village at the riverside. From there it is possible to start a trekking tour, but unfortunately, we arrived too late on that day and it was not worth it anymore to start the tour. So we just stayed in the village, enjoying the slow rhythm, relaxing and drinking some juices and beer :)


Village El Sábalo

Village El Sábalo

Ferry man in the village

Ferry man in the village

Here we stayed one night in the hostel “Clarissa” (250 C$ for the room, 10$), which is one of the two or three hostel options here :) Seriously, it´s a sleepy village and there were no other tourists at all. The food in the hostel is delicious and quite cheap (between 2 and 4 $).

The next day we drove back with the first Lancha (6 am) to San Carlos and continued our journey from there to the wonderful CARIBBEAN SEA! :)

More stories about our adventures there will follow!

Thanks for reading!


Nicaragua in pictures on flickr: Backpacking Nicaragua 2015

PS: If you like this post, I would be very happy if you share it via Facebook or other channels! :)

! Tip for a good book about Nicaragua:   Nicaragua – Experiment Paradies











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Traveling, volunteering, connecting with environmental, autonomous and spiritual projects, people and communities and continuously fighting for a better world! Promoting the reconnection with nature, autonomy for our lives, spirituality, indigenous cultures and sacred feminism.

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Hello, I´m Sarah! Welcome to my blog! I will give you tips and tell stories about responsible traveling, while taking care of our beautiful flora and fauna, and cultures.

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