El Castillo, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

El Castillo La Inmaculada Concepción was built in 1671 to protect Spanish dominated Rio San Juan from the transit of pirates from the East and the Atlantic. We were approaching from the West, down the river from Lake Nicaragua and experiencing the gradual changes along this historical tropical waterway.


El Castillo, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Tropic on May 19, 2001

Departing Los Chiles by boat on the Rio Frio, we were greeted at the border by large colorful signs welcoming guests to Nicaragua. In the administrative town of San Carlos, our visas were quickly issued and so we decided to walk through the bustling market towards the restaurant El Mirador with its wonderful panoramic view of Lake Nicaragua and confluence of Rio Frio and Rio San Juan below.

El Mirador is built on the site of the old town fort where some iron cannons still hold a silent vigil over the hectic town market below. The Rio San Juan begins with the swamplands at the outflow of Lake Nicaragua and gradually develops more jungle growth along its banks as it approaches the hills with our progress delayed at various rocky rapids.

Stopping in the town of Sabalo to find a guide to take us down the worse local rapids, though not enough to assure that our propeller blades did not get their share of additional rock dents. We rounded a bend and there before us was the somber dark outline of the fortress overshadowing the brightly painted houses lining the banks above and below the rough rapids of El Castillo. ${QuickSuggestions} Before leaving Costa Rica, it is best to stock up on film, check camera battery, flashlight, extra drinking water and some quick snacks. The river trip can be long and there are not many places to stop en route. A broad rimmed hat and long sleeve shirt is also recommended since the sun in a moving boat does not appear to burn … but it does. Some over 40+ sun block is advised as well as a good insect repellant for use on legs when on shore. Many of the local dogs are heavily infested with fleas and are happy to share the burden. Generally, the food tends to be rich and oil based, so antiacid and appropriate stomach medications are a good hedge against possible discomfort. Be very careful not to consume lots of the tropical fruit since these also have a negative effect on the foreign digestive system. There are no motor vehicles in El Castillo and local lads with push carts are there to take luggage from the pier to either of the two main hotels. Have some small change available in colones or cordobas for payment of these services. Meals can be arranged at El Cofalito. ${BestWay} El Castillo traditionally depends entirely upon the river traffic of Rio San Juan and local boats are available for hire to make trips above or below the white water rapids. Contact Abner at El Cofalito restaurant for undertaking these special river trips since he has the experience and equipment to handle the tricky rapids and white water. The water about El Castillo rapids is also famed for angling for Tarpon, Snook and Machaca. An ecological or fishing trip down river to Bartola is well worth a day and affords the excitement and adventure of going down and returning up the rapids after a tour of the rainforest jungle. Horses are also available in El Castillo for guided rainforest tours along jungle trails. These are not large horses and are generally in poor condition. In Bartola, there are very good walking trails through the rainforest and guides are available to undertake trips into the Indio Maiz National Park. I prefer taking a canoe and paddle up the Rio Bartola, getting the full benefit of stealth and easy access to the tropical world along the dense jungle. The Tourist Information office in El Castillo offers assistance and available with all relevant information.


Albergue El Castillo

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Tropic on May 19, 2001

The Albergue El Castillo was built as a hostel to provide safe and comfortable accommodation for vistors interested in the ecological and historical sights of this remote area. There are ten rooms each with two twin beds and shared bathrooms providing refreshing cold showers.

The beautifully modern mountain hostel of wooden structure is designed to offer lots of fresh air and space having a two story construction with the bedrooms above and the large dining room and well stocked bar below. There is a long front balcony which overlooks the river and offers a good vantage point to watch the rolling tarpon in the water below or the fleeting birdlife among the surrounding gardens of fruit trees and flowering shrubs. The Albergue is reached via a set of wide concrete steps leading from the pier and not far from the entrance to the dominant fortress. The friendly staff speak no English, but there is usually someone to assist in translation if necessary. Electric power in the village is available on an erratic time schedule so be always prepared to have a flashlight handy.

The meals are served from a limited local menu and the best choice is fish or river shrimp with fried cassava or plantains. The mosquito population is very aggressive at dusk so long pants and shirts in light colors are best worn with a liberal use of insect repellant.

Albergue El Castillo
El Castillo
Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

El Cofalito

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Tropic on May 19, 2001

Depending upon the time of the year, the fish is a good choice. Usually it is snook or white drum, fried whole and served with local vegetables. If the water in the Rio San Juan is high, there is a good chance that they are getting the giant river shrimp. These are a feast in themselves and are best described as giant crawfish.

El Cofalito is situated at the edge of the Rio San Juan, overlooking the rapids and with a good view of the river and the village life passing by on the central walkway or park at the pier.

It is best to reserve a table ahead and decide on the menu choice beforehand. I have also taken the opportunity to fish right off the dining table for very large Machaca that hang about below awaiting food. Some real action can be got feeding them pieces of bread.
El Cofalito
El Castillo
Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

Rapids of El Castillo

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Tropic on May 19, 2001

One can see the giant tarpon of over 80 lbs. travelling up the rapids and leaping over the rocks, seeking the channels leading to the upper pool and calm water. It is here that one can fish for the Tarpon, Snook or Drum with very little lure action and using 20 lb. line or tippet. The preferred time to fish the area is early in the morning or late in the evening. On reaching the upper pool of the rapids, the tarpon remain in the area for a while and can be seen rolling and feeding upon small baitfish. The snook prefer the deeper water and can best be hooked using white or even yellow bucktail jigs.

For the Machaca fishing, the use of small poppers or surface lures cast near the shore and under the trees will produce some great takes. Having teeth, the Machaca can easily bite off the lure, so a trace of wire bite tippet will be a good assistance if the angler wants to catch a big fish or at least have the fun last a while longer. Be prepared also for a Tarpon taking the hooked Machaca.
Rapids of El Castillo
El Castillo
Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

El Castillo

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Tropic on May 19, 2001

There are many jungle trails leading through dense rainforest. Many troops of howler monkeys and birds can be spotted under the jungle canopy. It is best to undertake these trips with a guide and begin in the early morning. Take rain gear, wear long pants and use comfortable hiking boots. Apply liberal ammounts of insect repellant on your body before putting on clothes. Take drinking water and salt tablets before undertaking the trek. On returning from the trip take a good shower using antibacterial soap and rub legs with some rubbing alcohol or alcohol gel.
El Castillo
Rio San Juan
Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

Castillo La Inmaculada Concepción

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Tropic on May 19, 2001

If it were not for this fortress, this area would probably be English speaking now. Build in 1671, the fortress was established to protect the river route between the Atlantic and the Pacific from English pirates and invaders seeking to control the commerce and political life of the area. There is a very good informative museum at the fortress and the modest fee of $7 is well appreciated. Young Horatio Nelson, Captain Morgan, Clovis Vanderbilt, Samuel Clemens, William Walker and a host of 69ers to California left their mark here. There is also a great view of the Rio San Juan and the all important rapids that limited the transit up river.
Castillo La Inmaculada Concepción

Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

Rio San Juan from San Carlos

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Tropic on May 19, 2001

From the outflow of the great Lake Nicaragua, the Rio San Juan flows for 119 miles to the Caribbean and along its route is a historical thread that is rich in adventure and folklore. The dark water slowly flows past many small villages and offers a wealth of natural beauty for the traveller seeking the wildlife and sport that this tropical world offers in abundance.

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