Boca de Sábalos
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A two-hour lancha ride from San Carlos brings you to this town, six kilometers upstream of El Castillo. Boca de Sábalos is a working town of about 1,200 souls, located at the mouth of one of Río San Juan’s nearly 1,000 tributaries. Boca de Sábalos has more bars, hospedajes, and places to eat than El Castillo, and is actually the de facto seat of the El Castillo municipality (it was transferred here from El Castillo temporarily during the war, and then never moved back).
Don Julio Murio (across from the big bar on the walkway leading north from the dock) speaks English, organizes tours on Río Sábalos, and rents canoes and kayaks for $5 per hour without a guide and $10 per hour with a guide. He can also arrange an all-inclusive adventure kayaking trip to San Juan del Norte ($250 pp) or take you on one of the 10 tours designed by the Sábalos tourism collective.
El Quebracho Wildlife Reserve, located in the part of the biosphere reserve allocated for ecotourism development, has two trails (one of which is self-guided) through a wildlife-rich setting. The reserve can accommodate up to 25 people for $20 per person including three meals, and guides can be hired for $10 per day (discounts for groups larger than 10).
Count on spending the night, as its isolation makes day trips challenging. Make arrangements at the office of Fundación del Río (a block south of the alcaldía in Sábalos, tel. 505/2583-0035), which owns and operates the reserve or the main office near the hospital in San Carlos.
Hire a vehicle to take you to the shady, pleasant 2,000-hectare African palm plantation, about a half hour outside of town, one of only two such operations in Nicaragua. Before being purchased by the Chamorro family, it employed hundreds of locals.
You can also hike down the Río San Juan to the 100-year-old, half-buried hulk of the steamship wreck. To go tarpon fishing, get a permit from the town MARENA office (hook only, no spears), and then hire a guide and boat to take you to just above the Toro Rapids, less than five minutes down the Río San Juan.
Punto Lodge is open 2 p.m.–midnight daily for music and drinking, as are several smaller and noisier establishments.
Walking up from the dock, you’ll first come to beautiful hardwood
Hospedaje Katiana (tel. 505/2583-0178, $7), offering a variety of 14 rooms, some with private bath, all in a nice homey setting. Next door, Hospedaje Clarissa ($4 pp, mosquito net, fan, shared bath) has 11 rooms and one of the most popular eateries in town. Across the street, the Hotel Central ($3 s with fan) is inexpensive but basic and not quite as nice.
Hotel Sábalos (tel. 505/8659-0252 or 505/2271-7424, www.hotelsabalos.com.ni, $36 includes breakfast) is located across the way at the confluence of the Río Sábalos and the Río San Juan, built on a big dock over the water. The view from the deck might be the best in the entire Río San Juan area. Also enjoy hot water, private bathrooms, classy accommodations, and a panga that can take you on tours around the area. Arrange a ride across the river to the hotel at their family’s store next to Hospedaje Katiana on main street.
Getting to Boca de Sábalos
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition