San Juan de Nicaragua
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- Sportfishing in Nicaragua
- Down the Río San Juan
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- Managua’s Revolutionary Driving Tour
Still commonly referred to by its previous name, San Juan del Norte, this settlement near the mouth of the river is located 100 winding kilometers beyond El Castillo. This hot, historic village in Nicaragua’s extreme southeast corner is inhabited by about 900 residents.
Sir Charles Grey, governor of Jamaica, first seized the land for the English in 1848 and built the rowdy port of Greytown, which lasted about 150 years. When the British pulled out, it melted into a forgotten backwater, and these days nothing but a historic cemetery of segregated plots with both British and American headstones remains.
Present-day San Juan lies hidden in the brackish swamps at the confluence of Río Indio with the Río San Juan. San Juan del Norte suffered during the Contra war in the 1980s, during which time Hurricane Joan also flattened it. In the 1990s, Comandante Cero returned to torch it to the ground “just because.”
Sights and Tours
The most popular attraction in town is the colonial cemetery, a short boat ride away across the mouth of the river. At the time of publication the dock at the cemetery was in bad shape, which made landings a bit difficult. Just beyond is the Caribbean, often rough and not suitable for swimming.
Rather, the locals prefer to costanear (walk the coast), which occasionally yields treasure (and cocaine—be careful).
Don Enrique (of Hotelito Evo) offers several tours around the area including the largest coconut farm in Central America, sportfishing, and visits to the indigenous Rama Kay community. His son Raul is an INTUR-certified guide, which gives him access to the Río Indio-Maíz reserve.
A two-day trip for four people, including hiking to hot springs, sleeping in hammocks, food, transportation, and a visit to an indigenous village costs $350. Contact Don Enrique or Raul at Hotelito Evo.
Across the river from San Juan del Norte, the Blue Lagoon or La Laguna Azul is a small pool of clean, blue water surrounded by coconut palms and lush vegetation. Doña Angela’s children (their house is next to the ranchón) can take you over for about $5 in a dugout canoe; for another $5 continue on to the beachfront.
The Río Indio Lodge
Since 2002, the multi-million-dollar, five-star Río Indio Lodge, a self-described ecotourism and sportfishing resort (Costa Rica tel. 506/2231-4299, U.S. tel. 866/593-3168, reservations [at] bluwing [dot] com, www.bluwing.com), Costa-Rican owned and operated, has run fancy sportfishing trips on this Nicaraguan river. This place is geared to the luxury adventure traveler: A night in one of the 34 rooms will run you about $200 per person. Activities include guided fishing trips, bird-watching, kayaking, hiking, and visits to nearby Laguna Silico.
Hotels and Restaurants
There are several decent options. We like the Hotelito Evo (located on the fourth walkway parallel to the river, tel. 505/2583-9019 or 505/8624-6401, evohotel [at] yahoo [dot] es, $12) has seven clean rooms, three with a private bath. Also try Hotel Paraíso Virgen ($18), another relatively clean and secure option, located south of the main dock with comfortable rooms and 24-hour lights and water.
The all-wood Hospedaje Anderson (third walkway, tel. 505/2414-1368, $7) is basic but adequate. Otherwise try the thatched-roof cabins in Cabinas El Escondite (tel. 505/2414-9761, $10 pp with private bath) owned by a Caribbean-Cajun Rastafarian. To find Rasta’s cabinas ask around near the military post at the north end of town, or walk down the third walkway until it ends and turn left.
Hedley Acton Thomas Barss, a.k.a. Chalí, is the end of earth’s most popular bar. For dancing some soca, at almost any time in the day or night, it’s Bar y Discoteca Tropical, located at the very southern end of the first walkway.
For food, try Doña Marta, across the street from Chalí, Soda El Tucán, near the center of town, or El Ranchón, at the southern end of town.
Getting to San Juan de Nicaragua
The easiest way to get to San Juan del Norte is to take the long boat ride downriver from San Carlos. A variety of pangas now make the trip nearly every day of the week, much less limiting than it once was, but the schedule is still in flux. The slow boat takes at least 11 hours, and costs $13 each way. The fast boat costs $25, and takes half the time. Buy your downstream ticket at the San Carlos municipal dock the day before your trip.
Rumors about scheduled weekly boat service between San Juan del Norte and Bluefields are finally true. Two San Juan del Norte–based boats, Virgo I and Virgo II, make weekly passenger runs, departing San Juan del Norte on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. for the three-hour ride over open ocean ($30 pp).
Contact Silvio Reyes Arragón (tel. 505/8411-1887) or Señora Rosario García (in San Juan del Norte, tel. 505/8691-6421) to verify this information, and please send us a report if you successfully make the trip. The boats are not big, so expect a lot of painful slamming up and down; sit in the back for smoothest ride.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition