Seven Days Down the Río San Juan

The watery “Golden Route” through southern Lake Cocibolca and down the Río San Juan is unquestionably worth a visit, especially the photogenic fort and river town at El Castillo. Once you reach San Carlos, public boat transportation is regular and cheap. To explore this region, plan on spending about a week, though choosing just one of these places for a three-day trip is feasible.

The canopy of a rain tree extends out over the waters of Lake Cocibolca.

The Solentiname Islands in southern Lake Cocibolca. Photo © Dick Culbert, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Day 1

Fly from Managua to San Carlos. Catch a boat taxi to Solentiname, where you can find a place to sleep for the next few nights. If you go by bus, stay the night in San Carlos and leave the next morning.

Days 2-3

This archipelago is best explored by kayak. Don’t miss San Fernando’s sunset or the artist colony on Mancarrón. Sleep in Solentiname.

Day 4

Charter a boat direct to Papaturro, or get an early panga back to San Carlos, and another to Los Guatuzos. Settle in to your lodgings in Los Guatuzos and pull on some boots for a night tour.

Maps - Nicaragua 6e - Solentiname and the Río San Jaun

Solentiname and the Río San Jaun

Day 5

Explore Los Guatuzos in the daylight, or get up early and make your way back to San Carlos to get a boat upstream to Boca de Sábalos, where you can find a bed for the night.

Day 6

Take a chocolate tour at Buena Vista in the morning and catch an afternoon boat east to El Castillo, where you’ll spend the next two nights.

Day 7 and Beyond

Visit the old Spanish fort and Mariposario El Castillo, a nearby butterfly reserve.

The next day, get a boat back to San Carlos for a flight to Managua, or with an extra couple of days, head out to the historic Creole, indigenous, and mestizo settlement of San Juan de Nicaragua, then fly back to Managua from there.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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  1. Probal says:

    Hello and Good morning,

    Merry Christmas !

    I plan to visit Nicaragua end Jan/early Feb 2017.

    Can you suggest a reliable and reasonable kayaking tour company to organise a trip from San Carlos to San Juan Del Norte ?

    Yo hablo espñol, pueden responder en español, si lo quieren.

    Calgary, Canada

  2. Anne says:

    We are considering this trip in January or February as it sounds like an amazing adventure. The information available from your book and websites as well as other blogs, etc. don’t say anything about mosquitos or other biting bugs. Are they an issue? Thanks.

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Anne,

      Moon Nicaragua does have information about mosquitos, as well as which accommodations provide mosquito nets throughout. You can read more about specific biting insects and concerns in the Essentials “Health and Saftey” section, with information on malaria and dengue starting on page 413, and information on biting insects starting on page 415. Hope that helps!

  3. ramiro says:

    Conozco, la isla Ometepe muy bonito todo recomiendo.

  4. Kris says:

    Hi Amber. I am a mom with 2 sons ages 19 and 14 who will be visiting Nica and have an extra week at the end which we were hoping to see some of the Rio San Juan area. I would love to get some more information about how we might be able to do this.
    Thank you, Kris

  5. Hi Amber, loved the post above. Looking at options of traveling through Rio San Juan, if possible please email me at, would love to ask you a couple questions regarding this journey. Regards,