It’s the Journey That Matters: Getting to the Rio San Juan

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ernest Hemingway


Rolling down the Rio San Juan has been on our bucket list for years. However, having an end to journey toward was not our greatest reward. Instead, the journey itself was our fringe benefit because getting there was half the fun.

Oh the convenience of living beside a small airport! We walked our sandy volcanic path to the airport on a Thursday afternoon and caught a 15 minute flight to San Carlos, Nicaragua. We booked with La Costeña online. Make sure you book early because the planes seat 12 people. At a cost of $85 round trip per person, we felt like it was a bargain, if only for the convenience of walking to and from our house.

And we were off!  We ascended over the patchwork of fields, quaint red tin roofs, and the calm Lake Cocibolca.

Volcano Concepcion displayed her magnificent smoke signals, as she signaled a safe return.
IMG_6464 Dormant Maderas volcano, enticed us to return with her wispy clouds blanketing a fresh cold water lagoon in her crater.
IMG_6472Ten minutes later, we passed over the Solentiname Islands, which means place of many guests in the ancient Nahuatl language. We hope to be guests on this archipelago soon.

IMG_6492San Carlos, at the source of the Rio San Juan, greets us with a colorful array of houses and a spectacular view of the Rio San Juan. Surrounded on three sides by a watery horizon, San Carlos is home to about 10,000 people. Founded in 1527, it is one of the oldest towns on the continent and has served as a raucous way station for many travelers over the centuries. Many of the residents were born somewhere else, and ended up here on their way to somewhere else. Their descendants are lake and river merchants, field hands, border soldiers on leave from remote posts, Chontales cattlemen, and gold miners returning from the California Gold Rush of 1848-1855.

IMG_6502When we arrived at the airport in San Carlos, the migration officer asked Ron for our passports. “Who is the president of Nicaragua?” Ron thought he heard him say. “Is this a test?” Ron asked. “Daniel Ortega!” Ron replied. The migration officer and I both laughed and I told Ron, “He’s asking if you are a resident of Nicaragua because he doesn’t see a recent stamp in our passports.” “Oh!” Ron replied laughing. “So does that mean I won?” he joked as he handed him our residency cards.

A dollar taxi ride took us to the center of town to the boat station (very similar to the bus station), where we purchased our tickets for the slow three-hour boat to El Castillo. There are several fast and slow boats daily that make the trip to El Castillo for 140 cords per person. (about $5.38) Boat Schedule

While we were waiting to board the slow boat, we enjoyed watching the local action in town. Ron purchased fishing line here because he couldn’t find any on Ometepe Island.

IMG_6507A fisherman returned from the river with some fat Guapote fish and he sold them all before he left the boat station.

IMG_6520My favorite fish, kind of like a Peacock bass.

IMG_6510Now, where can I find some food? This place looks like it has a little of everything, but sadly, no food.

IMG_6514The market stalls near the boat station had tasty bananas and banana bread.

IMG_6518Here comes our boat!

IMG_6523We were all instructed to put on life jackets, which were quickly removed and stored above our heads once we left the dock.

IMG_6529Rolling down the river! I felt like Proud Mary! It’s true! The journey is what matters in the end! And what an incredible three-hour journey it was. Stay tuned for Rolling down the River: Tina Turner style. 🙂


26 thoughts on “It’s the Journey That Matters: Getting to the Rio San Juan

  1. Hi, we are coming to Nicaragua at the end of July. I sure enjoyed your article. We’ll be on the San Juan river making our way to Greytown. I’ve read there is only one boat per day from San Carlos to El Castillo (leaving early in the morning). Then I’ve read there are several boats throughout the day. Do you know for sure what the answer is? Thanks!

    • Hi Karen,
      There are several boats that leave San Carlos daily. There are the slow boats and the fast boats. They leave in the morning and the afternoon. You shouldn’t have any problem taking a boat to El Castillo at any time of the day. We prefer the slow boat, which takes about 3 hours to get to El Castillo. It is a beautiful ride. The Río San Juan is one of our favorite places in Nicaragua. Enjoy your trip.

      • Thanks very much. It sure looks beautiful. We spent some time in Pearl Lagoon (fishing), Bluefields, and the Corn Islands previously, and now can’t wait to do some fishing on the San Juan. Ometepe is on the list for the future.

        • My wife and I loved Ometepe, We took the rental car across on the ferry boat, and stayed 5 days, I was ready to stay forever, She said No, We hiked up to a Water Fall that was worth the hike. There is something special about Nicaragua.

  2. Hi,
    enjoyed your article and pics, looking forward to the rest.
    Last year we left Costa Rica came up th Rio from to San Carlos then down to el Castillo. Relaxed a few days then 12 hour journey from San Carlos to ometepe . Ometepe was magical, and we returned this year.

  3. I am so glad you and Ron made this Bucket List trip and of course it’s the getting there that is the most interesting…or could be. A slow boat is a good choice. Beautiful fresh fish, by the way.🐠🐠🐟

    • Yes, Bob. That’s Mancarron. I have some more photos of the archipelago from the air that I’ll include when I write my post about the Solentiname Islands. I wanted to buy one of the Guapote before we got on the boat, but Ron said he’d catch me one…more about THAT tale later.

      • i came in thru the normal route, went to ometepe then san carlos, went fishing and had planned to go downriver and enter costa rica near the boca, where dan’s guides (rio colorado lodge) would meet me.. onlly there was no place to check into costa rica on that end..

        because a friend was with me, i didn’t want to get her in trouble along that route, so i was a good girl and checked out of nicaragua and into costa rica via los chiles.. took a bus to sjo and went to rio colorado lodge with other tourists via their van and boat tour…

  4. I would have loved to have said to the immigration officer, ‘Hugo Chavez’ es el presidente de Nicaragua, oh no, ahora el es muerte, entonces supongo Daniel Norieg es en cargado…

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