Rio San Juan

In search of a water route across Central America, Spanish explorers sailed up the Rio San Juan from the Caribbean to Lake Nicaragua.

Although the lake terminates at the Isthmus of Rivas—eleven miles short of the Pacific Coast—the idea of a trans-isthmian water route remained in the global consciousness.

Rio San Juan was proposed as the original route for the inter-oceanic canal in the 1820s.

Retracing History: Lake Nicaragua to the Bay of San Juan del Norte

Cornelius Vanderbilt operated a land-river transit concession here beginning in 1851. Mark Twain made the journey in 1866, en route from San Francisco to New York City.

Today visitors can retrace this historic path, beginning at Lake Nicaragua and sailing 119 miles east to the Bay of San Juan del Norte.

The river is flanked by pristine rainforest—precious habitat for toucans, Harpy eagles, caimans, howler monkeys and a rainbow of colorful frogs.

Most of the route passes through the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve.

Excellent Wildlife Watching and Birding

The Indio Maíz Biological Reserveprotects hundreds of avian species, 176 types of reptiles, and an estimated 200 varieties of mammals.

Crocodiles, manatees, sloths, and rare freshwater bull sharks can all be observed here.

The Rio San Juan forms much of the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. While territorial disputes ebb and flow, heat-induced torpor keeps the peace.

Getting to Rio San Juan

Rio San Juan can be reached by air in 40 minutes, flying from Managua to the town of San Carlos at the river’s mouth.

Travelers can also cross the border from Los Chiles, Costa Rica via a 40-minute boat trip on the Rio Frio.

The Rio San Juan transit is usually operated as a four-day, three-night journey.

Tours of the El Castillo fortress, visits to riverside communities, tributary canoe trips, rainforest hikes, and nocturnal caiman-spotting excursions complement the voyage.

Looking for customized, private travel within Nicaragua? When you travel with LANDED, our team of travel experts and network of local contacts are at your service. We’ll handle the details, freeing you to savor the moments. Call us today at 801.582.2100. Dream big. We’ve got you.

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