This epic river journey combines first class wilderness with rich history and more than a little adventure. We will paddle from the majestic Lake Nicaragua down the jungle lined San Juan River to deserted beaches on the Caribbean sea along a route once favoured by pirates and buccaneers with eyes for the gold of the Spanish colonial empire.
On the way we will drift pass the impenetrable forest of the Indio Maiz reserve, one of the best preserved areas of tropical rainforest in the region. We will also visit charming riverside towns, historic ruins and hidden Caribbean lagoons. This unparalleled expedition takes you to the heart of this rarely visited part of Latin America.
The kayaking trip was fantastic.
– K. Datta
If you are after serious adventure, breathtaking wilderness, rich culture and history then our Rio San Juan expedition is tailor made for you. A challenging but relaxing journey down one of the great rivers of the Americas, this trip has it all.Our expert guides will show you how to perfect your technique in the canoes as well as point out the best ways to get close to nature in your boats, after which you will be ready to launch out into the phenomenal wilderness that forms a key component of the Mesoamerican biological corridor.
In addition to diverse birdlife, monkeys, and crocodiles, we will see tiny frogs that indigenous tribes used to poison darts, walking trees and perhaps tapirs or some of the mighty felines that inhabit the area. During the course of the expedition, we will visit the Spanish fortress at El Castillo. Built in 1675 to stop pirates reaching Lake Nicaragua, the fort over the rapids held firm for more than a century until a British expedition led by a young Horatio Nelson captured it in 1780. We will also explore the ruins of Old Greytown, once a thriving British colony that has since been taken over by thick jungle.
At the end of our expedition, we will find ourselves in a truly original and once luxurious hunting lodge set deep within the rainforest – the Rio Indio Lodge. True jungle decadence with a hint of ‘70’s James Bond’ this hotel transports you back to a bygone age. This is a hard core expedition into a remote region and requires a good level of fitness.
Nicaragua Kayaking Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival to Managua – Granada (D)
Upon arriving in Managua we will be met at the airport before being our transfer to our hotel in Granada (29 miles away).
Granada was founded in 1524 and is believed to be the second oldest city established in mainland Latin America by the Spanish conquest. During colonial times, Granada saw much unrest as the city was attacked several times by pirates.
Nowadays Granada is characterized by bright-colored Spanish-colonial architecture, visible throughout the city center. The ambiance is very pleasant and there is a wide array of nice restaurants and bars, especially along the boulevard from the central park to the shores of Lake Nicaragua. While the city in itself is already an impressive attraction, the immediate surroundings make Granada a place where you will want to spend a couple of days.
Hotel Patio del Malinche (or similar)
Day 2: Granada (B)
After breakfast you will set out on a tour of the city’s beautiful historic center and what better way to visit it than on a traditional horse-drawn carriage. On this privately guided walking/carriage tour you will explore the San Francisco Church and neighboring San Francisco Convent built in 1529. Now functioning as a museum, as well as being a stunning building consisting surrounding a couple of courtyards, the Convent is home to an impressive collection of pre-Columbian art. Continue on to the beautiful Merced Church , La Polvora Fortress and the Xalteva Church . Throughout the excursion your guide will provide you with an informative and unique perspective of this beloved colonial city.From here we will head to Lake Nicaragua (or Lake Cocibolca as it is also known) as we set out on Las Isletas – Boat Tour. A boat trip through the Isletas of Granada is a great way to explore Lake Nicaragua. You will board a private motor boat and explore Las Isletas of Granada.
Situated at the foot of the impressive Mombacho Volcano, the area we visits consists of around 365 small volcanic islands which were formed when this volcano erupted about 20,000 years ago. These small islands are inhabited by families who make their living from fishing, while other islands play host to extravagant villas owned by Nicaragua s rich and famous. You make a stop at the San Pablo fort, built in the 18th century to protect Granada against English pirates. Before heading back and enjoying a complementary drink at a restaurant located on one of the islands where you can soak up the beautiful views or take a dip in the pool.
The rest of the day will be spent at leisure – depending on your, there are a number of optional tours to or if you prefer you can simply relax in the central park or by the pool, or watch the world go by at La Casada.
Hotel Patio del Malinche (or similar)
Day 3: Managua to Sabalos (B,L,D)
After breakfast this morning we set off back to Managua airport for our flight to San Carlos, before our short transfer to San Carlos. Here we will have lunch before taking the public boat (approx. 3hrs) to Sabalos Lodge, where we will start our jungle adventure. Sabalos Lodge is located on the San Juan River and practices real ecotourism, where nature, a rustic setting, and the elemental comforts needed in the middle of the wet tropical jungle of Nicaragua are combined. It is surrounded by abundant native plants and resident and seasonally migratory animals: a large number of birds, varieties of mammals, and many species of reptiles, among others. It’s a paradise for bird-watchers.
Your home tonight will be a charming riverside cabin, all providing spectacular views of the San Juan River as you relax in your hammock.
The well-equipped restaurant specializes in serving fresh fish from the river. Different hikes can be easily undertaken, using one of the several trails in the private natural reserve
Overnight Sabalos Eco-lodge
Day 4: San Juan River – El Castillo and Bartola (B,L,D)
Today your expedition really begins as we set off into the Nicaraguan wilderness on the first day of our 100 mile trip down the San Juan River. Here the river is wide and surrounded by wetlands (the home of turtles, caimans and crocodiles). This part of the river offers some of the best bird watching on the continent, with numerous migratory species perching along logs and rocks all along the riverbank. This morning we will set off towards El Castillo, an easy 2/3 hour/10 mile paddle. We will have lunch at El Castillo and a chance to explore the ancient Spanish fort built in 1675, before setting off to negotiate the rapids around the town and paddling downstream for another couple of hours r to the Bartola river, the boundary of the Indio Maiz reserve. In this stretch the jungle growth begins to get a bit more substantial, with bigger trees filled with birds and the odd troupe of monkeys. The forest paths wind through trees, covered by a canopy of vines which teem with interesting birds, mammals, butterflies and insects. Orchids and Bromeliads add a splash of colour to the shades of the green rainforest foliage. Tonight we will stay at the Hostel Refugio Bartola, a biological research station which doubles as a hostel.
Overnight Guacimo Lodge
Day 5: Kayaking to Boca San Carlos (B,L,D)
Today, we have a full day kayaking as we make the 30 mile journey (approx. 8 hours) to the Boca San Carlos. The river is narrower in this stretch and is surrounded by thick jungle on the Nicaraguan side while there are some farms and the occasional settlement on the Costa Rican side, where we will spend the night. Throughout the day we are likely to see crocodiles sunning themselves on logs as well as turtles and monkeys in the surrounding trees.
Day 6: Kayaking and Wildlife (Indio Maiz Biological Reserve) – to Sarapiqui (B,L,D)
This morning we head into the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve as we head towards Sarapiqui, on another full day of canoeing (25 miles – approx. 8 hours). This reserve is considered to be one of the best preserved natural reserves in Nicaragua and is home to a wide variety of rainforest birds and animals including toucans, hummingbirds, sloths, pumas, monkeys and even the spectacular manatee. Although a couple of short treks in this reserve is possible from Bartola, the rest of the rainforest does not allow hiking, so travelling by boat is one of the only and best ways to experience this pristine environment in the rainforest. Tonight there are no lodges available so we will set up our own camp (or possibly even stay at a rangers station)
Day 7: Kayaking to El Jobo (B,L,D)
After an exciting night camping in the rainforest we will be no doubt be woken early by the terrific bird songs surrounding our camp. Today we have another full day of canoeing ahead (approx. 6 hours). El Jobo is a small local community founded by people that were refugees during the civil war in Nicaragua, who were relocated from Costa Rica to Rio San Juan in the Nicaraguan side.
Today the 32 Kilometre kayak takes you to river islands and across the tropical rainforest, you also visit the local rangers station for a chat with the locals.
Day 8: Kayak to Rio Indio Lodge (B,L,D)
We will get in our kayaks for the last time as we set off on our final part of our journey down the San Juan river (6 hours) . The landscape changes spectacularly from thick jungle to lowlands with palm trees and wetlands. The river starts to run a bit slower before reaching the Caribbean Sea. Here we will arrive at our accommodation for tonight as we step back into a bygone era of 1970’s luxury at the Rio Indio Lodge. It is by far the most luxurious hotel in the San Juan river region – an eco-lodge with much of the comforts of a luxury hotel. Surrounded by virgin forest, abundant wildlife and fishing, it was once Central America premier hunting lodge (and still a favourite for big game fishermen). , it is still a stunning place providing real jungle decadence. You get a true sense of its past glory and it feels like a very special place to end your epic river journey. The rooms are huge and have have private terraces overlooking the Rio Indio.
Day 9: Free day (B,L)
Free day at the Rio Indio Lodge. This morning we can cross the bay to visit the ruins of Greytown, once a bustling British Caribbean outpost and departure point for the steamboats that carried tens of thousands of passengers up the Rio San
Juan. You can also arrange a variety of optional activities (additional costs apply) including birding, fly fishing, and kayaking (amongst some of the much smaller channels).
Old Greytown, now reclaimed by the forest, was once a bustling British Caribbean outpost and departure point for the steamboats that carried tens of thousands of passengers up the Rio San Juan. Greytown, also known as San Juan de Nicaragua, was traditionally inhabited by European aristocrats.
A visit to the cemetery of Old Greytown allows you to visualize the exciting history of this very special place. The friendly inhabitants of the nearby village of San Juan del Norte, largely descendants of the RAMA Indians, are keen to show you the beautiful surroundings of Greytown; mystic jungle rivers, virgin lagoons and deserted Caribbean beaches where the jungle actually meets the beach.
Day 10: Greytown – El Castillo (B,L)
Get a 7 hr fast boat transfer to El Castillo.
Originally built to protect Lake Nicaragua and its port from English pirates, El Castillo, Fortress of the Immaculate Conception is located on the shores of Rio San Juan in the south of the country.
The site is full of interesting history and is open to general public. It also houses a small museum which tells the fortress´ intriguing history and where you can visualize the past. The town adjoining the fortress goes by the same name and is charming with its cobblestone streets and laidback atmosphere. The surrounding area is home to a big biodiversity.
Day 11: Transfer to Managua (B,L)
Take a boat from El Castillo to San Carlos (approx.1 1/2hrs). Followed by a transfer from San Carlos to Managua (approx. 5hrs)
Managua is the capital of Nicaragua, home to almost two million inhabitants and is easily the largest city in Nicaragua. The city has a lot to offer its visitors: theatres, restaurants, night clubs, bars, and cinemas to name a few. At Roberto Huembes market, you can experience an authentic Nicaraguan street market and buy well-made souvenirs and handicrafts.
Natural Reserves and beach destinations are also within an arm s reach. Within the city you can enjoy the views of the Tiscapa Lagoon (of volcanic origin) where you can do a canopy tour. Just outside Managua, the Montibelli Bird and Butterfly Reserve and the Chocoyero National Reserve are also recommended. Furthermore, Pochomil and Montelimar, located only an hour away offer some excellent beaches.
Day 12: Flight Home or Optional Beach Extension (B)
Following breakfast we’ll be transferred to the airport for our onward flights. Alternatively you can opt for a beach extension at San Juan del Sur.
Optional Beach Extension
Day 10: San Juan del Sur (B)
Following breakfast we’ll head to the Pacific coast to enjoy a magnificent stay in the lazy beach town San Juan del Sur. The west coast of Nicaragua is one of the most beautiful areas of Central America, and is especially popular with surfers.
Once a quiet fishing town, San Juan del Sur has emerged into one of the nation´s leading Pacific coast destinations. San Juan is characterized by its brightly colored wooden homes and picturesque, crescent-shaped bay dotted with local pangas, sail boats, and large fishing yachts.
While San Juan is a small town, easily explored on foot in a morning, most visitors find that it´s a nice, comfortable
place to spend a few days.
The surrounding areas offer ample opportunities for relaxing on the beach, surfing, fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling,
or sailing. Outside of the water, visitors can zip through the canopy just outside of town or visit the protected La Flor
beach and wildlife reserve to witness numerous sea turtles emerging from the water to lay eggs (August to
Overnight hotel – La Posada Azul
Day 11 (B)
Day at leisure
Enjoy the marvellous surroundings: you can surf, dive, snorkel, sail or explore the bays nearby. If you are lucky you
arrive in the sea turtle season and you may witness the mass arrivals ahore (the “arribadas”) of these great reptiles
or the hatching of their eggs.
Overnight hotel – La Posada Azul
Day 12 (B)
Day at leisure
Overnight hotel – La Posada Azul
Day 13: Transfer to Airport (B)
Today you leave with a private transfer to Managua international Airport.
Day 14 (B)
Arrive back to the UK.
Submit your review
‘Just got back today. From the land of lakes & volcanoes to the land of rain and cold! The kayaking trip itself was fantastic. Brilliant guides, good food, comfortable camping and accommodation, saw lots of wildlife. Be prepared for quite basic accommodation & amenities at times (although we did not mind it at all). . Thank you for organising. Cheers’