The Río San Juan region in southeastern Nicaragua is one of the wildest, most remote areas in Central America. Most travelers to the area come from Granada via a sixteen-hour ferry ride across Lake Nicaragua, or from Managua on an unreliable all-day bus tour over mud-filled potholes on an unpaved road. And these travel options still bring you only to the head of the Río San Juan and the town of San Carlos, a chaotic, Indiana Jones-style portal for trade and travel bound to even more remote places.

Those who continue downriver witness a largely untouched—but increasingly threatened—lowland tropical rainforest that claims more species diversity in several square kilometers than the entire continent of Europe. A few trading centers mark some of the major confluences, but most of the population lives scattered along the vast network of primary and secondary waterways. Homes perch on the riverbanks above the water, just out of reach of the seasonal floods yet always intimately connected to the water that defines this region.

Strategically perched above a run of rapids at a turn in the river, it provides a mile-long view of the route that invading pirates once sailed, looking towards what is now the western edge of Central America’s second largest protected natural area.

Rio San Juan is the natural border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and a tourist destination itself. Visitors can take river excursions and even plan a vacation that crosses from Nicaragua into Costa Rica or vice versa, for exploration of both countries. San Carlos is an international entry point for Nicaragua so travelers will find services here. Boats from San Carlos will ferry you to any of thirty six different islands in Lake Nicaragua. Rio San Juan flows all the way to the Caribbean Sea, and supports an amazing diversity of species. Sharks swim up the river from the Caribbean and can be found in Lake Nicaragua!

There is some incredible fishing here and as such you’ll find some beautiful fishing lodges that have sprung up. If you have the time, this really is an incredible place to visit.

Getting to Rio San Juan from San Juan del Sur: Get a shuttle or bus to Managua airport. Fly with Costena Airline direct to San Carlos


There is a also a ferry from Granada and Ometepe 3 times a week, however, be prepared for a long journey.

Travel time: 2:15 hrs to Managua airport, 1 hr flight from there