Tora Adventure

Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.

Last adventurous days in Nicaragua – San Carlos & Rio San Juan [Day 215]

We’ve reached 7 months of travelling, the point in time we thought at the time we started this that we might be heading home to Australia. It’s time for a recount; 9 countries [Canada, USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica]; 10,000+ photos taken; countless miles/kilometres by plane/bus/boat/tuc tuc/shuttle/pick up truck; learning enough Spanish to survive day to day life and most important of all the countless memories we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives.

 

Getting from Ometepe to San Carlos, Rio San Juan

To get to San Carlos from Ometepe, you have to take an overnight ferry from Altagracia Ometepe. Unfortunately, we got mixed reports on the time to take the ferry. The ferry is twice a week- Monday and Thursday and information can be found at this website.

 

 

We took the Thursday ferry on March 27, 2014 which was scheduled to leave at 9.30pm. We’d been told mixed stories of a 6pm departure which is the usual time on Tuesday and possibly the time it has left on Thursdays at another point in time. We got into Altagracia in the early afternoon to ensure we got to the port early (4km down a dirt road from Altagracia town). We found a cheap restaurant for lunch with wi-fi and the owner confirmed it was departing at 9.30pm. Toby then met another tourist who was looking for something to do and decided to walk down to the port together. The ticket office opened at about 5.30pm, so a cold beer was ordered in the comedor across the street to wait out the remaining time. Toby then walked back up the road to town and we both returned to the port by walking that same dirt road. We had a couple of offers of taxis for 40/50 cords ($2.8-$3ea) but Toby was determined to save some money and enjoy the walk. Unfortunately the sun beat us, and we ended up walking in the pitch black for over half an hour as there were no street lights or houses on the way.

 

Sunset over Volcano Concepcion from the dirt road near Altagracia

Sunset over Volcano Concepcion from the dirt road near Altagracia

 

All foreigners must buy a first class ticket 161 cords ($6.44) per person and from reviews online we also paid an extra 30 cords ($1.20ea) for the deck chairs as were advised these were more comfortable to sleep on.

 

Costs for the Ferry as posted at the ticket office

Costs for the Ferry as posted at the ticket office

 

The boat was quite full and the deck chairs were outside where we were also advised you’d be highly likely to get wet, so we didn’t use them. We were later told by other travellers that the ship had incurred some cracks in the hull from the preceding trip arriving from Granada. Luckily we slept through the roughness of the trip with sleeping tablets, Toby on the floor and Rodora on the black bench in the photo below. We arrived in San Carlos at around 6am.

 

First class cabin. Rodora slept on the black bench and Toby slept on the floor

First class cabin. Rodora slept on the black bench and Toby slept on the floor

Outside area with deck chairs

Outside area with deck chairs

View of the back end of the Ferry

View of the back end of the Ferry

 

 

San Carlos onwards down Rio San Juan – by road

The morning taxi boat down the river had been cancelled, so we opted to take the local bus (departing 7am). If you are taking the local bus, be prepared for an extremely overcrowded bus. There are only a few buses a day and it is cheaper than the boat, it is packed with locals and in this case a ferry full of tourists. Pay on the bus, you don’t need to pay the guy selling tickets in the station as he doesn’t know where it is and will overcharge. We paid 60cords ($2.40) when it should be 50cords($2). It took a bit over 2 hours to get to our drop off point and an extremely sore bum for Rodora and sore head for Toby as he stood the whole way. Our destination was Grand River lodge and when we were let off the bus it seemed like the middle of nowhere. There was a big sign but it was in a terrible state of repair and didn’t really seem to indicate it was the place we were looking for. Two other travellers on our bus were looking for the same place and we all followed a small dirt road for about 20 minutes to arrive at our destination.

 

 

Grand River Lodge

We had decided to stay at Grand River Lodge due to the amount of brochures and advertising we had seen throughout Nicaragua. There was a brochure in nearly every hostel we walked in so we thought we might as well give this place a try.

 

The advertising seen for Grand River Lodge all over Nicaragua

The advertising seen for Grand River Lodge all over Nicaragua

 

Grand River Lodge is an isolated farm, between San Carlos and Sabalos, owned by a local family. As soon as we arrived the family were lovely and welcoming. As we were the only ones there with another couple- Steve and Helen (from Britain) it felt more like a home stay then a hotel. The rooms consisted of beautiful bungalows ($10pp/pn), and there was a raised wooden walkway that took you down to the river’s edge where you could relax and watch the wildlife pass by.

 

Cabins at Grand River Lodge

Cabins at Grand River Lodge

 

Included in the price of your stay are the activities (horse riding and hiking) and a simple breakfast. In the afternoon, after a desperately needed nap (from the long boat trip) we went on a horse ride in the jungle. This was an easy horse ride as the owner walks with the horse at the front and the horses follow each other at a slow pace, which is perfect for spotting wildlife. He did give the option to ride around and at a faster pace if you wanted to. We got lucky and saw some Howler Monkeys in the trees.

 

Horse riding at Grand River Lodge

Horse riding at Grand River Lodge

 

After horse riding we went for a sunset beer o’clock by the river. As the sun was setting we could hear the sound of the jungle with howler monkeys screeching in the distance. The boys that lived on the farm, found a dead cayman (nearly a skeleton) on the dock. You wouldn’t believe how much joy this gave them as they were playing with it for hours.

 

Watching sunset over Rio San Juan at Grand River Lodge

Watching sunset over Rio San Juan at Grand River Lodge

Kids playing with dead Cayman skeleton

Kids playing with dead Cayman skeleton

 

In the morning we went on a 6am hike. This hike was awesome as we were lucky to see three different types of monkeys; Spider monkey, White face Capuchi monkey and the Howler monkey. We also saw a variety of birds, butterflies and even a couple of lizards along with just enjoying the natural scenery.

 

Spiderweb found on morning walk at Grand River Lodge

Spiderweb found on morning walk at Grand River Lodge

Bird on morning walk at Grand River Lodge

Bird on morning walk at Grand River Lodge

Spider Monkeys at Grand River Lodge

Spider Monkeys at Grand River Lodge

 

Boating down Rio San Juan to El Castillo

The next day it was time to leave; so we took a 2 hour boat ride to El Castillo with the water taxi that picks you up right at the river’s edge and continued down the beautiful San Juan River. Along the way you can see an abundance of wildlife along the shores of the river. We saw numerous large birds that looked like storks that were absolutely beautiful. We arrived in El Castillo just before the rapids, the reason why the famous fort is built there in the first place. It was fun watching the small canoes going over these rapids next to the town.

 

Entering El Castillo with a view of the port and water front

Entering El Castillo with a view of the port and water front

River bird on Rio San Juan

River bird on Rio San Juan

Water taxi on Rio San Juan

Water taxi on Rio San Juan

 

El Castillo and the fort

At El Castillo we checked out the fort which was built in 1675 to protect Nicaragua from pirates that were coming from the Caribbean ocean and up to ransack places like Granada (3 times in the previous 5 years before being built). There is a small museum at the start that went over the history on how the river was once nearly selected to be used like the Panama Canal. This is actually something in heavy debate within Nicaragua at this current moment as to establish a water link for large ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The fort has amazing views of the town and the river. We stayed at Nina lodge ($15 per night). The town certainly sees a share of tourists, but still retains a somewhat local feeling and charm.

 

The Fort at El Castillo

The Fort at El Castillo

A view down river from El Castillo

A view down river from El Castillo

The rapids at El Castillo

The rapids at El Castillo

 

 

Night time Cayman Tour

During the night we did the Cayman tour ($11.50pp). This is an awesome tour and kind of eerie as you get into a boat at night and the guide spots the caymans by their reflecting redish/brown eyes. As soon as he spots a cayman, everyone remains silent (so we don’t scare it away) and we immediately head toward the sparkling eyes. There were a few times the cayman swam away, but other times it just freezes in motion thinking you can’t see it. This made some amazing photos of their scaly skin hovering just above the water with their big eyes (a bit freaky in the night)

 

One of the best sites though was on our way back we passed a number of trees and bushes where all the large white storks were hanging out for the night. One of the trees must have had more than 50 birds crammed onto it.

 

A Cayman hidden in the water at Rio San Juan

A Cayman hidden in the water at Rio San Juan

Basilisk Lizard hanging in a tree at night

Basilisk Lizard hanging in a tree at night

River Birds in trees at night on the river.

River Birds in trees at night on the river.

 

 

Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/

 

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3 comments on “Last adventurous days in Nicaragua – San Carlos & Rio San Juan [Day 215]

  1. Katie
    April 20, 2014

    Yes! I was looking for some reviews on the boat ride from Altagracia to San Carlos. Doing it tomorrow, and wasn’t sure what to expect-thanks!

    • Tora Traveller
      April 21, 2014

      We had the same problems in finding online reviews for this trip. We slept through most of it with thanks to a couple of sleeping tablets. Definitely a worthwhile experience.

      • Katie McGrain
        May 3, 2014

        Our boat was sold out because it was Easter Monday and so many people were traveling! I’m sad we didn’t get to take the trip. Glad you had a pleasant experience though!

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