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El Castillo

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Hotel Luna del Rio
Hotel Luna del Rio - dream vacation

El Castillo, Rio San JuanEl Castillo

Montecristo River Lodge
Montecristo River Lodge - dream vacation

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Sabalos Lodge
Sabalos Lodge - dream vacation

Boca de Sabalos, El Castillo, Rio San JuanEl Castillo

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El Castillo is a town in Rio San Juan department of Nicaragua. Since 1995, the fortress has been on a "tentative list" of important Nicaraguan cultural sites with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a preliminary to nomination for consideration as a World Heritage Site.


El Castillo de la Imaculada Concepcion, located on the San Juan river of Nicaragua, was built in the 1670s to protect Lake Nicaragua and its ports, mainly Granada. Construction began shortly after the pirate Gallardino attacked the port of Granada. The local heroine is Rafaela Herrera, the recently deceased fortress commandant's daughter, that directed the defence that repelled an English invading fleet in 1762. In 1780, a young Horatio Nelson (yes, that Nelson) tried to conquer the fort and initially succeeded but had to leave after 7 months due to almost all of his soldiers (probably including himself) getting yellow fever (not a concern in this area any more). Shortly thereafter the Spanish took the empty fort back.

Get in

By boat

You can get in from San Carlos at the south-east corner of the Lago Nicaragua (also known as Cocibolca) by boat (C$75 pp = US$4).

Boats leave San Carlos at 06:30, 08:00, 10:30 (high season), 12:30, 14:30 and 16:30. For the first boat, book the day before, as it might be full already if you are too late. You can buy tickets at the muelle municipal half a block from the market, which also serves as San Carlos' bus terminal.

From San Juan del Norte the boat to San Carlos (once weekly 6 or 12 hours, depending on type of service and season) also passes El Castillo and stops upon request.

Get around

El Castillo is walkable and doesn't have any cars. The locals aren't used to cycling (though it is not explicitly prohibited) and there are none for rent.


  • 1 Indio Maiz national park (Reserva Biológica Indio Maíz). This national park covers a large region ranging from just beyond El Castillo to San Juan del Norte (aka San Juan de Nicaragua) and northwards. Typically it is visited either in a day trip from El Castillo, or by staying at the Refugio Bartola on the edge of the park. There are plentiful guides providing such trips from El Castillo and the Refugio, who will provide you with the requisite rubber boots. Visitors will see verdant and varied rain forest vegetation, and are very likely to also see various types of monkey, leaf cutter ants, poison dart frogs, and plentiful bird life, with other wildlife sightings possible. In March/April 2018 there were significant fires in the region to which the government responded slowly and rejected Costa Rican aid, causing protests which were soon overshadowed by protests against a social security reform which left to several dead and the ongoing (as of July 2018) civil conflict in the country. It is not fully clear how much of the reserve is still biologically intact or what caused the conflagration. (updated Nov 2018)
  • Rapids of the Rio San Juan (called raudales) that made El Castillo a strategic place to build a fortress. Raudal del Toro (across from Boca de Sábalo), Raudal del Castillo (across from the fortress) and Raudal del Diablo are the most popular.
  • Just a few kilometers downriver from El Castillo you can see Costa Rica on the Rio San Juan's right or southern bank; (the river itself in a political oddity belongs to Nicaragua entirely). They are constructing a new road right next to the river which has been controversial because of its (very visible) impact on the environment.
  • 2 Fortress (from the main road, head upwards (away from the river) and follow the signs). The fortress is crumbling a bit, but it offers great views of the river and the rapids that made this place a strategic location for a fortress in the first place. Admission US$2, camera permit US$1. (updated Dec 2016)


Reading a book in the library which is right inside the castillo. Listen to the sounds of the village and the water running down the river while reading a good book.

You can rent kayaks for various lengths of time or also do a guided tour on kayak. Some adventurous travellers have done the whole trip from here to the Caribbean at San Juan de Nicaragua (San Juan del Norte) in just over a week. Ask whether you can return your kayaks there or not.


There is not that much to buy in town and nothing that you couldn't get in San Carlos. As of 2012 there was no ATM in town.


River shrimp (Camarones del Rio) are very popular and quite cheap. However, they are not available year-round, as the government protects them (usually from February to April).

  • Casa de Huésped – Restaurante Chinandegano, De la Iglesia Católica 190 metros al sureste, ☏ +505 83816493. doubles as a guesthouse (updated Jun 2015)
  • Restaurante Ranchón Las Vegas de San Juan, Frente al Puesto Militar del Castillo, ☏ +505 86663679. (updated Jun 2015)
  • Restaurante Daryzu, Frente al Minisúper San Antonio, ☏ +505 84489170. (updated Jun 2015)


Drink the natural fruit drinks at Border's Coffee. The owner (a Nicaraguan) is very proud to say that they are made without water or sugar, and they are very delicious.


Several hotels in the area are somewhere along the river or in the town of Sabalos close by. Some have their own pier. If you know where you are going to stay in advance just tell the captain of the boat and they will drop you off right at the doorstep.

  • Montecristo River Lodge, Frente Isla Sombrero de Cuero (Boca de Sabalos, El Castillo, Rio San Juan), ☏ +505 8649 9012. Check-in: anytime, check-out: anytime. All inclusive: room, all meals, use of horses, canoes, kayak, trails, fishing gear. US$75. 
  • Hotel Victoria, Iglesia Católica, 200 metros al Suroeste, ☏ +505 2583 0188, ✉ hotelvictoriaelcastillo@gmail.com. single US$35 double US$60. (updated Jun 2015)
  • Posada del Río, De la Iglesia Católica 250 metros al sureste, ☏ +505 84059998, ✉ hotelposadadelrio42@yahoo.com. US$20 incl. breakfast. (updated Jun 2015)


Go next

  • San Juan Del Norte
  • There are various small villages along the river some of them having hotels and some hotels just between villages. The biggest of those villages is Boca de Sabalos named for a fish that is common around that place.
  • El Castillo is a convenient starting point for all your jungle adventures in the reserva Indio Maiz and downriver

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