3 week itinerary, jungle/river experience
Replies: 6 - Last Post: Mar 20, 2013 4:14 PM Last Post By: MrTim
Mar 19, 2013 11:49 AM
3 week itinerary, jungle/river experienceHola fellow travellers,
We're planning a 3 week trip to Central America in July this year. We want to do the highlights of Guatemala being Antigua, Lake Aitilan, and Tikal and then 1 other country with our lean towards Nicaragua. We are off the beaten track travellers, don't like it too touristy, or expensive. Our interests are colonial cities, ruins, and the thing we would most like to do is a jungle/river experience, having not done this type of thing before. We were thinking about the Rio San Juan and the Indio Maiz Reserve and staying in Sabalos, although the transport to and from looks time consuming with either the long ferry ride across Lake Nicaragua or a long bus ride from San Carlos to Managua. I see that there is a plane that flies from Managua to San Carlos, but it looks like there can be delays because of weather. Another idea was the Rio Dulce out of Livingston, but it doesn't seem as if there would be as much wildlife? Any thoughts about things not to miss for our 3 short weeks would be appreciated and thoughts about a good jungle/river/wildlife experience. Thanks. Sharon
Mar 19, 2013 12:55 PM
1I think there is a lot to keep you busy right in Guatemala for 3 weeks, and getting to Nicaragua is a time consuming affair, then to the RSJ area is also another time intense trip on its own.
What about incorporating and a side trip to the jungles in Belize, I have not been there, but I hear great things. Or, explore the Rio Dulce and Livingston areas, maybe even take the boat to Belize in and a do a circle via Tikal either direction.
The other option is to head to Copan Ruins in Honduras, then to the Miskito area, and maybe a 3-5 days at the Omega Lodge?
You could fly into GC and out of Sam Pedro Sula, 3 hours from La Cieba...
Mar 19, 2013 1:04 PM
2Boy that's a tuff one. The San Juan river does take a lot of time getting to and out , you really don't see a lot of wildlife on the river, few croc's, until you get more inland. The Rio Dulce to Livingston river trip is very nice, not a ton of wildlife but I saw more on the Dulce than the San Juan. It's more scenic as well. Hard to go wrong with either.
If your birding consider Lago de Yajoa in Honduras. Copan has some nice ruins and a very cool town.
Mar 19, 2013 6:49 PM
3If your birding consider Lago de Yajoa in Honduras
In about 3 weeks around Lago de Yojoa last year, I saw 171 bird species (including surrounding areas ie. Santa Barbara National Park).
Here's an option for you for jungle/river/wildlife in Nicaragua (my trip report from last year):
Los Guatuzos Trip Report
There is a paucity of information about the area here on the Thorn Tree, so hopefully this thorough report of my 3-day stay will help anyone who is intending to visit.
Los Guatuzos is a wonderful place with a huge diversity and abundance of wildlife, and judging from the visitors books at the Centro Ecologico and the Comedor Caiman, it seems very undervisited. I was the only tourist in the area throughout my stay.
I flew from Managua to San Carlos. The flight (in a small single-engined aircraft) takes less than an hour and is very enjoyable in clear weather with splendid views of Ometepe Island and its volcanoes (sit on the right hand side of the plane for best views). The cost was just over US$90 one way.
From San Carlos “airport” (which is little more than a one-room shack beside a dirt airstrip), shared taxis operate the short distance into town for C20 per person.
There is also a bus service from Managua to San Carlos. This used to be a long and very uncomfortable journey, but I heard that the road is now completed, cutting the journey time to 6 hours or less and increasing the comfort. Perhaps someone could confirm what this journey is like now.
Los Guatuzos is situated on the Papaturro river, a small waterway that flows into Lago de Nicaragua about halfway along its southern shore. Accordingly, the boat’s destination is advertised as “Papaturro”, not “Los Guatuzos”. It departs from the extreme westerly pier at the revamped waterfront/pavilions area in San Carlos. Note that this is NOT the same terminal where the Rio San Juan boats depart from.
The San Carlos – Papaturro boat runs only three times a week, departing at 9am on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The one-way fare is C$105. You should go to the pier as early as possible on the day of departure to put your name on the list, to ensure you get a seat (I suggest doing this by 8am at the latest). Then you can go and get breakfast; there are several restaurants and cafes nearby.
The ride takes approximately 4 hours, mostly across the open lake. The seats are wooden planks without backrests so it’s not very comfortable and the scenery isn’t interesting for 90% of the ride, so take something soft to sit on, and something to read. My boat took a 20-minute pitstop part way through the journey, at an island inhabited by a single family who are apparently well-known for their delicious fish soup and fried fish. So you can get something to eat or visit the bushes there.
The last part of the journey – once the boat heads along the Rio Papaturro - cuts through the nature reserve and is very scenic and full of wildlife.
Returning to San Carlos, boats depart Los Guatuzos (next to the footbridge) at 7.30-8.00am on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.
Where to stay
I contacted the Centro Ecologico de Los Guatuzos in advance, by completing the enquiry form on their website. I received a very prompt response and quick answers to all my questions from Oscar Bermudez, who is based in Managua.
Making an advance reservation was hardly necessary in my case, but the Centro does sometimes (quite rarely, I think) host larger groups so you would probably want to make contact in advance to check there is somewhere to stay before you make the long trek out there.
The Centro offers dorm accommodations with shared bathrooms for US$11 per person per night. There are also rooms with private bathrooms for US$13 pppn. I saw no need to stay in a private room, as I was the only guest in residence and my dorm was therefore plenty private enough for me. Two local staff members had been forewarned of my arrival and were waiting to greet me at the boat jetty. It was all very professional and the staff were endearingly eager to please, to the point of leaving fresh flowers in my dorm room and folding the towels into the shape of a swan. The dorm rooms, bathrooms and common areas are all spotlessly clean, and beds more comfortable than is the average for budget digs in Nicaragua.
There is free purified water for all guests (bring your own bottle). The Centro also supplies gumboots free of charge when rainy season conditions warrant their use. Towels are also supplied.
At times of low occupancy at the Centro, the generator is turned off, and when this happens there is no electricity. I could have asked for it to be turned on but I didn’t feel I really needed it. I had a flashlight, and candles are provided.
There is now another recently-opened sleeping option in Los Guatuzos village. Armando and Aillen, owners of the Comedor Caiman in the village and also local tour operators, have recently built a cabana with a comfortable private room (and its own bathroom) for US$14 per night including a very good breakfast. There is also a multi-bed dorm in the same building that could also serve as an alternative to the Centro Ecologico. I had a look at the rooms and they seemed very good for the money.
The Centro Ecologico offers a variety of inexpensive tours. You can do as many, or as few, tours as you please. There is no pressure to do anything at all but the tours definitely help you make the most of the area. My guide was friendly, knowledgeable and patient. One important thing to note is that only Spanish is spoken. This would probably mean a less interesting and shallower experience for non Spanish speakers, but that’s no different from most less-visited parts of Central America.
Tours vary in price from US$5 to US$15 per person. I enjoyed the “Paseo el Perezoso” tour including visits to the caiman and turtle nurseries and tree platform walkway (US$8, 1.5 hours), a daytime kayak tour along the Rio Papaturro to look for birds (US$13, 2.5 hours), and a night trip, also by kayak, to observe nocturnal species (US$15, 2 hours).
Self-guided walks are possible, and you can visit the tree platform walkway without a guide if you wish. There are a few trails in the humid forest behind the Centro. It was very muddy and mosquito-infested in there. There are also two wider, drier, more open trails (driveable by car), leading out of Los Guatuzos village, at least one of which goes to the Costa Rica border 4km away.
Another highly recommended option for tours is Armando at the Comedor Caiman. He is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about local animals, birds and plants. I did a specialized bird-finding tour with him by small boat along the Rio Papaturro, heading south towards the Costa Rican border, and thanks to his expertise we succeeded in finding several of my rare target bird species. This cost US$35 (probably cheaper per person for more than one). He said the tour would last about 3-4 hours but we were actually out there for nearly 6 hours, such was Armando’s dedication to finding a rare Kingfisher species for me, which we did eventually succeed in tracking down.
I also did a morning boat trip with Armando, heading north along the Rio Papaturro to the lake, in search of rare herons (and succeeded in finding all 3 target species). This trip cost US$20. We timed the end of the tour so we met the San Carlos-bound boat on the lake, and I was able to transfer boats and head back to San Carlos.
The Centro Ecologico does not supply food. A short walk away, in the village, 3 restaurants are affiliated to the local tourist scheme and provide breakfast, lunch and dinner as required. I ate all my meals in the Comedor Caiman, next to the footbridge. The food was standard Nicaraguan fare but surprisingly good (and varied) considering the remote location. Each meal cost C$100. Beer is available for C$30.
Birds and wildlife
The area is astoundingly rich in wildlife. Howler Monkeys can be frequently seen and heard everywhere, even around the Centro Ecologico buildings, while around the tree platform walkway behind the Centro I saw the other two species, Spider Monkey and White-faced Monkey. I had 3 sightings of Two-toed Sloth and one sighting of Three-toed Sloth in the general area during my stay, and two sightings of Otters. Caimans are present in the river in good numbers but they are hard to see as they quickly retreat underwater at the first sign of danger. I had one decent view of a Caiman during the day, and on the night tour their glowing red eyes were easy to spot. Iguanas and the so-called “Jesus Christ Lizard” (due to its habit of running across the water) are common and easy to see. Other wildlife including bats, fireflies, frogs and of course mosquitoes are abundant.
The bird life around here is very special, with an exceptional range of wetland and forest species present. I saw 91 bird species during my stay. Particular highlights included Chestnut-bellied Heron, Tricolored Heron, Boat-billed Heron, White Ibis, Green Ibis, 5 species of kingfisher including the rare Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Nicaraguan Seedfinch, White-necked Puffbird, 9 flycatchers, 5 woodpeckers, and both of the trogon species that occur at Los Guatuzos.
Contact me if you would like to see the full list of the birds I saw in the area.
Centro Ecologico: Oscar Bermudez. www.losguatuzos.com. Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: (505) 22703561 or (505) 87729630.
Comedor y Cabanas Caiman (and tours with Armando): Aillen Mejia Velasquez. www.cabanascaimanlosguatuzos.com. Email: email@example.com. Tel: (506) 87043880 or (505) 86762958.
Mar 20, 2013 5:05 AM
4You won't have time for Nicaragua. As Tim said you can enter Belize from the north after Tikal. My favorite jungle river trip was visiting the ruins at Lamanai. Down south the Rio Dulce is a very beautiful ride. If you can make the circuit through Belize that would be nice. I say you have two options. Get an open-jaw plane ticket into Guatemala and out of Belize or just see how long it takes you to get to Tikal and take it from there.
Mar 20, 2013 3:44 PM
5Hi all, thanks for your replies! Posting 3--that was a great amount of info and you're right, there is not much info on the Rio San Juan area. Right then, we know that 3 weeks is too short, but still want to fit in 2 countries if we can, with flying between places to save time. How about this for an tenative itinerary: Fly to Managua (from LA via Guatemala) and head to Granada where we spend 2 nights. Then bus to Rivas and taxi to San Jorge where we take the ferry to Isla de Ometepe for 3 nights. Take the night ferry to San Carlos and the boat up the Rio San Juan possibly staying in Sabalos--3 nights. Fly back to Managua from San Carlos. A couple days grace in case we don't make a connection, but if all goes well 2 more nights in Nicaragua where we could either go to Leon or Masaya. Fly back to Guatemala and have 4 nights or so in Antigua, Lake Atitlan area. Fly to Flores for a couple of days. And we still have a few days for something else. We live in New Zealand, so the flight to LA is long and expensive, so want to make the most of our time in Central America before we head up to Seattle where i'm originally from for a month. Thanks again!
Mar 20, 2013 4:14 PM
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