©Philip Lee Harvey/Lonely Planet

The Río San Juan & Islas Solentiname

Perhaps Nicaragua's best kept secret and certainly one of its most unfairly overlooked regions, the steamy Río San Juan runs from Lago de Nicaragua into the Caribbean, forming the border with Costa Rica for much of its journey through the wilderness. The thick jungle here is a haven for migratory birds and dozens of animal species including jaguars, howler monkeys, alligators, sloths and fluorescent fingernail-sized tree frogs.

It’s also a place thousands of travelers simply pass through on their way to Costa Rica, ignoring the sweet Archipiélago de Solentiname, a remote group of islands with an artistically minded population, as well as the towns and villages along Río San Juan and the spectacular Reserva Biológica Indio-Maíz. This is a mistake, but as long as it continues, you'll find you have much of Nicaragua's far south to yourself: do not miss it.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Río San Juan & Islas Solentiname.