Must see attractions in The Río San Juan & Islas Solentiname

  • Sights in Río San Juan

    Reserva Biológica Indio-Maíz

    The second-largest tract of intact primary forest in the country, the Reserva Biológica Indio-Maíz is a vast wilderness and a hugely important rainforest ecosystem with incredible biodiversity. While much of the reserve is restricted, it is possible to visit certain parts of it. In 2018 horrific fires caused by outsiders, who were clearing forest illegally to use as farmland, destroyed huge areas of ancient forest and it will take decades for the reserve to recover. At the confluence of Río Bartola and Río San Juan, the park ranger's office administers a 3km walking trail that winds through the reserve's towering trees. A local guide is obligatory to enter and most visitors come on a package from El Castillo. Another 20 minutes downriver by boat is the reserve entrance at Aguas Frescas, where the scenery is similar but there is a slightly longer and more challenging trail. While Aguas Frescas was once less visited and hence attracted more wildlife than the Bartola section, both trails are now very popular and choosing a section depends mainly on how far you want to walk. Note that despite the collection of entrance fees to use the facilities, both trails are in very poor shape, with deep mud the norm in many parts, so bring sensible footwear and wear long pants. About an hour further along from the mouth of the Río Sarapiquí, the San Juan Delta begins to weave through the wetlands, meeting up with the almost-as-enormous Río Colorado. Birding becomes increasingly interesting, and fishing even better – but note that you have officially entered the bull sharks’ territory, so no swimming. When you finally enter the expansive Bahía de San Juan del Norte, you’ll notice the rusted old dredger owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Transit Company, which kept the shipping lanes open for would-be gold prospectors en route to San Francisco. The dilapidated dock to the south marks the entrance to what’s left of Greytown, founded on what was then the mouth of the Río San Juan, now a sandy extension of dry land. After you cross the bay to the mouth of the remarkable Río Indio, you’ll reach San Juan de Nicaragua, where you can explore black-water creeks, hidden lagoons and thick jungle within the wide reach of the Indio-Maíz.

  • Sights in Río San Juan

    Reserva Privada El Quebracho

    Administered by the Fundación del Río in San Carlos, this 90-hectare property borders Reserva Biológica Indio-Maíz, and offers a peek at the region’s very big trees, very small frogs, beautiful rivers and wealth of wildlife. Take a bus or taxi to Buena Vista and walk the last hour to the reserve, where you can hike and horseback ride along two trails through primary forest dangling with orchids. If you stick around, accommodations are available in simple rooms with shared bathrooms. If you are visiting for the day, take the colectivo from the dock in Sábalos to Buenavista at 7am (US$2.50, one hour) and make sure you are back in Buena Vista by 1pm for the bus back to town.

  • Sights in Río San Juan

    Greytown

    San Juan de Nicaragua’s traditional tourist attraction is the swampy remains of Greytown, a short boat ride (up to four people US$80 to US$100, three to four hours) across the bay. Here you’ll find a few solid building foundations and four very interesting cemeteries: one for the British (including those members of Horatio Nelson’s doomed campaign who were not fed to the sharks), another for Catholics, a third for North Americans and the last for Freemasons from St John’s Lodge. Unfortunately, the new airport has been constructed bang in the middle of the ruins, which torpedoes the atmosphere somewhat. Most tours also include a visit to some of the jungle lagoons and make a stop at the beach at the mouth of the Río Indio.

  • Sights in Islas Solentiname

    Islas Zapote & Zapotillo

    Avid birders won’t want to miss tiny Islas Zapote and Zapotillo, which feature Nicaragua’s highest concentration of birds, most famously flocks of roseate spoonbills that nest in February and March. Migratory birds of all kinds converge here between December and April – more than 30,000 nests have been counted by visiting biologists.

  • Sights in Islas Solentiname

    Isla El Padre

    You will hear the residents of Isla El Padre before you see them. Set between Mancarrón and San Fernando and named for yet another priest who long ago sought solitude in these tranquil waters, it’s inhabited by a troupe of howler monkeys.

  • Sights in Islas Solentiname

    Isla Sevilla

    Isla Sevilla, just west of Mancarroncito, is a haven for birdwatchers, with thousands of cormorants, tiger herons and pelicans here to enjoy some excellent fishing.