San Juan de Nicaragua, AKA Greytown
Also known as San Juan del Norte and Greytown. San Juan de Nicaragua is a small town located at the mouth of the Indian River is actually quite unique. For starters, there are no motorcycles or cars in town, which means that getting around is strictly a walking issue. I had envisioned the town being on the beach. Once there I found that it is not on the beach, but rather on the river front. Mind you it is not even the San Juan River it is the Indian River! It is without doubt one of the most remote towns in Nicaragua.
My trip actually started in Bluefields, which is about 100 miles, (160 km.) north of San Juan de Nicaragua, also on the Caribbean Coast. As it turns out, there is no regular public transportation between both cities. My trip involved a 2 ½ hour fast boat (panga) trip up the Rio Escondido to the town of El Rama. Once there I caught a bus to the town of Santo Tomas. I then waited a few minutes to catch another bus to San Carlos, the capital of the Rio San Juan Department. Fortunately, I Arrived there just in time to catch the 3:30p.m. fast boat to El Castillo. There, I was forced to spend the night. Total time involved in travel? 12 hours, half of them, on a boat and the other half on a bus!
The next day I took the regular panga from El Castillo to San Juan de Nicaragua. The boat departed from El Castillo at 10:00 a.m. I arrived in San Juan a few minutes before 6:00 p.m. Just as the last rays of sun where still shedding some light. Now there is another faster, easier way of getting to San Juan de Nicaragua. A brand new airport, including landing field and passenger terminal has been put in place and is now operational here.
The drawback is that there are only 2 flights a week. The flight departs from Managua. The service is provided by La Costeña airlines in a 12 passenger Cessna Caravan and takes about one hour. https://lacostena.online.com.ni/ The cost is about $140 US one way, a bargain if you look at all the time you will spend getting to San Juan de Nicaragua using the method that I used, which will take a couple of full days from Managua if you are using the regular public transportation. The flight takes you over the Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve. This gives you a chance to admire the vastness of this magnificent reserve. It also give you a glypse of Costa Rica, which is on the opposite bank of the San Juan River. You will find that theirs is mostly farmland as opposed to extensive wildlife reserve in Nicaragua.
Some Travel Tips to San Juan de Nicaragua
If you are not flying, try to arrange your trip so that you can take the “fast boat” There are two different types of boats operating between San Carlos and San Juan de Nicaragua,. the fast and the slow one. Travel time in the fast boat is roughly half of that of the slow boat: 6 hours versus 12 hours, believe me, it makes a difference. To insure your seat in the fast boat, go to the dock the day before and pre purchase your ticket and get your name on the list. Then make sure you get there early!
Although you can break the trip in two, spending the night at El Castillo before you continue down to San Juan de Nicaragua, keep in mind that the boat is quite full by the time it arrives in El Castillo, so if you are more than one person travelling, your chances of sitting together for the rest of the trip are quite slim! Finally, keep in mind that the rainy season in the Caribbean Coast is different to the rest of the country. Here it can rain cats and dogs between November and February, so if you are planning to be here in these months be prepared to get wet, bring some sandals to trod through the water over the walks and most of all, bring some good rain gear and an umbrella.
If at all possible, plan your trip in the dry season between March and September, when the weather is dryer. Remember, the vegetation here is that of a tropical rain forest, so the chance of an afternoon shower is always there!
Things to Know When Visiting:
Getting back to San Juan de Nicaragua, it is a small friendly town, but still lacking in tourist infrastructure. For one, there are no banks or ATM machines. This means that there is no place for you to get money from! Make sure you bring plenty of cash. Keep in mind that it is not easy for the locals to change dollars. It is best to bring the local currency, Cordobas, with you. At the same time, bring smaller bills. Not everybody can change a large bill! You will be doing yourself and the locals a favour. Internet service is unreliable at San Juan de Nicaragua. The same situation applies to Celular phone service. Let your loved ones back home know that you will be without any communications. That way they do not worry excessively if they do not hear from you!
One last note: despite the proximity between San Juan de Nicaragua and Costa Rica, there are really no facilities to cross the border from Costa Rica to Greytown or vice versa. The reality is that the tensions between the authorities of both countries has made the border crossing more complicated, and you will have to travel back up the San Juan River to San Carlos and cross the border at Los Chiles. Don’t get me wrong, there is no fighting going on nor are there any tensions locally, the problem is not at San Juan de Nicaragua, the problem is in San Jose, Costa Rica and Managua!
Finally, take note that the new La Fe Bridge over the Rio San Juan has now opened to traffic, so this is also an alternative for your border crossings between Nicaragua and Costa Rica along the Rio San Juan. Travel to San Juan de Nicaragua is a long trip. It is certainly off the beaten path. This is an enchanting destination with few tourists. It is authentic and has a lot of history. A trip to San Juan de Nicaragua will certainly be one you will remember for many years!