El Castillo, a Historic Site at the Rio San Juan in Nicaragua.
El Castillo is a small community right on the south banks of the San Juan River. It is very close to the border with Costa Rica (3 kilometers) and about 55 kilometers from San Carlos. The only way to get to El Castillo is by boat. From San Carlos, it is 55 Kilometers down river. From San Juan de Nicaragua, 145 kilometers up river. There are no roads leading to the town.
The community sprung up around the fortress of La Inmaculada Concepcion de Maria. In English, “The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary”. This fortress built in 1675 by the Spanish crown in a strategic location was meant to protect the city of Granada. British pirates savagely attacked and looted Granada several times. The fortress is strategically built on a hill top right in front of the strongest currents in the river, which forced ships to slow down and were therefore more vulnerable to an attack from the fortress.
Getting to El Castillo:
There is regular boat service, which operates as public transportation between San Carlos and El Castillo with two distinct classes of service. You have the regular service, which takes about 3 hours and the fast boat, which takes fewer passengers and takes half the time. In both cases, the boat makes a quick stop at the community of Boca de Sabalos, where passengers get off and on before the trip continues. During the route, both services may stop and pick up or drop off persons on the river bank, depending on the space they have on board. The fast boat service costs approximately 200 Cordobas.
During the gold rush days, the Transit Company, owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt had regular stops at El Castillo. There, the steamships had to be unloaded, to have the cargo and passengers moved up river about half a mile before the could be put on board again. The steam boat would then be lighter and could deal with the rapids in a safer, more efficient manner. This commercial activity helped develop the town and increased its population.
Today, El Castillo is a popular tourist destination. It has basic, but comfortable and functional hotel, restaurant and tour services. Travelers here come to see the fortress, do fishing and explore the Indio Maiz Biosphere reserve. They also get to discover a unique quaint little town where cars and motorcycles do not exist. The only means of transportation are the boats that come and go. The town is peaceful, extremely safe and very pleasant. Its inhabitants are very good hosts and you will feel comfortable here. Internet service is limited, but there is decent phone service and of course electricity. There are no banks and no ATM machines, so do not expect to get cash from one. Only a few businesses will accept a credit card.