Things to do in El Castillo
Despite being a very small town, there are actually many things you can to in El Castillo! After spending some time exploring the town, here is our list of the most interesting things to do in El Castillo that you should not miss!
Visit the Fortress of the Immaculate Conception
A visit to El Castillo cannot be complete if you do not The fortress is the heart of town. The community was born around the fortress to provide housing facilities to the soldiers that worked here. During the days of the Transit Route steamships was a forced stop here. They would unload the ships to help them navigate through the rapids and then reload them. This is certainly the number one on the list of things to do in El Castillo!
To get there you will have to climb some steep stairs to get to it! It is open daily from 8:00 a.m. till noon and 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday and from 9:00 a.m. till noon and 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. on weekends. The fortress has a small museum with historical facts about the construction of the fortress. Learn about the battles that were fought defending it; and the strategic importance of the community during the days of the Transit Route. Back then the river connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Gold miners that were travelling from the East Coast of the USA to California during the gold rush in the 1850s all set their foot in El Castillo!
The entrance fee is approximately $2.00 USA dollars or its equivalent in Cordoba’s. You will have a chance to tour the fortress and take some great pictures of the San Juan River from the magnificent vantage point. Plan for a total of up to 3 hours for this activity. Please take into consideration that there is a fee for the use of your camera that you must pay in advance when you purchase your entrance ticket. The fee is the equivalent to 1$ USA dollar. A visit to this fortress will give you an insight into a centuries old dream of building a transoceanic canal through Nicaragua, an obsession that is the motor behind the current effort to begin this massive project.
El Castillo Butterfly House
Second on the list of things to do in El Castillo, and taking advantage that you are already up the hill, a visit to the butterfly house that is located on the top of Nelson Hill is in order!. The hill was given this name in memory of Horace Nelson the young British navy captain who actually managed to conquer the fortress, and yet was forced to leave his position due to a cholera epidemic that nearly killed him after having decimated his troops.
At the butterfly house you will not only see these lovely insects. You will learn more about their metamorphosis from pupae to a larva to a butterfly! Although there is no bilingual guide, the persons in charge make a big effort to be helpful and explain the different facets of the insect in its journey to becoming a butterfly. The Butterfly House is open daily from 8 A.M till noon and from 1 till 4 P.M. Entrance fee is $3.00 US or its equivalent in local currency.
The San Juan River is one of the best places in the world for fresh water fishing. There are many fishermen from around the world that come here for the sole purpose of fishing tarpon on this river. If you have even the slightest interest in fishing as a sport, fishing must be on your list of things to do in El Castillo! There are many different species that migrate from the Caribbean Sea to Lake Nicaragua and then back. Perhaps the biggest prize you can fish in the San Juan River is the Tarpon, known locally as the Sabalo Real. These unique fish is not only good fighters, they are also huge! One of the areas that are most popular for these fish is Boca de Sabalos, where the Sabalos River merges with the mighty San Juan.
There are several fishing lodges in the area. The most outstanding of which are the Montecristo Fishing Lodge(www.montecristoriverlodge.com), the Sabalos Lodge(www.sabaloslodge.com) , and The Hotel Los Sabalos(www.hotelsabalos.com.ni ). Farther down river you will find the Rio Indio Lodge(www.therioindiolodge.com). The Rio Indio lodge is without doubt the highest end lodge in the area. It is within the Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve. The Esquina del Lago fishing lodge(www.riosanjuan.info), that is on Lake Cocibolca, at the mouth of the San Juan River also offers fishing in this area.
Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve
If you have come to El Castillo, you are obviously interested in nature. The Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve is one of the last great truly pristine jungle areas in the northern hemisphere. A visit here is certainly one of the things to do in El Castillo. You do not want to miss out on this opportunity!
Access to the reserve is officially restricted. However, there is an area up the Bartola River where you can visit a small base camp. The local community owns and ruds the camp. They have developed and built the basic facilities to camp in. Instalations include wooden decks under a thatched roof where they pitch their tents; they also have a modern, clean latrine and showers. A kitchen and dining area where they will feed you is also set up. The camp is on the top of a small hill. Enjoy the fantastic view towards the Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve. The singing of birds is constantly interrupted by the ferocious howling of monkeys who are just on the opposite side of the Bartola River.
The trip to Bartola departs from El Castillo. After after a 4 km trip down the San Juan River you will arrive at mouth of the Bartola River. There is a Nicaraguan military outpost there. A small Eco Lodge, called the Refugio Bartola Lodge is across the river. From here you will go up the Bartola river with the assistance of the outboard motor for a short time only. The river soon gets shallow and rocky, and the mode of propulsion shifts from motor to manual. Paddles are not efficient enough to push your boat upstream, so you will be poled up the river. Here, men, women and even children learn the art of poling to assist in travel up and down the river. The river, other than jungle trails, is the only way to travel.
There are several highlights of spending the night in Bartola. One of them is listening to the howler monkeys. If you hike the trails, you might even see them! Another highlight, especially between the months of February through May are the Macaws. There are two different species of these large colourful birds that are native to the San Juan River area. The Scarlet Macaw is one of them, they have red, and blue feathers. The other is the largest of the macaws, the Buffon Macaw. This last one is also known as the Great Green Macaw, and it is Green and Blue. I had the opportunity of seeing to of the Scarlet Macaws flying over me during the trip towards the Base Camp!
For more information on the base camp and how to book it you can visit the Daryzu restaurant in El Castillo. Doña Julita at the Hotel Victoria is also helpful in locating them and help you arrange your expedition to Base Camp Bartola. The community of Bartola has designed and built several trails. They will be happy to act as guides to show you these trails. The cost is very reasonable and you are truly helping the community. It is possible to visit to do the trails from El Castillo without the need to overnight. However, your chances of seeing the howler monkeys and the macaws are much greater if you overnight and hike the trails early in the morning.
I definitely recommend planning on spending at least one night at the Base Camp. A night here is not only one of the things to do in El Castillo that you should do, you will cherish every minute of it for a lifetime!
Cayman Watching Tours
This is one of the things to do in El Castillo that Nicas enjoy the most, going out to see the caymans at night! There are several local guides that offer night time cayman watching tours. If you have interest in this activity I recommend that contact Nena Tours. Their headquarters are at the Nena Lodge at El Castillo(www.nenalodge.com). Owner and guide, Seyla Obregon speaks fluent English and is extremely knowledgeable on the area.
Seyla from Nena Lodge and Julita from Hotel Victoria are great local sources of information. Make sure you visit them and take advantage of their knowledge. They can certainly suggest other things to do in El Castillo.