The mighty 170km-long RÍO SAN JUAN is one of the most important rivers in Central America. In colonial times it was the route by which the cities of Granada and León were supplied by Spain and emptied of their treasure by pirates, and optimists still claim it could one day form the basis of a canal to rival Panama’s. It’s the site of regular squabbles between Nicaragua and Costa Rica (see 2010), although you wouldn’t know it while drifting down its sinuous and gloriously verdant length: the only settlements nearby are remote and sleepy villages whose inhabitants make their living by fishing and farming. Ecotourism offers one of the few sources of income: pack a waterproof, insect repellent and a stout pair of boots, and get ready for grand castles, intriguing tours and giant grilled river shrimp.
Most travellers see the Río San Juan from a boat between San Carlos on the eastern shore of Lago de Nicaragua and the old Spanish fort and town of El Castillo, the only real tourist attraction in the area. Wildlife is abundant along the river, and travellers who venture up- or downstream will certainly spot sloths, howler monkeys, parrots and macaws, bats, storks, caimans and perhaps even a tapir.