"Southern Port on Lake Nicaragua" San Carlos by atufft

San Carlos Travel Guide: 16 reviews and 71 photos

Busy Port City at the Bottom of Lake Nicaragua

San Carlos is the only and busiest port town on the south shore of Lake Nicaragua, located at the inflow to the Rio San Juan, which empties the water of the lake into the Caribbean Sea. Also nearby San Carlos is the mouth of the Rio Frio, a navigational route for boat service going south into Costa Rica. The port docks the overnight ferry that goes to Granada, numerous smaller passenger craft that ply the Rio San Juan, and infrequent municipal and private service over the lake to the Solentiname Islands. San Carlos also has a small airport with regular twin prop plane service to and from Managua. The city has a bus terminal with frequent bus service leading straight back to Managua via a newly paved highway along the eastern side of Lake Nicaragua. Most all visitors coming and going from San Carlos must stop at the aduana to have their passport examined. The city has the only two ATM machines in south Nicaragua. Although described as a rough and dusty town, San Carlos really isn't so unpleasant, especially along the waterfront. However, we never bothered to stay the night because we were always in transit to other places on the lake or along the Rio San Juan. We did stop for lunch, get cash at the ATM, and wait for our next form of transit elsewhere.

Solentiname Islands

The municipality of San Carlos includes an archipelago of volcanic remnants known at the Solentiname Islands. These islands are home to a small number of agriculturally oriented families most famous for a unique genre of primitivist oil paintings, and for production of balsa wood carvings. These scattered islands, many of which are uninhabited, are home to an abundance of wildlife, especially birds of many species. Actually, the importance of these islands merits a separate page, but neither VT or Google maps has recognized this yet.

El Castillo on the Rio San Juan

Like the Solentiname Islands, the small town of El Castillo, perched on the banks of the Rio San Juan, deserves it's own guidebook for VT. There is actually more to do here than in San Carlos, located it is on a strategic bend in the river, but for some reason neither Google maps nor VT have recognized the value of this town. See my tips for more details. This is a must see place in part because of the 17th century fortress located there.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Great seafood and busy port
  • Cons:Can be very hot and humid in summer
  • In a nutshell:San Carlos is the least appreciated part of Nicaragua
  • Last visit to San Carlos: Jan 2013
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (12)

Comments (1)

  • MalenaN's Profile Photo
    Apr 6, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    Visiting this part of Nicaragua is still on my wishlist. Hopefully I can go within a few years. Great tips!

    • atufft's Profile Photo
      Apr 6, 2013 at 11:50 PM

      Thanks Malena. Your positive feedback means a lot to me...


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