Traveling Down the Historic San Juan River in Nicaragua: Part Two, Exploring El Castillo
El Castillo, on the San Juan River is a small laid back community whose economy is based on fishing, farming, but mostly tourism. However the situation was Charlotte Botox very different back in the 1850s and 1860s. In those days Cornelius Vanderbilt, the famous entrepreneur from New York City was busy operating a route from New York City and New Orleans to San Francisco, California by way of Nicaragua, and his steamships actually sailed up the San Juan River. Because of the rapids located right in front of El Castillo, ships had to be unloaded here, then cargo and passengers were transferred a few hundred yards upriver and reloaded again.
These were hectic days, and many workers and experienced hands were needed to navigate up and down these treacherous waters. More than one steamship was lost in this passage.
By coincidence, these were the years when US writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known better as Mark Twain, was out exploring the Mississippi River and writing the adventures of Tom Sawyer. I can truly imagine the blast that good old Tom, Huck and Becky would have had exploring the San Juan River back in those days!
But let’s get back to our story in El Castillo. If you feel like exploring the area like Tom Sawyer and his friends would have surely done, I recommend organizing a trip to Base Camp Bartola, located a short distance downriver. To do so, you can stop by and arrange for the trip with Dona Julia at the Hotel Victoria or with Seyla Obregon at the Nena Lodge. The trip will take about an hour to get there, and you will pass right next to the border line between Nicaragua and Costa Rica before reaching the Bartola river on the left bank of the San Juan River. By following this river you are entering the Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve, one of the largest natural reserve areas in Central America! The Bartola river is much smaller, and the vegetation is truly dense as you travel upriver. After a short distance, the motor in your boat will be shut down, and lifted out of the water, and the propelling system will be switched to “polling up the river”. This means that your guides will use long poles to push the boat upriver, navigated the shallow, rocky river, which is now running faster through small white water rapids! The total travel time to Basecamp Bartola is about 2 hours. Here you can plan on spending a night or two in a small community, where