Los Chiles to Lago Nicaragua

US$1 = 250 Colones
US$1 = 10 Cordobas

The Rio Frio journey from Los Chiles, Costa Rica begins at the
migracion office a block up from the river dock itself. The office opens at 8am but a line will already have been formed by that time. It’s made up mostly of Nicaraguans who come over for the jobs
that Costa Ricans can’t or won’t fill…shades of the United States & Mexico.

Not to worry, however, as the process here is fairly fast, & the first departing boat isn’t for another hour & a half.

Down at the river you will be directed to one of a dozen boats that
line the bank & dock alike. They are pretty much generic in design with comfortable contour seats & covered tops. Most of the Nicaraguans seen at the migracion office won’t be competing for space on the boat as there is also a cheaper overland bus service to

Price & time for the boat is 1,000 colones & one hour. The bus is 350 colones & two plus hours.

The boat trip itself is a typical serene river trip with abundant
wildlife along the shore, & the occasional jumping fish along the way. It’s interrupted only by a short immigration passenger list check. The list is predominantly Latino with only a scattering of gringo surnames.

The boat dock in San Carlos is divided into two sections with the
larger part being fenced off & guarded. It is here where the big steel hulled ships & the large but shallow-drafted river boats tie up. The water taxis, fishing boats & personal craft compete with each other for dock space in the other section.

The migracion office is conveniently situated on the water front at
the later location. The process is quick…the Nicaraguans have a separate window than tourists…& costs $8 for US citizens.

San Carlos does not have a great selection of places to stay. The
only one I would recommend is the Hotel Leyko which, at 138 Cordobas, is no bargain. However, it is clean & serves an OK breakfast. There are cheaper places but are a little too unsavory for this traveler.

San Carlos doesn’t have a lot of activities to support a prolonged
stay but it is a friendly & safe town. It has a bank with sociable clerks & guards but they won’t cash traveler’s checks. If you’re really hurting for cash, consider using those travelers checks
to buy a cheap watch or something from a street vendor…they find ways to cash them.

There are a number of options out of San Carlos involving 4 other
types of boats:
The steel hulled cargo/passenger ships, the hydrofoil, the San Juan River barges & of course, charter boats.

The river barges are about 40 feet long with a small pilot house up
front & an enclosed toilet hanging off the rear..pun intended. Many times there is an motorless barge of equal size attached to accommodate extra passengers & cargo alike. These ply the river making a couple of stops with the major one being the woodmill at

It’s final destination is Castillo…a great little carless town with lots of history & beauty. It’s a definite must see & has a fantastic hotel overlooking the rapids. This is the only place on the river where the old Vanderbilt Transis Authority had to utilize block & tackle in navigating the river.

These river boat barges also make a number of non scheduled stops
along the river, the purpose of which is to drop off small groups of passengers who then cross overland into Costa Rica in search of work…more shades of the Mexico/US border situation.

The steel hulled ships are slow & OK to take if the weather is good.
Things get cramped however if rain forces everyone indoors. They travel mostly at night, making 3 stops enroute to Granada some 175 kilometers north. They leave at 3pm, arriving at 7am the next day. The fare to Granada, Altagracia, Morrito & San Miguel is 40, 30, 20 & 12 Cordobas respectively.

The 27 meter long hydrofoil is 18 year old Russian technology. It
seats 60 in comfort & has more sitting & standing room on the stern. At 60 KPH it takes 3 hours to negotiate Lago Nicaragua & has a beer & soft drink concession aboard.

Hydrofoil Schedule (170 Cordobas)

Lunes de Granada    8:30am
San Carlos    1:00pm
Martes de Granada    8:30am
San Carlos    1:00pm
Jueves de Granada    8:00am
Viernes de San Carlos    11:00am
Sabado de Granada    8:30am
Domingo de San Carlos    11:00am

There’s another option that I have not had first knowledge of and
that is a boat ride to San Juan del Norte at the Caribbean end of the river. It supposedly leaves on Tuesday mornings if there’s enough passengers, cost 200 Cordobas & takes 12 hours.