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Journey 4: Bartola-Boca de San Carlos

Department: Rio San Juan

Municipality: El Castillo

Type: Kayaking

Distance: 38 km
Duration: 8 hours



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Adventure starts here! No more settlements on Nicaraguan side, and only a sporadic farm on Costa Rican side. The Indo Maiz reserve becomes more and more impressive during the journey, and animal life more varied. Monkeys and iguanas are a frequent sight, and macaws can also be seen flying over the river.

Some 8 kilometers from Bartola there are rapids (the Infernillo Rapids) that can be tricky to pass, depending on the water level. Unexperienced paddlers do best by hiring a boat driver at Bartola, who awaits the group before reaching the rapids and who carries the luggage and passengers past the rapids, while the guides or more experienced paddlers take the kayaks down the rapids. When leaving Bartola, it is always best to inquire about the difficulty of the rapids, even when more experienced in kayaking. In general, the lower the water levels, the more difficult it will be to pass the rapids.

The remains of steamboats that date back to the California Gold Rush (1848-1855) can be seen at several places along this journey. These boats stranded as they hit rocks or got damaged in other ways, and the iron frames still remain here, stuck in the mud. Often the stranded boats caused plants and more mud to accumulate, sometimes growing out to large islands in the middle of the river.

Again there are tributary rivers that can be accessed from the San Juan river. At this point it is highly recommended to paddle upstream one of these rivers, as they provide a look inside of the Indio Maiz Reserve. Thick, rich forests and a wealth of animal life can easily be observed. These rivers also provide a somewhat cooler place with some shade – very welcome after hours of padding under the intense Nicaraguan sun. Eating an on-the-road lunch under the trees in one of these rivers is certainly a spectacular break! To escape the sun it is also possible to ask at the farms on Costa Rican side for a cup of coffee or simply a place to rest, which is often generously provided.

The town of Boca de San Carlos is located in Costa Rica, at the end of the San Carlos river, which empties into the Rio San Juan. This small town houses a couple rustic hotels and provides a good resting point after a day of paddling. Visitors should report themselves at the police office, where passports will be inspected. There is no migration office, so entering Costa Rica from here is not possible, but the police has no problem with Rio San Juan travelers staying at this town overnight.

Other Journeys

This activity is one of the many kayak journeys that can be undertaken in the San Juan River. It could be a great daytrip, or this could be part of a multiday journey. To learn more about the kayak journeys at the San Juan River, use the menu to the right.

You can read more about kayak options at the San Juan River here.