It was around noon when we arrived at the airport; we had more than an hour before the plane would leave. Managua’s recently renovated airport has quite a modern, stylish image, but this applies mostly to the area for international flights. A small and simple building is where all national flights are handled. Fortunately it was not crowded at all, and checking in took no more than a couple minutes. We had to weigh not only our luggage but also ourselves, to make sure we would not overload the small plane.
We spent the rest of the time in the waiting area, until our names were called and we could board the tiny 12-person plane. This plane was so small that it’s simply impossible to stand upright. There was also no door whatsoever between the passengers and the pilots, so we could look right into the cockpit.
The take-off was a little bumpier than in a large plane, but besides that the small plane was quite comfortable. The flight itself was also fairly nice, as we saw the majestic Mombacho Volcano and the hundreds of beautiful islands as we flew over Granada, as well as the imposing island of Ometepe with its two large volcanoes, and near the end of the flight we passed over the Solentiname archipelago that we would visit that same week. After only 45 minutes we arrived in San Carlos. The landing was a great surprise, because we landed on an unpaved runway and there you really feel how small the plane is. This landing strip perfectly characterizes the small ‘airport’ of San Carlos, just as the tiny building that holds a waiting room and cafeteria. Within 10 minutes after our arrival we saw the plane take off again, returning to Managua. This flight had even less passengers than ours; including the two pilots there where only three people in the plane – you do the math.
Taxi drivers arrived at the airstrip right after we got out of the plane, and for the regular tariff of C$10 per person we were brought to the very center of San Carlos. Although San Carlos is the largest city in the Río San Juan department, it is merely a large town. The most important features are a central park with a church and an old fortress, and a port where boats from Granada and El Castillo dock. We planned to use the afternoon to define our travel plan and explore San Carlos. We first had to find a hotel. We were recommended to stay at a small, new hotel not far from the central park: La Posada de Santa Teresa. The clean rooms and decent beds looked fine, and we left our luggage here to explore San Carlos.
Personally, I was pleasantly surprised with the many newly paved and rather clean streets. When I visited San Carlos over a year ago, I mostly remember dirty, poorly maintained streets. We started with a visit to the fortress, located right at the central park. This fortress, built in colonial times, turned out to provide some very nice attractions. First of all, there is a museum located inside the fortress. Here, the stunning flora and fauna of the Río San Juan department is depicted on large posters. Furthermore, there are four viewpoints, one in every corner of the property, providing some superb views of the area. The viewpoints demonstrate why this was a strategic location for the Spaniards to build a fortress, looking out over both the San Juan River and Lake Nicaragua. We quickly shot some photos of the sun that was disappearing into the lake, because we also wanted to visit another viewpoint.
This viewpoint is located not far from the fortress, and we got there within a couple minutes. From this viewpoint you have an even better view of Lake Nicaragua and the entrance of the San Juan River. Three cannons that are set up here also demonstrate the historic value of the location. Unfortunately the sun was being blocked by clouds and we were unable to take more pictures of the sunset.
We went back to the center to find a place to eat, and we were recommended to try El Granadino. From the outside it appeared to be a very small and rather sober restaurant, but it turned out to be a richly decorated and friendly place with good food.
It was on our way back to the hotel when we met the Chayules. San Carlos is famous for these small, green insects that appear in huge swarms almost every night. The good thing is that they do not bite, the bad thing is that the come in such vast numbers that you can sometimes barely walk through the streets. The people of San Carlos adjust their behavior during nighttime to avoid that the insects enter their houses: doors are always closed at night, every window is sealed off, and the lights are turned off as much as possible. During daytime the Chayules disappear once again. Although the inhabitants or San Carlos are used to the insects, for us it was our first encounter with this unique phenomenon. As quickly as possible we walked through the swarms of insects. Fortunately the rooms in our hotel were sealed off pretty good and we had no further problems with the Chayules that night.