'Costa Rica & Nicaragua Off the Beaten Track'

What makes this trip special?

Remote wetland habitat teeming with wildlife

Remote wetland habitat teeming with wildlife

Caño Negro

Near the Nicaraguan border in remote northern Costa Rica, the wetlands and waterways of the Caño Negro Wildlife refuge are home to a huge number of flora and fauna (particularly good for waterbirds) and are an excellent location for natural history viewing. Best explored by boat or kayak.

A taste for the arts and island living

A taste for the arts and island living

Solentiname Archipelago

A cluster of 36 islets, the Solentiname Archipelago is home to remarkable artistic communities, whose vibrant naïve art is strongly linked to their tropical surroundings.

Wildlife rich forest reserve

Wildlife rich forest reserve

Los Guatuzos

Located on the southern shore of Lake Nicaragua, Los Guatuzos wetland reserve is a must for natural history enthusiasts with superb bird life, turtle and caiman conservation projects and a variety of forest trails.

Jungle settlements along the San Juan river

Jungle settlements along the San Juan river

El Castillo

Once a major trading route connecting Granada with the Caribbean, El Castillo (literally meaning the castle) was built to defend the area. Today the fort has been restored, and the small town makes a nice stop-over on you way to more rural lodges and reserves along the river.

River journey to pristine primary forest

River journey to pristine primary forest

Indio Maiz & Sabalos

Journey by boat up the Bartola river to hike trails in the remote Indio-Maiz Biological reserve which protects the largest tract of primary forest in Central America.

Itinerary map for Nicaragua 'Costa Rica & Nicaragua Off the Beaten Track' holiday


  • Day      Overnight
  • 1 Cano Negro
  • 1 Cano Negro
  • 2 Cano Negro
  • 2 Cano Negro
  • 3 Solentiname
  • 3 Solentiname
  • 4 Solentiname
  • 4 Solentiname
  • 5 El Castillo
  • 5 El Castillo
  • 6 Sabalos
  • 6 El Castillo
  • 7 Managua
  • For the detail of each day click the ‘Day-by-day’ tab above.

Day-by-day itinerary for 'Costa Rica & Nicaragua Off the Beaten Track'


Caño Negro, Costa Rica

You are collected from your hotel in San José or Arenal and driven to Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, still in Costa Rica, for 2 nights at a comfortable lodge with pool. Caño Negro is an important wetland for migratory birds and 350 resident bird species, as well as emerald basilisk, iguanas, river turtle and caiman. Among 160 mammal species are howler, capuchin and spider monkeys, and jaguar. Afternoon free to relax and explore.


A morning excursion by boat through the water channels of the reserve. There are 310 species of plants and many species of fish including the ‘living fossil’ garfish. The afternoon is free to relax by the pool or take an optional excursion, such as mountain biking, fishing, kayaking or further nature viewing.


Solentiname archipelago, Lake Nicaragua

Transfer to the border at Los Chiles where your Nicaraguan guide will be waiting on the other side to take you by road and boat to the Solentiname archipelago–a cluster of 36 islets in Lake Nicaragua. Here you stay 2 nights on San Fernando island at a simple family-run guest-house (with fans and private bathrooms). In the 1970s, inspired by Ernesto Cardenal, priest, poet and Minister of Culture in the Sandinista government, a group of fishermen and locals developed a contemplative community and a painting school–the Escuela Primitivista de Solentiname. Today, more than 50 painters and artisans are working in the islands. Their vibrant naive art is strongly linked to their tropical surroundings. After lunch, stop at a local museum before visiting the artists in their home studios.


Los Guatuzos Wildlife Reserve

Morning boat ride to the southern shore of Lake Nicaragua to visit the forests of Refugio de Vida Silvestre Los Guatuzos. Its superbly rich bird life includes parrots, trogons, roseate spoonbill, jabiru, osprey, herons and egrets, while howler monkey, sloth, caiman, iguanas and agouti are also common. We return to our lodge for lunch, then the afternoon is free to relax or explore locally. The archipelago often enjoys magnificent sunsets.


San Juan river to El Castillo & local farm

Today your boatman will navigate along the Río San Juan to El Diablo Rapids and the waterfront village of El Castillo, a happily isolated community of around 1000 souls within earshot of the rapids. The San Juan river was a route for the export of Incan gold to Spain, known in those days as the ‘dubious passage’. Small wooden houses built on stilts on the river front lie beneath the impressive black stone Fortress of the Immaculate Conception, built by the Spanish in 1675 against marauding pirates and foreign navies (usually British). In 1780, Horatio Nelson, then 22 and already captain of his first frigate, took part in an expedition which circled the fortress, captured it from landward and occupied it for 9 months. The fort has a museum and library, and there are evocative views from the ramparts. El Castillo’s residents work farms in the surrounding hills and fish the river, and in recent years have started to get involved in sustainable tourism. You visit a farm, walk their trails, help harvest the vegetables, hear about their relationship with the rainforest and its protection. Stay 1 night in El Castillo in a small hotel with private bathrooms, a/c and a riverfront deck.


Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve & Sábalos

We travel on the Bartola river to visit the Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve, which protects part of the largest area of primary rainforest in Central America. Inside this pristine forest some trees reach 50m in height. Here we walk for 2hr on the Bartola Trail then travel along the river to a lodge at Sábalos with private reserve where guests can enjoy relaxing in a hammock, birdwatching, kayaking, horse riding and artisanal fishing. Sport fishing for Tarpon is also possible here but at extra cost. Rooms at the lodge have fans and private bathrooms.



Morning free to enjoy the lodge’s range of activities. In the middle of the day you travel by river to San Carlos for the early afternoon flight to Managua, where the tour ends. We can arrange an extension of your stay in Nicaragua, perhaps visiting León and Granada or the beach.

Guide prices for 'Costa Rica & Nicaragua Off the Beaten Track'

options based on all year low season mid season high season peak season other season
Guide Price 2 people sharing £1,960
Prices are per person and include:
  • all transport in Costa Rica & Nicaragua
  • all accommodation
  • meals as indicated: B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner
Prices do not include:
  • international flights
  • airport and departure taxes
  • travel insurance
  • items of a personal nature such as drinks, tips, laundry, etc
  • any optional excursions you may buy locally

Customer reviews for 'Costa Rica & Nicaragua Off the Beaten Track'

Recent reviews are shown here from holidays based on this initial design. In each case the itinerary may have been modified (a little or a lot) to suit the individual traveller.

Average customer rating 90%


El Castillo, Guide and enthusiasm


Seasonal information for 'Costa Rica & Nicaragua Off the Beaten Track'

Along this route in January

Day Location Max °C Monthly rainfall
1 Cano Negro 31°C rainfall 128mm
2 Cano Negro 31°C rainfall 128mm
3 Solentiname 30°C rainfall 88mm
4 Solentiname 30°C rainfall 88mm
5 El Castillo 30°C rainfall 183mm
6 Sabalos 30°C rainfall 183mm
7 Managua 32°C rainfall 6mm

Typical weather for January


Max °C figures are the average daily maximum temperatures for the month. Rainfall is the average precipitation for the month.

Hotels for 'Costa Rica & Nicaragua Off the Beaten Track'

Days 1 - 2

Caño Negro Natural Lodge

Cano Negro

Average rating 4.7 (3 ratings)

Situated near Los Chiles, 3hrs north of Arenal close to the border with Nicaragua this isolated lodge has 42 rooms.

Popular with fishermen Cano Negro has world-Class Tarpon, Snook, Rainbow bass, Catfish and Garfish.  

Optional excursions available locally at extra cost  include sport fishing (the lodge has 16ft boats with motors and fishing equipment).


Caño Negro Natural Lodge
Days 3 - 4

Cabanas Paraiso

San Fernando Island

Cabañas Paraiso is a delightful family run lodge located on San Fernando Island in the Solentiname Archipelago (30mins by speed boat across Lake Nicaragua from San Carlos town).

The lodge has 8 rooms, each with private bathrooms & fans. Dona Elena is the friendly owner. Here guests wake to bird song and a stunning view of the Solentiname archipelago and a distant Ometepe Island from the hilltop position. This view is also enjoyed from the open-sided restaurant. Steps up from the waterfront.

Cabanas Paraiso
Day 5

Luna del Rio, El Castillo

El Castillo

Five rooms equipped with private bathrooms, fans, air conditioning units and hot water. Some with views of the river, others with views of the village and the Fortress.

Luna del Rio, El Castillo
Day 6

Hotel Sabalos

Hotel Sabalos is a small waterfront hotel overlooking the Rio San Juan located in the village of Boca de Sabalos.

Each of the 9 bedrooms are simply furnished and have private bathrooms with solar-powered hot and cold water.

The hotel has a spacious, wide waterfront verandah with deckchairs and hammocks where you can sit and watch the world go by.

The restaurant serves local cuisine and specialises in fresh fish and crayfish.

A variety tours are possible such as horse-riding, river tour by canoe, a visit to the Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve, a visit to El Castillo, and a cocoa plantation tour.

Hotel Sabalos