The Idiot’s Guide to a CR-Nicaragua Journey

*Since I wrote this in 2009, there is a large new immigration office in San Carlos, and other points of interest, etc. may have also changed, or may no longer be available.

I’ve been MIA from this blog for a few weeks, as my mom came for a visit. Her first weekend here coincided with our tri-monthly vacation to Nicaragua. I’ve described our first trip up to San Carlos, Nicaragua in a prior post, but I have had lots of folks asking for details, because they want to experience this fun adventure for themselves.

I am going to go into detail with directions, names and landmarks, which is necessary here in the “Land of No Addresses or Known Highway Numbers.” Contact Phillippe Tisseaux, the owner of La Esquina Del Lago, to arrange for your visit at: This is a comfortable and unique lodge built over the water overlooking Lake Nicaragua, its’ nearby islands and the town of San Carlos. Each room has a double and twin bed, and private bath with shower (cool water.) Phillipe, or his staff will set you up to fish on the property, allow you to take out one of their many kayaks, or take you on guided tours and fishing trips. This is a very affordable full service hotel-jungle/lake lodge. Listen to howler monkeys, the burping sounds of the cormorants, and numerous species of bird that call this magical place their home! For breakfast, you can eat your fill of eggs, gallo pinto, fresh fruit and bread, and coffee. They can make lunches for you also, and let them know what you are in the mood for for dinner, we have had some amazing meals with fresh fish and unique river shrimp, similar to langostinos. Phillipe is a world famous fisherman, so try to go out fishing with this master, for the time of your life! *Website link below.

We try to leave Grecia around 8am and head north through Sarchi, home of the largest oxcart in the world. Look for it in in the park in front of the church:


Stop in Zarcero, where a spectacular garden full of topiaries can be found in front of the town church:

Ciudad Quesada(otherwise known as San Carlos.)

Near the Muelle area look for a small restaurant on a tiny river with the name of “____?____ Iguana.” The road bends here and you cross a small bridge. Just before the bridge, across from the restaurant, you will see SEVERAL iguanas of varying sizes sunning themselves.

The road, Highway 35, up to Los Chiles is probably the best road in the country! You become very appreciative of a good stretch of road here. This beauty is straight and smooth with broad shoulders. I’m guessing the agricultural interests in the area, pineapples, sugarcane, and oranges, have influenced the construction and maintenance of Highway 35. You will pass the road leading to Laguna Cano Negro and then once you see the Los Chiles sign go up to a nondescript corner with a ferreteria:

Then head down that road past the park until you the road turns to the right. On your left is the Immigration office:

You need to fill out a departure form and have your passport stamped in this office, but we recommend getting your car parked securely first. Across from the Immigration office, is a small store that is run by a woman named Domingo Placio:

She will direct you to the fenced-in property, kitty corner to the store, where you can park your car. You pay when you return. The ferry is scheduled to leave at 12:30pm, give or take an hour, and there will be a man or woman with a clipboard near the Immigration office, who you will sign you up for the water taxi/boat up the Rio Frio. You will pay the fare of 5,000 colones ($10.00)once the taxi takes off. You will now have time to kill, and we hang out at the Heliconia Restaurant down the block:

The food is fair, the drinks are cold, and if the taxi is ready to leave and you are not on the boat, they will come look for you here. Before you walk to the dock, you need to stop at the police office along the way and pay 500 colones ($1.00) per person to get on the boat. You will need to pay this fee again when you return.

The water taxi usually looks like this:

…but you may get one like this:

The passengers tend to take a ton of cargo with them heading to San Carlos, as it is an isolated location with very limited availability of goods. One of the many times we took this trip, our tiny boat was so loaded, everyone had to have their feet up on the huge pile of cargo lining the center isle, although this is not typical:

Now, sit back and enjoy the hour, or so journey up the river! Look for howler monkeys in the tree tops, turtles sunning themselves on logs, statuesque white egrets, and maybe a small crocodile along the shore. You will stop at the Nicaraguan army checkpoint, where they will present the passenger list to one of the soldiers. This is no big deal, but it is not a time to snap photos. You will be on your way momentarily. A stop like this is typical for a Central American border crossing, and is more ceremonial than serious. The boat will take you to the sleepy town of San Carlos, Nicaragua, and let you off right on the dock of the Immigration office. Hint, if you set toward the front of the boat this process will go much faster. As soon as you disembark, go line up at the windows to the left. This is where you will present your passport, pay 4,000 colones($8.00,)and get your entry stamp. You will have passed the La Esquina Del Lago lodge, on your left just before you entered the confluence of Lake Nicaragua/Rio Frio/San Juan rivers. Someone from the hotel will meet you at the Immigration office, and will take you by boat over to the hotel:

Phillipe, or his staff will greet you with cold fresh squeezed juice and welcoming smiles. We have only experienced a few tiny mosquitoes at dusk, but otherwise they are happily absent. There are hammocks, hammock chairs, and large rattan chairs where you can while away the time.

Our kids and their friends from San Carlos spend a lot of time in the water. The staff is also happy to take you back and forth into San Carlos, where Phillipe and his partner, Petrona have a little restaurant and art gallery, El Gueguense, in the center of town.

There is not much else in San Carlos yet, but there are hopes that more tourists will be arriving once the new marina opens. It turns out that Mark Twain visited and wrote about this area. Find out more on the lodge’s website.

Phillippe with his guitar

Sunset over Lake Nicaragua

The water taxi back to Los Chiles leaves at 10:30am daily, except for Sundays when it leaves about noon. The return fare is 4,000($8.00)and if you can sit near the front, or at least the left side, you can hope off the boat in Los Chiles first. You then will be asked to go stand in line in a small fenced in area where they may, or may not check your bags before they let you head off to the police office to pay the 500 colones, then hustle back up to the immigration office to wrap that up quickly. It’s warm in these parts, so bring a fan to make standing in any line more bearable.

The bottom line is that this is an easy border crossing, that is also inexpensive and relaxing. it is about three hours, with stops, from Grecia to Los Chiles. We like to stop at a restaurant called La Hacienda, just as you begin to drive up out of the valley. Great food, great views, and service.

%d bloggers like this: