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El Castillo


El Castillo is an attractive Riverside town, whose fort, the last of the fortifications built by the Spanish to ward off pirates’ attacks, was the siege of epic battles. Today roughly 3,700 people live there. It is the highlight of any trip down the Río San Juan. Its painted wooden houses line the shore – in fact many, on stilts, are actually built over the water itself. Above them looms the dark mass of the Fortaleza de la Inmaculada Concepción.

Early History

This fort, which dates back to 1675, is the only remainder of a series of a dozen fortifications built by the Spanish crown in the late 17th century to repeal pirate attacks. British privateers, buccaneers and their Miskito allies regularly sailed up the Río San Juan to sack Granada and Leon until the end of the 18th century. El Castillo once again became a key point on the river during the days of the “Ruta del Transito”, which started in 1848 with the California Gold Rush.

Plans for a Canal

The thousands of adventurers who traveled up the Río San Juan on their way to California had to disembark in El Castillo, where the roaring rapids (known then as “raudales del Diablo”) hindered passage. Passengers and freight were offloaded from the steamships and then ferried 300 meters up by railroad, before all getting on board again. As dreams for an inter-ocean canal waxed and waned, so did the fortunes of El Castillo, and when Panama was eventually chosen for the said canal in 1903, the village stopped growing.

Modern El Catillo

It is now a quiet town where people mostly work as farm labor, often crossing into Costa Rica, or commute to the nearby sawmills. Many hopes are pined on tourism, and many nice hotels and decent restaurants have opened, like Soda and Hotel Vanessa, the Albergue El Castillo or Hotel Victoria. Every other shop in town also seems to offer kayak tours and boat trips to the nearby Refugio Bartola, the only part of the huge Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve which can be visited.



Other places nearby El Castillo: San Juan De Nicaragua, Refugio Bartola, San Carlos, San Miguelito, Islas Solentiname and Boca De Sábalos.

By Andrea Davoust
After more than two years of working and living out of a suitcase in Eastern Europe and in various improbable African countries that no-one has ever...
08 Dec 2009

Things to do in El Castillo

Fortaleza de la Inmaculada ConcepciĂłn

The Fort at El CastilloThe squat fortress which stands on the highest point of El Castillo was completed in 1675 as part of the Spaniards’ defenses against British-led attacks on Granada and Leon. ...
Historical Building
El Castillo, Nicaragua
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