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Reserva de vida silvestre Los Guatuzos - National Park - Nicaragua

The wildlife refuge of Los Guatuzos is a 457-square kilometers reserve covering pretty much the whole south-eastern shores of Lake Nicaragua, between San Carlos, Río Medio Questo and the mouth of Río Pizote, all the way to the border with Costa Rica. The tropical forest and wetlands – among the best-preserved wetlands in Nicaragua – are home to over 400 species of birds (toucans, hummingbirds, herons, roseate spoonbills…), myriads of butterflies, plenty of reptiles and amphibians, as well as mammals such as spider monkeys, sloths, armadillos and otters.

A variety of guided tours can be done from the Ecological Center situated at Papaturro, two hours from San Carlos by boat. Around the center are a butterfly farm (mariposario) where you can follow the creatures’ life cycle, a caiman nursery and a turtle nursery, where you can observe the little critters coming and going, as well as an orchid garden and heliconia garden. A 150-meter suspension bridge gives you a great view over the wetlands and their wildlife.

The guided walking tours are:

Sendero Las Guatuzas ($5/person, 30 minutes): to see the orchids, heliconias and caiman farm.

Paseo El Peresozo ($8/person, 1 hour): takes you through the butterfly farm, the orchid garden, to the caimanero and over the bridge.

The two tours can be combined for $11/person.

Then of course there are birdwatching tours, to observe resident and migratory species, from cormorants to ibises and kingfishers. The first covers 3 km by boat, 1 km on foot, and costs $25/person. The second one is a much longer outing on the lake, following the shore until Río Zapote and costs $138/group.

One of the most spectacular tours is the night tour (1.5 hour, $11/person). You will see caimans, or rather just their eyes shining at the surface of the water, and might spot owls, opossums and red-eyed frogs. Kayaks can also be rented for $12-20, and if you like to see humans in this area which after all is inhabited too, visit the coffee and cacao producers of the area.

The most common species is, unfortunately, the vicious mosquito, so make sure you wear long sleeves, long pants and douse yourself in repellent.

The Ecological Center offers accommodation in rooms with shared baths ($11/person) or private bathrooms ($13/person), as well as meals. There may be volunteering opportunities in projects involving reforestation, cacao and coffee cultivation, or animal care. Those interested can contact the Spanish association Amigos de la Tierra, which administers the center. The Managua office may be contacted by telephone at (505) 2270-3561, by E-mail at Nicaragua@tierra-org, URL – the small office in San Carlos, up the street from the bank, is not very helpful. For more information, the Centro Ecologico has its own website: and may be contacted via E-mail at info(at)

To get to Papaturro from San Carlos, there are public boats (2 hours, $4.50) running Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9 a.m., returning to San Carlos Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. You can also rent your own boat but it will cost you upwards of $200.



Reserva Esperanza Verde

Also within the Guatuzos reserve is the 4,000-hectares private finca Esperanza Verde, situated along the Río Frío. Since it is just 30 minutes from San Carlos by boat, it makes for a good day trip of wildlife exploration.

There are three different paths to explore, preferably after spraying yourself with liberal amounts of mosquito repellent:

Sendero Peter (40 minutes) follows the river, with stops to get to know the tropical trees and their uses, including avocado, coffee, cinnamon and zapote trees, for those who like to know where their food comes from. There is an iguana farm along the way, as well as a pen for several couples of guarda tijanas, which resemble large agoutis.

Sendero Mirador (20 minutes) leads to a deck from which to observe the wetlands and their fauna such as waterhens, ibises, and at night, caimans. Squirrels, butterflies and a wide variety of songbirds can be spotted on the way.

Sendero Coralillo (3 hours) goes through primary rainforest, where you can observe a denser type of vegetation, blooming orchids, monkeys, and if you are lucky maybe a tigrillo (ocelot) or its pawprints.

Day tours ($25/person, minimum 2 people) can be arranged from San Carlos; if you want to stay the night, the interpretation center offers rooms; a stay costs $40/person including transport and three meals. Enquire at Fundeverde, which operates out of Cabañas Leyko in San Carlos (1.5 blocks north of the church, Tel: (505) 2583-0127, E-mail: leykou7(at), URL: The Fundeverde foundation also welcomes researchers and volunteers interested in reforestation or animal conservation projects.

The reserve can be visited independently, in which case entry costs $1, plus $5/10 for the guided tour of the shorter/longer paths. You will need to take a Los Chiles-bound boat from Migración in San Carlos and ask to be dropped at Esperanza Verde. The boats leave daily at 10.30 a.m. and return to San Carlos around 4 p.m.



La Esquina del Lago

If you want the jungle experience with the comfort of a lodge, you can stay at La Esquina del Lago. This breezy lodge set on the lake, right across from San Carlos at the mouth of Río Frío, offers large wooden rooms with private bathrooms, for $30 (single) to $50 (double), or $80 as a package with three meals. From there, you can go on kayaking tours, outings into Los Guatuzos, and try your hand at tarpon fishing, since the French owner is a very serious fishing amateur and will provide tackles and expertise. Tel: (505) 8849-0600, E-mail: riosanjuan(at), URL: or

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