Retrace the old pirate routes on this kayaking adventure in Nicaragua. Your journey will start in the 500-year-old Spanish colonial city of Granada. You will then fly to San Carlos and paddle the San Juan River from Sabalos to San Juan de Nicaragua. See exotic fauna such as the rainbow-billed toucan, visit the fort at El Castillo built to fend off pirates, and camp on the banks of the San Jan River. Finish your trip with a free day in Nicaragua's exciting capital, Managua.


  • Explore the Spanish colonial city of Granada
  • Visit the San Pablo Fort, built in the 18th century to protect against pirates
  • Kayak the pirate routes down the San Juan River 
  • See amazing flora and fauna in the Bartola Nature Reserve 
  • Discover Managua, Nicaragua's exciting capital

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in the Spanish colonial city of Granada Granada
Day 2 Explore Granada & the islands of Las Isletas Granada
Day 3 Travel to San Carlos and Sabalos Sabalos
Day 4 Kayak to Bartola Nature Reserve Bartola
Day 5 Kayak to Boca San Carlos Campsite
Day 6 Kayak to Sarapiquí Campsite
Day 7 Kayak to El Jobo  Campsite
Day 8 Kayak to Greytown (San Juan de Nicaragua) Greytown
Day 9 Free Day   Greytown
Day 10 Explore Managua  Managua
Day 11 Depart Managua   

Detailed Highlights

Day 1: Arrive in the Spanish Colonial City of Granada

Cathedral of Granada, Nicaragua
Cathedral of Granada, Nicaragua

Arrive in Managua, from where you will be transferred about 30 miles away to Granada, one of Central America's most beautiful cities. Take a stroll through the city center or stop at one of the bars along the boulevard from the central park to the shores of Lake Nicaragua

Day 2: Explore Granada & the Islands of Las Isletas

La Merced Church, Granada
La Merced Church, Granada

Founded in 1524, Granada is believed to be the second oldest city established by the Spanish in mainland Latin America. Today you will take a guided tour of this city, on foot and in a horse-drawn carriage, exploring key sites such as the San Francisco ConventXalteva Church, and Merced Church. Climb the bell tower at Merced and see spectacular views of Lake Nicaragua and Mombacho Volcano.  In the afternoon, take a boat tour of Las Isletas, a group of 360 forest-covered islands formed by a volcanic eruption 20,000 years ago. Visit the  18th-century San Pablo Fort, built to protect Granada against English pirates. 

Day 3: Travel to San Carlos and Sabalos

Sabalos Lodge overlooking San Juan river
Sabalos Lodge on the San Juan River

Today you will be transferred to Managua Airport for your flight to San Carlos, from where you will take a 1.5-hour boat trip to Sabalos. Sabalos is located halfway between San Carlos and El Castillo and is the last town along the San Juan River accessible by road. 

Day 4: Kayak to Bartola Nature Reserve

Defensive fort of El Castillo on the San Juan River
Fortified castle at El Castillo on the San Juan River

Start your kayaking adventure with a 6-hour paddle to Bartola. Stop at the charming town of El Castillo, where you can see a fortified castle built to protect Granada against pirates. Tonight you will stay at a lodge inside the Bartola Nature Reserve, which borders the Indio Maiz Reserve. These two reserves are separated by the Bartola River, which has amazing flora and fauna on both sides of the river. 

Kayaking Time: 6 hours 

Day 5: Kayak to Boca San Carlos 

An egret perched on a log in the San Juan River
An egret perched on a log in the San Juan River

Today you will continue downriver to Boca San Carlos. Immerse yourself in the Indio Maíz Reserve, kayaking to the site where the San Carlos River joins the San Juan River. You will tackle some rapids today. See rainforest on the Nicaraguan side and some remains of a steamboat from the 19th century. You might also see crocodiles on the sandbanks! Overnight at a campsite. 

Kayaking Time: 8 hours 

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Day 6: Kayak to Sarapiquí 

Rainbow-billed toucan
Rainbow-billed Toucan

Today you will continue kayaking to Sarapiquí. The Sarapiquí River comes from the Turrialba Mountains in the center of Costa Rica. The area is full of history — in the 1850s, this is where William Walker hid when fleeing Granada after he had commandeered the presidency of Nicaragua. It also has dense tropical rainforest and is great for bird watching. See species such as the scarlet tanager, osprey, king vulture, belted kingfisher and rainbow-billed toucan.  Overnight at a campsite.

Kayaking Time: 8 hours 

Day 7: Kayak to El Jobo 

San Juan River
San Juan River

Today you will kayak to El Jobo, a small community founded by refugees who were relocated from Costa Rica to Rio San Juan during the civil war in Nicaragua. Today kayaking will take you to river islands and across the tropical rainforest. You will also visit the local rangers station for a chat with the locals. Overnight at a campsite. 

Kayaking Time: 6 hours

Day 8: Kayak to Greytown (San Juan de Nicaragua)

Rio Indio Eco-Lodge
Rio Indio Eco-Lodge

Today you kayak the last part of Rio San Juan to an upscale eco-lodge at Greytown near the Costa Rican border. Now reclaimed by the forest, Old Greytown was once a buzzing British Caribbean outpost and starting point for steamboats carrying tens of thousands of people up the Rio San Juan. Greytown, also known as San Juan de Nicaragua, was once the stomping grounds of European aristocrats. A visit to the Old Greytown Cemetery will reveal the exciting history of this special place. See mystic jungle rivers, pretty lagoons, and deserted Caribbean beaches where the jungle actually meets the beach.

Kayaking Time: 6 hours

Day 9: Explore Greytown and San Juan de Nicaragua

Rio Indio Eco-Lodge
Rio Indio Eco-Lodge

Today is a free day. Relax in the lodge or choose from several optional tours including to the Old Greytown Cemetery or the town of  San Juan de Nicaragua. Bird watching and fly fishing are some other the options. Or you can go for a night tour of the river and spot wildlife.

Day 10: Fly to Managua 

Tiscapa Lagoon in Managua
Tiscapa Lagoon in Managua

Today you will fly back to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua and home to almost two million inhabitants. Enjoy this vibrant city's theaters, restaurants, nightclubs, and cinemas. Experience an authentic Nicaraguan street market at Roberto Huembes market. Do a canopy tour of Tiscapa Lagoon (of volcanic origin) or visit the Montibelli Bird and Butterfly Reserve or Chocoyero National Reserve. If you like beaches, Pochomil and Montelimar are located only an hour away.

Day 11: Depart Managua 

Old Cathedral of Managua
Old Cathedral of Managua 

Today you will be transferred to Managua Airport where you will bid farewell to Nicaragua.


Map of Kayak the Pirate Routes in Nicaragua – 11 Days
Map of Kayak the Pirate Routes in Nicaragua – 11 Days