San Carlos

Travel Guide Central America Nicaragua San Carlos



San Carlos is a city in Rio San Juan department of Nicaragua. San Carlos itself might not be the most interesting or beautiful city in Nicaragua, but it serves as an important local transportation hub and the last place to stock up when heading into the more rural parts of the Rio San Juan Region. However, in the 2000s and 2010s, the town was awakened from its decades long slumber when the Malecón (lakefront) was redesigned, turning it into a nice place to catch the sunset or a local fiesta or just spend a lazy afternoon. With the construction of the new carretera to Managua (reducing the travel time for the 300 kilometres from just over 12 hours by bus to 6 hours) and the completion of a bridge across the Rio San Juan just out of town there is bound to be a lot of development in the next few years.



Sights and Activities

There are really only two sights in San Carlos - the malecon, and the fort just above the central park. The malecon can be seen in about 10 minutes, but you can definitely enjoy a lazy afternoon in sunny weather there and the sundowns are a sight to behold. The fort is interesting for those who read Spanish. If you don't, it's really only notable for its views of the lake and river.



Getting There

By Plane

There are twice weekly flights from Managua (~US$120 round trip). The new airports in Sun Juan del Norte and on Ometepe have scheduled flights to and from San Carlos as well.

By Bus

There are buses to and from Managua. The trip takes 6 hours and costs C$152. All buses to Managua stop in Juigalpa but some also do the San Carlos Juigalpa trip on its own. Please note that the buses that say "Los Chiles" on the windshield do not go to Los Chiles Costa Rica but rather to a Nicaraguan town of the same name.

By Boat

As of 06-05-16 the ferry is not running, officially because of low water levels in the lake. However, according to crew members, with the improvements to the highway, the ferry service was no longer economically viable. You can cross into Nicaragua from Costa Rica getting a boat in Los Chiles. (Leaves at 1:00pm in Los Chiles and costs 5,000 Colones, C$180 (córdobas) or US$9. Payable in either currency) You will arrive in San Carlos at around 3:00pm (not so many options left to leave San Carlos on the very same day. There are boats coming in from El Castillo and San Juan Del Norte. There are boat connections to Solentiname Islands and to the villages on the southern shore of the Lago de Nicaragua.



Getting Around

It's a small city - everything is in walking distance. A taxi is C$10 all around town (double rates at night). A local bus exists but is not useful for tourists. If you arrive at the airport, taxis should be waiting for you to take you and your luggage into town.




Around the Malecon there are several little restaurants where you can get good food from 7 in the morning. La Fortaleza, the last of the restaurants on the raised platform right in front of the Malecon's central square, comes highly recommended with friendly staff and excellent prices. Quick service and super close to the pier if you have limited time. They are happy to accommodate vegetarians.

At 11:00am the more fancy restaurants open but don't expect too much. Fish is the thing to eat in San Carlos (if you are not vegetarian).

Above La Fortaleza, with an entrance on the nearest side-street, is Restaurant Kaoma. Nicely decorated with a great view of the water, this is the place to sit and spend an evening with a few drinks. The menu is in English and Spanish, but expect to pay C$150-300 for an entree.

Attached to Hotel Cabinas Leyko is Restaurant Don Leo. They also have a Spanish&English menu, but more reasonably priced than Kaoma (though without the atmosphere) and with excellent WiFi.




San Carlos has two places where the young locals go to party drink and dance. both close to the malecon El Kaoma has an air conditioned (read: freezing cold) disco downstairs that really gets going on Karaoke nights (usually Thursday). Lots of fun to be had, just don't expect to know the songs.

La Champa is a place where you can go to dance. It is usually packed on Saturday nights but half empty on Friday evenings. It closes at 2:00am but you can take out a beer.

As San Carlos is a port town, some of the bars can have a bit of an unsavory feeling to them, but the two discos mentioned above are safe.




There are several budget Hospedajes all around the Malecon and in the streets leading up the hill, but San Carlos is only a place to stay if you arrive late at night with no forward-transit options.

  • Hotel Cabinas Leyko, Casa Cural, 2 cuadras al Oeste, ☎ +505 2583 0354, e-mail: nice option with parking, friendly staff, and free water - though not particularly cheap by Nicaraguan standards. Clean rooms with complimentary soap and shampoo. Rates include breakfast. They can also arrange tours throughout the area. double w/o bath US$20 triple w bath $36.
  • Hotel Gran Lago, De Caruna, 25 metros al Sur. San Carlos, ☎ +505 2583 0075, e-mail: The location of this hotel right at the Malecon is a blessing and a curse at once. On the one hand almost everything is in close walking distance, on the other hand during the frequent events at the Malecon it will get loud. Single US$35 double $40 triple US$45.
  • Hostal Santa Lucía, Sector 3, Frente a Quinta Santa Rosa, ☎ +505 2583 0385. Single $10, Double $15, Triple $20



Keep Connected


Internet cafes can be found in most larger cities and popular areas, but even in smaller towns you will usually be able to connect somewhere.
Wifi is generally free at most hotels, with the notable exception of larger chain hotels, which generally charge between US$3 and US$8 per day.


See also International Telephone Calls

The international phone code of Nicaragua is 505. The general emergency number is 911, though you can contact police (118), fire (115) and ambulance (128) separately if you want.

Nicaragua's cell phone system utilizes GSM 1900 technology. So, if you have a GSM phone that supports the 1900 band you can either use your phone as is at international rates or if your cell phone is unlocked , you can purchase a SIM card for your phone and you will have a local cell number and be charged local cell rates. Both Claro and Movistar provide cell phone service in the country. Claro is run by the old national phone company (ENITEL) that has now been privatized.

Another option is to buy a cell phone locally. Disposable cell phones are quite inexpensive, usually costing about US$20.

You can also purchase local prepaid phone cards that can be used at pay phone across the country. The different pay phone systems each have their own phone cards, so pay attention to which type you purchase.


Correos de Nicaragua provides postal services. It's fairly cheap but not extremely reliable or fast. Post offices are generally open Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 6:00 pm and Saturday from 8:00am to 1:00pm. Airmail postage for a standaard letter or postcard from Nicaragua to North America is US0.60 and US$1 to Europe. Mail takes on average between 7 and 10 days to get to the U.S. and Europe. Though it's fine for sending a postcard, you'd better use companies like TNT, DHL, UPS or FedEx to send parcels internationally.


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This is version 2. Last edited at 10:08 on Feb 9, 18 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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