Return by boat to San Carlos and take a connecting public launch along Rio San Juan, a beautiful 170km-long river marking the border with Costa Rica and connecting Lake Nicaragua with the Caribbean Sea. Our destination is El Castillo, a friendly little town-on-stilts still only accessible by river with a feel of magical realism to it. Strategically important, the river has a hectic history of disputes and attacks from outside Nicaragua and within. However today we see it as a peaceful waterway flanked by small fields packed with cereals and fruit, giving way to thick tropical jungle.
Suddenly though we round a bend and there before us, high on a hill, is the remarkable fortress at El Castillo, built by the Spanish to repel pirates, although Horatio Nelson briefly held it after capture by stealth. For many it’s a surprise to find a little bit of British history in such an obscure location. The huge stone building absolutely dwarfs the little one-horse town: again, there are no roads, no cars, and plenty of power cuts. We will climb up to the fort, where there is a modest exhibition narrating its history and from its ramparts there are stunning, panoramic views over pristine rainforest. We will probably be the only people there.
For the infrequent visitors, low-key El Castillo only has a couple of hotels and a clutch of simple restaurants. We will stay at either the tiny and very friendly Luna del Rio or family-run Hotel Victoria: both sit on the river’s banks from where we can observe fishermen negotiating a series of gentle rapids.