At the southeasternmost end of Lake Nicaragua, where lazy currents split to escape the lake and form the Río San Juan and the Río Frío, sits La Esquina del Lago Jungle River Lodge, a rustic eco-getaway and sportfishing refuge.
When Mark Twain passed this way in 1866, he called the area “paradise itself, the imperial realm of beauty.” Today, the river otters, caimans and brightly plumed birds that flit around the place won’t tell you any different.
La Esquina del Lago owner Philippe Tisseaux started developing his corner of the lake in 2002, after discovering the schools of massive tarpon that travel through the lake and the Río San Juan, which forms the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Tisseaux had been running a sportfishing operation on the Río Frío, which feeds Costa Rica’s Caño Negro wetlands, but the fishing wasn’t steady – not compared with what he found in the lake, anyway.
“Initially, I developed the lodge only for sportfishing,” Tisseaux said while sitting on the lodge’s wooden dining deck. “Later, we began to have different kinds of clients. I had to develop more like a hotel; because we are in an area very near to protected places, we developed to be a 100 percent ecotourism destination.”
All the lodge’s water for drinking and bathing is filtered, purified rainwater collected and connected to various gravity-fed tanks. Solar arrays soak up sunshine from atop the thatched roofing of the lodge’s buildings to power the lights at night. The hotel’s eight guest rooms are small but clean and filled with comfy beds. Electric fans and mosquito nets are available upon request. The elevated platforms that keep the rooms perched above the reeds and water are made from local, legally procured wood.
“We have all type of guests – more than 200 international sportfishermen a year, Nicaraguans from Managua or other places who want to escape for a weekend, bird-watchers and, now, many travelers coming to know the Río San Juan,” Tisseaux said.
Fishermen at the lodge have a “98 or even 99 percent chance” of hooking a tarpon every day they head out to fish the area, Tisseaux said. Field & Stream Magazine has called the area “tarpon paradise.”
From the hammock on La Esquina del Lago’s second floor, an expansive vista of Lake Nicaragua opens up to the north. Fishermen putter by in wooden boats. River otters gnaw on fresh fish, and sounds from the river town of San Carlos, just a five-minute boat ride away, echo across the water.
Tisseaux has six boats outfitted specifically for fishing for tarpon, snook and guapote around the lake and rivers. He offers various multiday fishing packages as well as bird-watching tours – guides at the lodge say there are 77 different species in the area – and kayak tours on the lodge’s four two-seat touring kayaks. But the sleepy vibe at the lodge, with the sound of Lake Nicaragua lapping at the docks, is enough to make you wonder if that much movement is really worth breaking the idyllic calm.
Antonia Vanoli and Nacim Guennouni, a French couple midway through a two-month jaunt through Central America, stopped at La Esquina del Lago en route from travels in Costa Rica to the Solentiname Islands farther north in the lake.
“We were really lucky to meet Philippe,” Guennouni said. “He was very kind to us. He gave us lots of info and probably one of the best rooms we’ve had since we started traveling.”
Food at Tisseaux’s lodge is simple but tasty. Expect gallo pinto, the rice-and-beans breakfast dish of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, with eggs and coffee in the morning, and fresh fish or carne asada off the open-air grill accompanied by a simple salad and rice and beans for dinner. The staff is friendly and courteous, and Tisseaux, who speaks Spanish, French, English, Italian and a bit of German, is an engaging host. Good conversation on topics ranging from Nicaragua-Costa Rica relations to the exploits of world leaders to tales of enormous fish is de rigueur.
Beer and snacks and other things can be bought in San Carlos. La Esquina del Lago’s staff will give you a boat ride to the town upon request.n
La Esquina del Lago sits just off the southeastern shore of Lake Nicaragua. Access is by boat from the dock in Los Chiles, Costa Rica, or from San Carlos, Nicaragua, or by charter plane from Managua. Rates are $30 per night, per person, including breakfast. For more information, visit www.riosanjuan.info, email [email protected], or call (505) 8849-0600 in Nicaragua or (506) 8842-7673 in Costa Rica.