Atlantic Slope

Difficult to reach and largely unexplored by ornithologists, Nicaragua's Atlantic slope is home to some of the largest remaining tracts of lowland forest in Central America.  The logistical challenges of reaching this sparsely populated region are compensated by its bounty of tropical bird species and potential for new discoveries, with dozens of species of parrots, hummingbirds, antbirds and flycatchers hardly known from elsewhere in Nicaragua.  The crown jewels in terms of avian diversity are the nearly inaccessible Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, located along the Rio Coco in the north, and the more easily visited Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve on the Rio San Juan in the south.

Refugio Bartola & Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve

Perhaps the single most spectacular birding destination in Nicaragua, Refugio Bartola is ideally situated at the confluence of the Bartola and San Juan rivers.  It lies adjacent to the enormous and relatively well-protected Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve, home to the largest remaining tract of Atlantic lowland rainforest in Central America.  The Refugio itself boasts several miles of well-maintained and marked trails through a variety of forest types.  Excursions to the Indio-Maiz reserve, up the Rio Bartola, and to other nearby birding destinations such as Aguas Frescas and the Rio Sarnoso are easily arranged through the Refugio's owner, Sandra Castrillo, who also serves as hostess, master logician, and manager of a kitchen that turns out surprisingly good fare for the eco-lodge's guests.  Sandra's son, Carlos Tablada, manages reservations from an office in Managua.  You can reach him and make reservations by email at, or by phone at tel. +505 2249-9296 or +505 8681-9541.

Olive-crowned Yellowthroat
Refugio Bartola's checklist currently stands at nearly 350 species -- almost half of all the bird species recorded in Nicaragua.  During an eight-day visit in March 2011, which included excursions into the Indio-Maiz reserve, Rob Batchelder and Klemens Steiof recorded nearly 200 species, including several that were previously "unconfirmed" on Refugio Bartola's checklist, and two which were entirely new to the list.  Spectacular rarities like Great Green Macaw and King Vulture are seen almost daily above the Rio San Juan directly in front of the Refugio.  The gardens around the cabins host a variety of hummingbirds, tanagers, honeycreepers, tyrant flycatchers and orioles, while the forest trails are home to a dazzling variety of motmots, trogons, antbirds and other species typical of Mesoamerican lowland rainforests.

Notable Species:
Great Curassow
Agami Heron
Boat-billed Heron
King Vulture
Swallow-tailed Kite
Bat Falcon
White-throated Crake
Short-billed Pigeon
Blue Ground-Dove
Great Green Macaw
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Olive-throated Parakeet
White-crowned Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Mealy Parrot
Ocellated Poorwill
Gray-rumped Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
White-necked Jacobin
Violet-headed Hummingbird
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer
Black-throated Trogon
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Rufous Motmot
Broad-billed Motmot
American Pygmy Kingfisher
Pied Puffbird
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Western Slaty-Antshrike
Streak-crowned Antvireo
White-flanked Antwren
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Spotted Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Ocellated Antbird
Bright-rumped Attila
Rufous Piha
Cinnamon Becard
Black-throated Wren
Bay Wren
"Canebreak" Wren (C.m. zeledoni)
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Mourning Warbler*
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat
Buff-rumped Warbler
Tawny-crested Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Shining Honeycreeper
Black-faced Grosbeak
Yellow-tailed Oriole
Scarlet-rumped Cacique

Directions: Refugio Bartola and the Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve are located on the Rio San Juan, about 30 minutes by boat downriver from the small Nicaraguan tourist town of El Castillo.  From Managua, travel to the regional capital of San Carlos by road (5-6 hours) or by air (45 minutes on La Costeña, $115 r/t).  From the municipal dock on the riverfront, take one of the public boats ("lanchas") downriver to El Castillo, where Sandra will arrange to pick you up and bring you the rest of the way down the river to Refugio Bartola.

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Finca Afortunada

Finca Afortunada is a 78-acre (31 ha) nature preserve located two kilometers from the town of El Castillo along the Rio San Juan.  Since acquiring the former cattle ranch in 2005, owners Lidia and Miguel have undertaken a reforestation effort that has included the planting of 13,000 hardwood trees and another 3,000 cacao trees, which has considerably improved the natural environment and attracted a growing number of animal and bird species.  Finca Afortunada is located within the protected area known as "Monumento Histórico de la Fortaleza Inmaculada Concepción," which in turn forms part of the much larger Rio San Juan Biosphere Reserve.

In 2014, Miguel and Lidia opened Finca Afortunada to visitors.  They are particularly interested in promoting birding-related tourism, and have created an eBird hotspot for the reserve that allows visitors to add their sightings to the reserve's growing bird checklist (which already includes more than 100 species):

Finca Afortunada is an ideal starting point for a visit to the Rio San Juan region.  The reserve offers food, camping, and advice and assistance for planning excursions to El Castillo and beyond.  Finca Afortunada can also organize and host training seminars and other events.

More information is available by email at, or via telephone at (+505) 77701522 (Movistar).  You can also visit the reserve's Facebook page at "Finca Reserva Afortunada"

Click here for the full list of birds recorded at Finca Afortunada.

Green Ibis

Coming Soon... 
  • Bosawas Biosphere Reserve
  • Waspam-Bilwi
  • Greenfields
  • Solentiname
  • Los Guatuzos