Drifting Past 365 Isletas on Lake Nicaragua

Cruise around Lake Nicaragua – the final “to do” during our recent trip to Granada. Ever since I read that there are 365 small islands (“isletas”) in Lake Nicaragua that originated thousands of years ago when Mombacho blew its top, I knew that I had to see them for myself. My intrigue increased when I learned that many of the isletas are inhabited by locals and foreigners who’ve built their homes on them.

Our boat tour departed from a dock that’s adjacent to a restaurant. Jave and I were the only ones on the tour, so apart from our boat’s captain and our guide Carlos, we were the only ones on the tour.

We received instant reprieve from the unrelenting humidity as soon as our boat pulled out on the water. As we made our way through the mangroves and thick vegetation, we spotted locals wading in the murky waters washing their clothes and going about their daily routines.

We even spotted some of the locals’ scrap metal homes sitting on the rocky incline above the lake.

Carlos pointed out a huge boulder stuck in the branches of a nearby tree. Apparently, not all of the rocks that spewed from Mombacho were large enough to form isletas. Some simply got stuck in trees.

Soon enough, the vegetation began to thin out as we made our way out into the open waters of Lake Nicaragua – the 19th largest in the world and the 9th largest in the Americas.

A cow had made its way out into the shallow parts of the water to feed on the lake’s grasses. And a bird resembling a Great Egret stood on a volcanic rock nearby, looking quite graceful and poised.

Local fishermen tended to their nets, perhaps hoping that they’d catch some guapote – like the one Jave had for dinner the night before – to sell to local restaurants.

Seeing the local fishermen reminded me that there are fresh water bull sharks that live in Lake Nicaragua. Although they live closer to Ometepe – four hours by ferry from Granada – the thought crossed my mind that one can never be too cautious because who knows if and when the sharks will decide to venture into these local waters.

In the distance to the right, you can see the yellow Cathedral of Granada

In the distance to the right of center, you can see the yellow Cathedral of Granada

Soon enough, we started passing by some of the isletas that boast more ritzy homes. Carlos informed us that this is the home of the Pellas family.

Having its roots in Italy, the Pellas family is the richest family in Nicarauga. The family’s head, Carlos Pellas Chamorro, is the chairman and major shareholder of Grupo Pellas which owns more than 25 companies in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Central America. The Grupo Pellas companies span a wide range of industries including liquor production and sales, health, real estate, and tourism to name a few.

On a separate island near the Pellas’ home, we stopped at the San Pablo Fort which was built to protect Granada from pirates in the 18th century.

In the middle of the floor inside of the fort, there’s a sea turtle’s shell along with the jaws of a baby shark mounted on the wall. Apart from that, there’s not really much to see inside of the fort.

The views from the fort are clearly the draw and the reason why Carlos had us take a break there.

View of Lake Nicaragua from the back of the fort

View of Lake Nicaragua from the back of the fort

The view from the fort offered even clearer views of the Cathedral of Granada and Mombacho in the distance.

View of the Cathedral of Granada in the distance

View of the Cathedral of Granada in the distance

And we noticed even more pieces of Mombacho scattered around the fort’s isleta.

We spent awhile at the fort taking pictures, picking mangos off the ground to enjoy once back at our hotel, and picking Carlos’ brain about life in Nicaragua. Are people happy here? How much do people typically earn here in a day? Does he have any aspirations to leave Nicaragua? We love to probe locals with these types of questions whenever we travel.

After our inquisition, it was time to drift on. And the landscape got more and more stunning the further we drifted.

I couldn’t seem to take enough pictures of Mombacho and its looming cloud forest in the distance. And I couldn’t help but notice the birds sitting on the wire lines above – the same way they do back at home.

Eventually, we passed an isleta inhabited by howler monkeys. As cute as they are, Carlos explained that the monkeys are not our friends. According to Carlos, a foreign veterinarian who lives on one of the isletas brought the monkeys to this island.

Carlos went on to tell us about a couple of women who went kayaking around the isletas and made the mistake of getting their kayaks too close to the monkeys’ island. Unfortunately, the howlers jumped onto one of the women’s kayaks and brutally attacked her – biting her all over her body. Fortunately, she was rescued and routed to a nearby hospital for treatment. Lesson learned – the monkeys are not our friends. But they are really cute.

Even on our isletas tour, we managed to squeeze in a game of ‘That’s My House’. This one’s mine…

Some of the isletas are occupied by resorts, guest houses, and one is even occupied by a nightclub that’s exclusively for the rich Nicaraguan and foreign residents of the isletas.

As we headed back to the dock, I couldn’t help but notice all of the beautiful water lilies…and the kayakers. I hope they didn’t get too close to the monkeys’ island!

We booked our tour around Lake Nicaragua’s isletas through Tierra Tour and it cost us $20/person. Visit their website for details.



What’s your favorite lake?