Over 20,000 years ago Volcan Mombacho erupted forming over 365 islands in Lake Nicaragua on the southeastern edge of Granada. “There’s an island for each day of the year”, explains Alejandro, my boat captain. Alejandro grew up on the islands back before they attracted foreign tourists. He revisits his childhood to explain what the community used to be like. “My school was on one of the islands and I got there each day by rowing a boat.”
Still to this day, there’s an entire community of subsistence farmers and fisherman that live on the lake. On a boat cruise through Lake Nicaragua (also known as lake Cocibolca), you’ll see men wading in the water as they cast their fishing nets hopefully, while nearby women hand wash their clothes on basins formed of concrete.
These days Alejandro supports his wife and 2 young children by giving boat tours of his home community to visiting tourists. Nicaragua’s real estate boom of the last decade has resulted in an emerging island real estate industry. For sale signs dot vacant islands that have not yet been built upon and private mansions attract attention from the passengers on the boats passing by.
The first private island we pass is owned by the undisputed wealthiest family in Nicaragua- the Pellas family. If you have drank Flor de Caña rum or rented a car from Casa Pellas, you’ve supported their family owned business. They don’t live here year round of course. I’m told it’s just a vacation home.
Continue on through the water passageways and you’ll pass a creatively designed white house (pictured above) that stretches across 2 separate islands. It’s hard to imagine how they constructed it. Even more impressive is the owner’s family history; Violetta Chamorro was the first, and still to date the only, female president of Nicaragua credited with ending the Contra War. The Chamorro family still owns and runs the historically controversial La Prensa newspaper, known for promoting conservative anti-Sandinista principles.
And finally we arrive at the destination of every boat tour – “Monkey Island”. Named for the 3 spider monkeys that live on the island; Lucy, Poncho and Ponchito. Many boat boat captains and water tour guides will encourage you to buy cashews to feed the monkeys, but due the rising number of visitors the monkeys have become dangerously overweight so we discourage folks from feeding them. They are entertainment enough to simply watch and photograph.
If you have a good guide, like Alejandro, he’ll also point out the huge volcanic rock sitting high up in the branches of a tree, the hard to spot turtles sun bathing on the rocks, the gorgeous Ceiba tree which also happens to be the national tree of Guatemala, the fruit bats hanging from the bottom of the boat (don’t worry, they’re not dangerous), the local cemetery, and huge hanging bird nests from the Montezuma Oropendola. And if you get really lucky, your guide will pick you a tropical Poponjoche flower.
Fun Fact: Lake Nicaragua is one of the only lakes with fresh water bull sharks. Although, I’ve never seen one, I have heard from many reliable local sources that they do exist.
To book a boat ride you can simply take a taxi to the “Cabana Amarilla” located next to the round about at the end of Granada’s Malecon. When you approach the lancha (dock), several boat captains will try to seduce you. The boat trip is a relatively calm ride. Unless you’re super sensitive, you probably won’t get motion sickness. The only ripples in the water come from passing pangas (Nicaraguan fishing boats).