Lake Cocibolca, also known by many other names like Lake Nicaragua, Lake Granada, Sweet Sea, Great Lake, is the widest lake in Central America and among the biggest lakes in the world. Measuring at 8,200 square kilometers, Cocibolca is supposedly home to the only freshwater sharks that were found going back and forth the Caribbean Sea using the rapids connecting to San Juan River.
Ometepe island : the Islet of two hills
Inside the biggest lake of Central America, Lake Cocibolca, lies Ometepe Island among a few other smaller ones. Created by two active volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, Ometepe is home to about 37,000 ometepiños (inhabitants of Ometepe) who make their living mostly on farming and fishing. The volcanoes are the ones to give the island its name. Taken from Aztec language, Ome (means two) and Tepelth (means hills), Ometepe can't resist its faith to be renowned for its gorgeous landscapes and reserve.
Concepción is very often clouded. But when not, it has such an amazing view from the top. Also as you pass through the forests when ascending Conception, you will get to meet the howler monkeys and vast varieties of birds and insects on the way.
Aside from the abundant activities one can do on Ometepe Island (be it hiking, water sports or horse riding) it is also interesting to learn about the rich local myths. All these features combined will definitely make your trip much more memorable and favorable.
Solentiname Islands : Artists' Haven
Located at the southern end of Lake Cocibolca, The Solentiname Islands are islets that encompass 4 large islands and 32 small rocky islands home to a considerable number of aquatic birds, monkeys and some alligators. Declared as a National Monument, Solentiname Islands are featured as one of the 78 protected areas in Nicaragua.
The four larger islands are namely Mancarroncito, Mancarron, San Fernando and La Venada with Mancarron as the biggest one. The priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal arrived in Mancarron in 1966 and he started building a society for artists in the early 70's. The community has stayed until today and has attracted artists worldwide to come and visit the archipelago for some insight exchange or merely for getting inspirations for their own works. A small art gallery features the artworks of the local craftsmen and painters, whose muse came from mostly the beauty and the colorfulness of the islands. Local faunas and vegetation species are commonly shared ideas for these artists.
Together with the art society, the rest population of Solentiname makes their living on these tropical islands as fishermen and farmers. With plenty of fish in the sea and such fertile land, all these occupations work mutually to preserve the islands as they are now. No wonder Solentiname Islands has been considered ideal for ecotourism in the past recent years. Some more infrastructure and modern facilities have yet to be made, but the potential is high to be one of the most prominent places in Nicaragua to visit and explore.
Río San Juan : Reserves after Reserves
Río San Juan, or San Juan River, is a river connecting Lake Cocibolca with Caribbean Sea. Most of the areas that the river passes through are protected natural reserves; so a boat journey along this important river is unquestionably a must-do thing.
The river starts its flow from Lake Cocibolca's southeastern end by San Carlos city and ends after 199 km at Caribbean Ocean by Greytown. Your boat trip should begin from San Carlos, a small friendly city which is often considered as a haven for fishermen. A lot of fresh water fish meals can be enjoyed in most restaurants in San Carlos and if you are into fishing, sport fishing is great to do here.
45 kilometers from San Carlos is Los Guatuzos natural reserve. It has an ecological center and an impressive wildlife biodiversity as well as a butterfly garden, a turtle farm and a Cayman farm. Then another natural reserve called Esperanza Verde Reserve lies in the east of Los Guatuzos between San Juan River and Rio Frio. It houses a wide range of bird species like Chestnut Toucans, Great Egrets, etc. as well as a group of nutria (water dog).
2 hours on a public boat from San Carlos, you will arrive at Boca de Sabalos where San Juan River is connected to Sabalos River. A village called Sabalos is located by this river where it offers some other natural reserves and some hot water springs.
A further boat ride will take you to El Castillo, a village where the ancient Spanish fortress was built to block pirates and to protect the Spanish territory. It saw bloody clashes in the past but at present it serves as a historical museum and a viewpoint for visitors to enjoy the fabulous scenery of the river.
Another six kilometers from El Castillo, you will find the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, which is the habitat for tropical animals like jaguars, turtles and crocodiles. Other bright-colored mammals can also be found in this green boat trip, though spotting them may need quite an exercise.
The river trip ends at San Juan del Norte and Greytown where the river meets the Caribbean Sea. The entire ecological journey will surely make the boat trip along San Juan River the most memorable one.