- Where to Go
- The Best of Nicaragua
- Nicaragua’s Best Surfing
- Hiking Nicaragua’s Ring of Fire
- Nicaraguan Arts & Crafts
- Nicaragua’s Great Green North
- Sportfishing in Nicaragua
- Down the Río San Juan
- Nicaragua’s Celebrations & Fiestas
- Volunteering in Nicaragua
- Diving & Snorkeling in Nicaragua
- Managua’s Revolutionary Driving Tour
This 365-island archipelago formed when Volcán Mombacho erupted some 20,000 years ago, hurling its top half into the nearby lake in giant masses of rock, ash, and lava. Today, the islands are inhabited by a few hundred campesinos and an ever-increasing number of wealthy Nicaraguans and foreigners who continue to buy up the isletas and build garish vacation homes on them.
The natural beauty of the isletas is spectactular, and history buffs will enjoy the Fortín de San Pablo, a Spanish fort that was largely unsuccessful in preventing pirate attacks on Granada. The islanders themselves are interesting and friendly, maintaining a rural lifestyle unique in Nicaragua: Children paddle dugout canoes or rowboats to school from an early age, and their parents get along by fishing and farming—or by taking camera-toting tourists for a ride in their boats.
To visit Las Isletas, begin at either Cabañas Amarillo or Puerto Asese, both a seven-minute drive south of Granada at the end of the waterfront road (about $1 via taxi). Puerto Asese is more popular, while Cabañas Amarillo (fork left at the Asese sign) provides more shade and wider views—as well as kayak tours.
At both docks, you’ll find a restaurant, snack bars, and a plethora of boats vying for your business. Choose a lanchero (boatman) and don’t expect to haggle over prices, as gasoline is expensive. You’ll pay about $10 a person for a half-hour tour, more for longer or farther trips.
Beef up your visit by asking to visit an island where a family can serve you lunch—or pull up and “refuel” at one of the mellow island bars before continuing your tour. You can also take a dip in the lake water or have your lanchero bring you to the cemetery, old fort, or monkey island.
Kayaking Las Isletas
Touring the islands in a lancha is not recommended for those seeking a quiet wilderness experience—the loud motors spew smoke and scare the birds away and keep you far up out of the water. Much more enjoyable is the sound of birdsong over your kayak as you cut silently through the glassy water. NicarAgua Dulce (Marina Cocibolca, tel. 505/8802-0285 or 505/2552-6351, www.nicaragaguadulce.com) rents rowboats, kayaks, and silent electric boats—all three can carry up to five persons—by the half or full day.
Find tours in the Mombotour office in Granada. The introductory class, which includes all equipment, sea kayaks, transportation, and tour of the Fortín San Pablo, costs $34 a person and lasts three hours. Special bird-watching kayak excursions run $20–30; Nica guides are available and for the full petroleum-free experience, try the bike-kayak combo tour.
Las Isletas Hotels
The exclusive Jicaro Lodge (tel. 505/2552-6353, info [at] jicarolodge [dot] com, www.jicarolodge.com, $380 for a three-day package for two people) is a spa, yoga and wellness retreat that opened in 2010. They’ve built nine cabins, will pick you up at the airport, and feed you a classy, custom menu prepared on-site. Watch your step on the steep, unrailed stairs at night; travelers report the islet is tinier than you think, but appreciate the courteous staff.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition