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Top Nicaragua

Islas Solentiname

Altitude: 31 – 257m. Population 1,000. (Tel code: none)


With no roads, and limited electricity and running water, the 36 ancient volcanic islands of the Archipiélago Solentiname deliver sheer isolation and tranquility. The islands are covered with tropical rainforests and agricultural meadows, and are home to a vast variety of vibrantly colored bird species. Alongside the birds live only 1,000 residents, who make up the artisan community that the archipelago is famous for.

Solentiname, whose name derives from “Celentinametl”, or “place of many guests” in Nahuatl, is an enchanted archipelago, in the south-east of Lake Nicaragua. Out of the 36 islands, 17 are inhabited – mainly the four larger ones. Though “inhabited” may be an overstatement, since all are covered in lush, tropical vegetation, with just a few houses sprinkled on the shore. A mere 1,000 people (300 on the largest, Mancarron) live on these quiet islets, without cars or roads, and with electricity kicking in barely a couple of hours a day.

No wonder then that such a simple, rural corner of Nicaragua was chosen as the setting for a spiritual and artistic experiment in the 1960s. Back then, Father Ernesto Cardenal, a Nicaraguan priest, poet and strong proponent of Liberation Theology, settled in the islands and created a religious community. (see box). It is also under his guidance that a naïve art movement was born, and the colorful crafts that flourished thereafter are a main source of income for the archipelago’s inhabitants. It is why the Solentiname islands are sometimes referred to as the “islas del arte”.

The islands are part of a zone of tropical rainforest, and form an extremely rich ecosystem, making it a paradise for birdwatchers and wildlife lovers. Over 100 species of birds are present, from waterfowl like majestic ibises, roseate spoonbills and common cormorants to exotic tropical birds and golden hummingbirds. Otters, caimans, red-eared slider turtles, green iguanas, as well as (fortunately rare) coral snakes can be spotted. The waters surrounding the islands are full of fish, if you want to spend a while dangling a line hoping to catch dinner. But the rare freshwater sharks for which the lake had become famous have been hunted to near extinction.

Tours to the nearby Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge may also be organized from Solentiname – at a cost, though. The earlier islanders also left some curious petroglyphs which can be visited on a day or half-day tour.

All in all, these isolated islands are a beautiful place for nature lovers and contemplative minds to relax in a hammock, to walk down the paved footpaths watching birds, to fish, to watch artisans carving balsa wood, and maybe get the older islanders to recount the days when the Padre – “Ernesto” – had them discussing the gospel and selling their first paintings. Enough tourism comes this way that a basic infrastructure exists, from simple hospedajes to nice cabins, but there are neither real restaurants nor bars nor any other forms of urban entertainment; those who like life in the fast lane are better off visiting Solentiname as a day tour from San Carlos.


Other places nearby Islas Solentiname: Refugio Bartola, San Juan De Nicaragua, El Castillo, San Carlos, San Miguelito and Boca De Sábalos.

By Andrea Davoust
After more than two years of working and living out of a suitcase in Eastern Europe and in various improbable African countries that no-one has ever...
08 Dec 2009

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