Home to 370-something islands and the world's only freshwater sharks, this lake has proved to be
a vital and interesting part of Nicaraguan history, culture and economy. The city of Granada,
with its nearby 300 islands, is the principle port on the lake and many voyages embark from
there and San Jorge, near the city of Rivas. The San Juan River connects the lake to the
Carribean. Some still consider it as a possible alternative to the Panama Canal since there
is just an 18 kilometer wide strip separating it from the Pacific Ocean. It is believed that
it was originally part of a large Pacific bay but massive volcanic eruptions cut it off. The
sea animals which were trapped there adapted as the lake changed from salt to fresh and that is
how there got to be so many strange aquatic animals in the lake like freshwater swordfish,
guapote, and tarpon.
The lake is so huge (it is about 160 km long, has a maximum width of
about 72 km, and covers about 8030 sq km) that it took Spanish explorers 12 years to find a
channel to the ocean.
In the center of the lake lies the Ometepe island (itís name comes from the Natahuatl word
"ome-tepetl" which means "two peaks") which contains two volcanoes, Concepcion (active) and
Madera. The two volcanoes were originally separate islands, but lava flow merged them into
one island. The islands can be reached either by a tedious and culturally exciting three-hour
ride in a leaky banana boat or by a one hour ride in hydrofoils.
When you reach the islands,
be prepared to rent a taxi to take you around to see the stone statues and petroglyphs of the
Chorotega Indians which still remain in front of the church of Altagracia and on the Madera
Volcano slopes and were discovered in the 1850s by the American diplomat, George Squier. One
can also hike up the side of Concepcion Volcano or through the lush forests which are full of
wildlife to the crater lake in the Madera Volcano. According to native legends, the Chorotega
and Nagua tribes were moving south from Mexico looking for a place that their prophets said
was an island with two mountains rising from a freshwater sea. We suppose that Ometepe fit
this description and the Indian artifacts and tombs support the idea that they did settle
there. The local people live by fishing and harvesting bananas, citrus, sesame, wheat,
tobacco, and coffee. The two main towns, Moyogalpa and Altagracia, can provide basic food
and accommodations but the best plan would be to catch a ferry back to Granada. It can take
almost two hours to reach the popular Santo Domingo Beach, so one should take care to hire a
licensed guide to make sure that you catch your ride home on time and that you donít spend
hours traveling in circles looking for something on the brochure.
|Solentiname painting. Copyright: Ministry of Tourism|
To the south of Ometepe lies the Solentiname archipelago. Here, the remaining native painters
from the Solentiname school of painters formed by Father Ernesto Cardenal in 1967 create
brightly colored, primitive works which are very distinctive and culturally valued. When the
leftover poets and artists are not going about their usual craft, you will find them carving
equally distinctive wooden figurines or fishing. The archipelago is actually formed by 36
islands, the largest of which is Mancarron where the boats dock and where the minimal tourist
infrastructure is. It is from there that one must arrange to travel to the smaller islands
where the artisans are or to the archaeological zones and reserves. The most popular activity,
by far, is to trek through the unspoiled surrounding nature and witness the abundant wildlife.
Located in the country's lowlands in western Nicaragua, Lake Managua is the nation's second
largest lake. It covers an area of 1049 sq km and has a maximum width of 58 km. Managua
is the chief settlement on the shore. The lake supports economically significant fisheries
but the sewage from Managua is drained, unfiltered, into it. It is drained south into the
larger Lake Nicaragua by the Tipitapa River. Due to the weather conditions, the lake has
been drying for the last few years.
|Lake Managua Copyright: Thinkquest Team 17749|
The gigantic volcanic crater is about 4 miles wide and 650 feet deep. The water is clear
enough for diving and fishing is good. The water has a salty taste because of the minerals
in it, hence the name "apoyo." Up on the rim of the lagoon is a line of restaurants with
bamboo terraces overlooking the shining water. The nearby city of Catarina is home to coffee
plantations, ornamental plant growers, and bamboo products.
Rio San Juan
You wonít find very many people who would love to take you along this river, but diehard
explorers could find this jungle trek the experience of a lifetime. During the days of
Cornelius Vanderbilt and the California Gold Rush, Samual Clemens described this river with
the words, "And so we started down the broad and beautiful river in the gray down of the balmy
summer morning..." The 180 km river, which connects the Caribbean with Lake Nicaragua, has
among its attractions to history buffs the El Castillo fortress which was built in 1765 to
stop the attacks on Leon and Granada from pirates who would sail up the river, plunder the
cities, and then retreat the same way. It was this fortress that British Admiral Horatio
Nelson fought and eventually surrendered to.
|San Juan River fort. Copyright: Ministry of Tourism|