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Discover the 365 Islands of Nicaragua's Las Isletas


One of the many islands that make up Las Isletas, Nicaragua

Nestled within the vast waters of the largest lake in Central America, Lake Nicaragua, lies a hidden gem: Las Isletas. These 365 islands, scattered around the Asese peninsula, form an archipelago that holds a rich history of conquerors and pirates and provides a glimpse into the natural landscapes the country has to offer. 


Las Isletas were formed thousands of years ago when Volcán Mombacho erupted, sending sediment into Lake Nicaragua and forming a peninsula with the islets surrounding it. Linked to the Caribbean via the San Juan River, Las Isletas emerged as a hub for pirates as early as 1665. It was here that English raiders would navigate the shores in an effort to secure riches from the nearby city of Granada.


Nowadays, the pirates are long gone and the small islets are now occupied by local Nicaraguan homes, juxtaposed with the vacation mansions of foreigners. 


An egret standing in the marsh of Las Isletas

Getting to Las Isletas  

Canoes - the main form of transportation around the islets

For those staying in Granada, getting to Las Isletas isn’t complicated. If you’re planning to go on your own, it's just a short 10 minute taxi ride from downtown to Puerto Asese where you can head out to the islets via boat. It’s also not unheard of to simply walk there, which takes about an hour.  

  

The other option is to book a tour. Tours of Las Isletas tend to include transportation to and from, entrance fees, and a bilingual guide – a good option for those who want to get a better understanding of the history of the area and learn the names of wildlife. There are a number of different types of tours to choose from including kayaking, paddle boarding, or your typical boat tour.  


As per usual, we recommend booking your tour once you arrive in country, as it’s almost always cheaper. We booked our boat tour through Hostel Oasis in Granada for $18 a person. The hostel also offered a shorter sunset session for the same price. However, it seemed like the area could be easily buggy so we would be cautious with going at night, especially if kayaking or paddle boarding.


If you still want to book ahead of time, here are some of the better options we found:  





Elliot looking out the side of the tour boat

Unpacking Our Tour  


Our tour of Las Isletas began at 9AM with taxi pickup from Granada. By 9:30 we were slipping on life vests and heading out on the water. The boat was covered – a huge plus when you’re not trying to get sunburnt! Our guide also spoke both Spanish and English and went slowly so that he could point everything out to us.


Here's the top tour highlights: 


Egrets high in the trees above our tour boat

The Birds  


Aside from a tree full of tiny bats, the tour primarily showcased Nicaragua's abundant birdlife. The country is home to 788 bird species and our guide pointed out as many as possible. This included egrets, grackles, great blue herons, green kingfishers, kiskadees, and crested caracaras. We highly recommend this tour for avid birdwatchers.  


View from Fuerte San Pablo

The Houses


For centuries, the residents of Las Isletas have faced a number of challenges in maintaining their ownership of the area. Many had their homes confiscated during Nicaragua’s dictatorship, and these land titles were never renewed.


Today, the islets hold a wide array of purposes. Some host restaurants and hotels, others have been sold as vacation homes to foreigners, and a handful still remain as local Nicaraguan homes. As we went along in the boat, our guide pointed out many of the houses and their owners, including his own home where we made a brief pit stop to grab his lunch.  


A monkey hanging near the edge of Isla de los Monos

Monkey Island  

Feeding plantain chips on Monkey Island

One islet in particular is home to arguably the most intriguing residents. Dubbed by locals as Isla de los Monos, or “Monkey Island,” the area is too small to fit even a meager home and is covered in dense foliage that has become occupied by families of spider monkeys and capuchins.


Accustomed to tourists, the monkeys will wait for boats and climb quickly to hang on the edge of the islet where tourists feed them various treats (like our guide’s plantain chips). While the guides tend to maintain a safe distance, it’s good to be cautious as the monkeys are unpredictable and have been known to jump into the boats.


For us, this part of the tour was a bit sad to see. The monkeys were brought to the island captively many years ago and, as they don't tend to swim, they've remained on the islet ever since.


Abbey on the upper level of Fuerte San Pablo

San Pablo Fort  

Elliot heading to the upper level of Fuerte San Pablo

During the final stop of the tour, you’ll get a glimpse into Lake Nicaragua’s long history of pirates as you stop at Fuerte San Pablo. Built in the 18th century, this stone fortress was constructed on one of the many islets to serve as a base for the Spanish to protect the city of Granada from raids.


We were able to spend about 20 minutes here exploring the levels of the fort and taking in the views. Inside, you'll be able to see some of the original wood and cannons used during pirate times, while on the upper level you can look out over Lake Nicaragua. Make sure to work your way around the thin ledge surrounding the back the fort to get a 360° view of the area.


We also appreciated this stop on the tour as it was nearing lunch time and there was a convenient little stand with vendors selling snacks and coconuts. 



Was It Worth It?


After Fuerte San Pablo, we slowly made our way back to shore and were soon on our way to Granada. In total, the tour lasted roughly two and a half hours and gave us a better understanding of not only Nicaragua’s diverse wildlife, but also of its rugged past.


So, was it worth it? Yes! Las Isletas proved to be a nice escape from the hustle of Granada and we left with more appreciation for Nicaragua’s natural beauty and history.

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We're Abbey and Elliot.

We began our travels in

2022 with just our small backpacks and started this blog to share everything we've learned along the way. We hope we can help inspire your next trip.

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