Mombacho in Nicaragua
Mombacho/Flickr/Celeste

Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America and is renowned for its cultural islands and adjacent volcanoes. But changes could be on the horizon. The proposed cross-country canal project may pose a major environmental threat, due to the presence of large ships, changing water levels, pollution, and reduced wetlands. With the possibility that this body of water could never be the same again, the time to visit is now. Here are five things to know before you go:

1. Lake Nicaragua contains more than 400 islands. The most popular for visitors are Isla Ometepe and the Archipiélago de Solentiname. But the majority of those 400 are a chain of Islets: tiny islands that range in size, some supporting wood-shack fishing communities and others that are home to nothing more than a palm tree. Explore these islands by renting a kayak or taking a boat tour from Grenada.


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2. Isla Ometepe is the world’s largest freshwater island. It’s larger than Aruba and is made up of two volcanoes, shaped like a sideways hourglass. Cut off from the rest of the country, the island has a rich, preserved history of ancient settlements, including Moyogalpa and Altagracia. The volcanoes, visible from anywhere on the island, offer fertile slopes for the island’s farming communities to grow plantains, rice, corn, and coffee. Ometepe offers active opportunities for hikers and bikers that are complemented nicely by its laid-back island vibe.


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3. The Lake used to be patrolled by Caribbean Pirates. This is an odd historical twist considering we never associate them with freshwater, but pirates patrolled these waters from the 17th to the 19th century. The nearby city of Grenada was once a bustling trade center, making Lake Nicaragua a prime target for buccaneers, freebooters, and other opportunists. The Lake is connected to the Caribbean Sea by the San Juan River, and pirate groups took full advantage, even settling two towns on the Lake’s shores, Bluefields and Pueblo Viejo. The Fortress of the Immaculate Conception was constructed by the Spanish in 1673 to deter the pirates from entering the Lake, but that didn’t stop them — history shows that pirates remained until 1857.

4. The Lake is home to three volcanoes. Concepcion and Maderas are the two volcanoes of Ometepe, and Mombacho stands tall on the north side of the lake. All three are stratovolcanoes with very dramatic, steep slopes forming the backdrop of Lake Nicaragua. In total, Nicaragua has a whopping 19 volcanoes.

5. The Lake is home to the world’s only freshwater sharks. This marvel of evolution adds mystique to the water below the surface of Lake Nicaragua. The Discovery Channel described the sharks as a great anomaly of nature, citing that a shark living in fresh water is like a human going to the moon without a spacesuit.

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