Solentiname Islands, Nicaragua: The Art of Nature
We walked into a small wooden house where an old man in a wheelchair was painting. We inched closer and saw the burst of colour and life that was growing on the canvas — an Eden-like depiction of the main islands in the Solentiname archipelago. That man was Rodolfo Aurellano and he’s been painting for over 40 years, inspired by the tranquility and beauty of this small cluster of jungle clad islands at the bottom of Lake Nicaragua. We spend a few relaxing days on Mancarron, the main island, and saw lots of wildlife, met some laid-back locals and enjoyed the slow pace of life on these beautiful islands
Our own private hotel
We visited the Solentiname islands during low season and only saw one other foreigner during our stay. We stayed at Hotel La Comunidad which is run by the friendly Doña Esperanza. We only paid $25 a night and had a very nice room, a fridge, our own private dining room where our meals were served and a huge terrace where we would relax surrounded by the chirping of birds.
To catch a hummingbird
Hummingbirds would often go about their work (I’m still unsure exactly what they do) in a tree right in front of our terrace. I became obsessed with getting a good photo of one. I came to find that trying to photograph hummingbirds is a bit like fishing. It required plenty of patience, but I eventually got a decent photo.
Walking around the village
The main village on Mancarron is a bit like a ghost town. The football field is probably the most happening place in town, but I think we saw more parrots than people during our walk. We were admiring one particular parrot when a little kid came out to greet us. He told us the bird’s name is Carlota and he let me get a photo of him, Gia and his parrot — Gia was too scared to hold her!
Walking in the countryside
A small path connects Mancarron village with the farms and houses outside of town. We walked past little kids on their way to school, the occasional old person walking to town and lots of trees. We walked for about 45 minutes until we reached the end of the path — Mancaron is quite a big island but not much of it is developed (or easily accessible).
A boat tour
We organised a boat tour to some neighbouring islands for $30. Our first stop was “Monkey Island” (there must be hundreds of these around the world), where we saw a howler monkey poking his head out from under the trees. We then went to Isla San Fernando, the second most populated of the Solentiname islands, and had a quick walk through town to the start of the forest. We also did some souvenir shopping. Normally I hate these kinds of stops on tours, but this was different. The inhabitants of the Solentiname islands are very artistic and their paintings and carvings are renowned throughout Nicaragua. We bought a wooden toucan and a thing that hangs from the roof — they were cheap and it’s great to have some souvenirs from such a special place. We also visited the workshop of Rodolfo Aurellano on Isla Venada during the tour. We would have loved to purchase one of his big paintings but didn’t have the space in our bags. We made do with a small one for $25 — definitely worth it!
Wildlife in the Solentiname islands
We saw lots of birds both on Mancarron and during the boat trip (as well as a howler monkey). Gia also nearly stepped on a tarantula! It freaked her out a bit but we then got to look at it for a while — they are fascinating creatures.
Trappist monk Ernesto Cardenal arrived in the Solentiname archepalego in 1966 and helped transform the inhabitants into a community of enlightened artists. This peaceful corner of Nicaragua didn’t escape the violence of the Sandinista uprising though and was briefly abandoned. Cardenal became the new government’s minister of culture and under him Nicaragua’s folklore and art flourished.
Further reading: Learn more about Ernesto Cardenal
Getting to the Solentiname Islands
First, make your way to San Carlos, a small town on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. San Carlos is also the gateway to El Castillo and the border with Costa Rica; it’s a nice place to spend a few days but most people don’t make it to this part of the country. From San Carlos you can take a speed boat for around $10 or a local ferry for $5, the speed boats go more often (ask at the port or your hostel) so it depends on your timing. The boat ride is really nice and takes less than 2 hours.
Would you like to visit the Solentiname islands? Have you been anywhere similar? Let me know!
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