Have you ever wondered what it would be like to own your own island?
There is a perception that only uber-rich rock stars, movie stars and business moguls can afford to purchase private islands, but in Nicaragua you can buy an island with a bargain-basement price tag.
For a mere US$320,000, you can purchase an island in Lake Nicaragua — not far from the one owned by the king of Spain. It’s a great deal — as long as you don’t mind living in the shadow of an active volcano on a lake with bull sharks in it.
Southeast of the colonial town of Granada are some 365 inhabitable islands that are locally known as Las Isletas. The islands were formed thousands of years ago when the Mombacho volcano blew its top and spewed massive rocks and lava far into Lake Nicaragua.
Although the volcano is still listed as being active, it has not erupted since 1570 and island owners have good reason to feel safe being near it.
They also have reason not to be too concerned about bull sharks — these aggressive sharks are the lake’s most famous inhabitants, but the last recorded shark sighting was nearly 13 years ago.
Lake Nicaragua is the largest freshwater lake in Central America and the 19th largest lake in the world, covering a vast area of more than 8,264 square km.
The islands and the volcano are rich in plant and bird life, providing a home for about 50 species of mammals, 174 species of birds, 30 species of reptiles and more than 700 species of the plants.
In recent years, the Las Isletas region of Nicaragua has become a popular ecotourism area and you can find charter boats that do guided ecotours of the islands and the nature preserve that surrounds the volcano.
The Mombacho Volcano is one of 78 protected areas in Nicaragua. At 1,344 metres high, the volcano provides a variety of different habitats for the birds and mammals that make their home in its dense vegetation. The base of the volcano is relatively dry, but rainforest habitat can be found near the top.
On a recent visit, I participated in a guided tour of the area. As we travelled along by motor boat, our guide Juan told us more about the islands and their inhabitants.
We didn’t need Juan’s help to determine which islands were owned by wealthy Nicaraguans and foreigners — the difference between the poor and the rich is immediately evident in their style of living. Some islands have elaborate homes with docks, retaining walls, security fences and palapas for relaxing, while other dwellings are nothing more than ramshackle shacks.
A large population of fishermen live in Las Isletas and although their income is small, their children appear to be well fed and happy. “Nicaraguans don’t need money to be happy,” Juan said as we passed the humble abode of a fisherman. “If you live off the land, you have everything you need.”
Some of the islands serve to house community resources. We passed an island with a small yellow church on it, another that served as the local cemetery and a third with a school that served to educate the children of the poor fishermen who live their lives in Las Isletas.
Juan explained that school starts very early and local children arise at 6 a.m. to paddle their boats long distances to get to school in time for morning classes. When the wind picks up, school can be cancelled because it is too dangerous for the students to travel by boat on the lake.
There are four types of monkeys that inhabit the forests and trees surrounding Las Isletas and we spent some time observing two species.
When we spotted some howler monkeys in the trees, our boat driver pulled in closer and began making monkey calls and listening for their barking responses. It wasn’t hard to tell why the monkeys we were watching are called howlers.
As we began making our way back to the docks where we had begun our tour, we passed several boats filled with fishermen.
The sun was shining and with the tropical vegetation on the islands and the massive size of the lake, it wasn’t hard to imagine that I was somewhere in the middle of the South Pacific rather than on a large lake in Central America.
I couldn’t help thinking about Juan’s remark that Nicaraguans don’t need money in order to be happy. When it comes to the Las Isletas region of Nicaragua, I think he might be right.
Life can be happy — even when you live in the shadow of a volcano.
Island living — try it before you buy it at Jicaro Ecolodge
If you would like to see what it’s like to live on a private island in Las Isletas, you might enjoy a stay at Jicaro Island Ecolodge. Jicaro is a high-end eco resort on one of the private islands in Lake Nicaragua. Located a 20-minute boat ride away from Granada, the resort has nine private casitas, a pool, a beach, a restaurant, a lounge and a bar.
The resort was designed by Matthew Falconer from wood that fell during a hurricane. There is a great onsite restaurant that is committed to serving locally-sourced, organic foods and the resort has several projects underway that are designed to improve the lives of local Nicaraguans.
Jicaro Island Ecolodge isn’t for everyone, though. It is a laid-back, romantic locale with no televisions in the rooms and little access to technology.
Each casita offers a tranquil setting with great views of the lake.
For more information, visit www.jicarolodge.com.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.