Solentiname Islands, a Magical Setting in Central America’s Largest Natural Lake.
The Solentiname Islands are a set of many islands in the southeast corner of Lake Nicaragua. If I was to use only one word to describe this paradise I would surely use the word “magical”! These absolutely lush tropical islands are home to a small population of peasants and fishermen who above all are artisans. Solentiname is famous for the handicrafts they produce. They use balsa wood, which is easy to carve to create figures that resemble birds and fishes. Then they apply tropical colors and bring them to life! These handicrafts are unique and represent the lush tropical surroundings of their islands.
The community at Solentiname was actually created by the contemporary poet Ernesto Cardenal. Cardenal is a Catholic priest who is one of the leading minds behind the controversial Theology of Liberation. This philosophy promotes rebellion against dictatorships that dominated Latin America during the late XXth Century. It was was never approved by the Catholic Church.
The Solentiname Archipelago consists of a total of 38 islands located in the south-eastern corner of Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca. The islands are all of volcanic origin and politically are part of the municipality of San Carlos, capital of the Rio San Juan Department. The total population of the islands is under 1000 souls, most of them living in the islands of Mancarron and San Fernando. Their name comes from the Nahuatl language, which was widely spoken during pre Colombian times and the word Celentinantl means place to overnight. There is plenty of evidence that the islands where inhabited during these times and according to preliminary studies, weree a sacred site where homage to their deities was paid. To this date, petroglyphs and other structures are evidence of the early habitation of the islands.
Getting to the Solentiname Islands
One of the drawbacks to Solentiname has always been getting there. For a long time, public transportation between the islands and San Carlos was available only twice a week. This coincided with the arrival of the ferry from Granada, when provisions and materials would arrive to San Carlos. Remember that until very recently, the only sure way of getting to San Carlos was either by plane from Managua or taking the ferry from Granada. However, the good news is that since February 2012, there is a regular passenger boat service operating daily.
The service operates from the floating dock at the San Carlos Boardwalk and departs at 3 P.M. The service from Solentiname departs from the islands daily at 9 A.M. The cost of the service is $10.00 US per person each way. This beats having to hire a private transport at a cost of approximately $150 per trip each way! On top of this, the asphalt road between Managua and San Carlos is in great condition. The once grueling 12 hour trip is now only 8 hours by bus, and about 5 hours by car on a fine asphalt highway! Thus, you have no valid excuse to not visit these magical islands!
Tips for Your Visit to Solentiname Islands
In addition, the mayor hotels in the Solentiname Islands all have boat transportation and can provide transportation included in their packages is you have pre arranged for it. Despite the fact that Solentiname has become much more accessible these days, there are still many limitations on the islands. For one, there are no banks or ATM machines. Telephone communication is difficult, and believe it or not, the local cell phones work on the Costa Rican networks and not the Nicaraguan ones! Internet is not easily available, and when it is, it operates off the Costa Rican cell phone network. Don’t expect to have internet service during your visit to Solentiname Islands.
As for money, make sure you bring cash and if you expect to stay in one of the more affordable hospedajes, bring Cordobas rather than dollars and make sure you bring small bills, as they will be easier to pay with!
San Fernando, Solentiname Islands
San Fernando Island is home to several hotels and hostels. Without doubt the largest and most complete is Cabañas Paraiso. The hotel belongs to the Pineda family. They offer rooms, restaurant and bar service. Nearby Albergue Celentiname, a small hotel owned by revolutionary fighter Doña Maria Guevara has a nice setting. Both hotels are managed by their owners, who actually live on the premises. San Fernando Island also has a small museum. Exhibits that include pre-Columbian artefacts as well as contemporary history of the island. In addition, there is also a small handicraft and souvenir shop. You can buy some handicrafts and art from the islands there.
Mancarron, Solentiname Islands
The largest community on the islands is on Mancarron Island. This is where you will find the largest hotel in the archipelago, the Hotel Mancarron. Solentiname Tours, a tour operator in Managua manages the hotel. The Catalanica Hotel is also on this island. It is in a remote hilltop location. (Be ready to for a serious climb up the staircase from the dock to the hotel facilities). Despite the unique location, rooms do not take advantage of the view. The site is truly spectacular. There are several other small hospedajes and rooms available for rent within the community that offer a more affordable visit to Solentiname Islands.
Just off the public dock in Mancarron you will find two distinct, very different monuments that are an intricate part of the history of Solentiname. The first is a monument to those fallen during the revolution against the Somoza Regime. The second is a small church, known as the Iglesia Campesina (Peasant Church). Here father Ernesto Cardenal preached Holy mass with the active participation of the community, promoting the Theology of Liberation philosophy. This is a fine example of the Sandinista revolution. A Catholic priest was active in promoting the revolution, but upholding Christian values.