10 Things to Know Before Visiting Lake Nicaragua

Volcano views
Volcano views | © Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock
Jack Guy

Lake Nicaragua is a huge expanse of water; in fact, the Spanish conquistadors thought it a sea when they first saw it. Here are ten things you should know before you visit the lake.

It’s great for birdwatching

There are a number of nature reserves dotted around the lake which are great for birdwatching. In particular, you should check out Los Guatuzos and Isla El Zapote.

The roseate spoonbill can be spotted in Nicaragua

Different people call the lake different names

On many maps you will see the name Lake Nicaragua, but its indigenous name is Cocibolca (Sweet Sea). When the Spanish arrived in colonial times, they also called it Sweet Sea, or Mar Dulce.

There have been plans to build a canal through it

Ever since Spanish rule ended in 1820, there have been schemes to build a canal running from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the lake. Interest died down after the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, but the idea was recently resurrected by a Chinese group. However, it doesn’t look as if any work will be done anytime soon.

Volcanic landscape of the Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

There is a volcanic island in the middle

The island of Ometepe consists of two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas, and the lava from previous eruptions. It’s a beautiful place to visit and you can hike up both volcanoes for great views over the lake.

It’s the largest lake in Central America

At 177 kilometres (110 miles) long and with an average width of 58 kilometres (36 miles), Lake Nicaragua is an impressive body of water.

It’s the only freshwater lake that contains oceanic animal life

It is thought that the lake used to be an ocean bay, until a volcanic eruption turned it into an inland basin. This trapped animal life such as sharks, tarpon and swordfish, which have since adapted to their new freshwater home.

Granada, Nicaragua

Its size makes for some interesting geographical quirks

Due to the fact that the lake drains into the Caribbean Sea via the San Juan River, the city of Granada was an Atlantic port despite the fact that it’s far closer to the Pacific Ocean. Although it might seem weird when you look at the map, this allowed Granada to become a wealthy city in colonial times and you can still see evidence of that legacy today.

Bull sharks are found in shallow waters

The unpredictable bull shark is one of the most dangerous species in the world’s oceans for humans, and they are known to live in Lake Nicaragua. However, they do not generally live in the areas that are most frequented by tourists.

It used to be raided by pirates

Lakeside towns were raided until fortifications were built on the San Juan River in the 17th century. These days, it’s a lot calmer!

It’s perfectly placed for visitors

It’s easy to make Lake Nicaragua part of your trip due to the proximity of other top attractions. The surf town of San Juan del Sur is an hour from the port of Rivas, where you can take a ferry to Isla Ometepe. Return to the mainland at Rivas and it’s only an hour’s drive to the colonial city of Granada, which is itself within easy reach of Masaya and the international airport at Managua.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Edit article