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10 Things to Know Before Visiting Lake Nicaragua

Picture of Jack Guy
Updated: 4 May 2018
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
The roseate spoonbill can be spotted in Nicaragua | © Edlyn B / Flickr

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
Volcanic landscape of the Ometepe Island, Nicaragua | © Svetlana Bykova / Shutterstock

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
Granada, Nicaragua | © Kanokratnok / Shutterstock

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.