The Solentiname Archipelago (36 volcanic islands in the south-eastern part of Lake Nicaragua) is a little off the beaten track. As the Lonely Planet puts it – you need either time (there are only a couple of public boats/week) or money (private boats are expensive) to explore them. Instead, we arranged with Philippe at La Esquina del Lago Lodge to do a 2 day kayaking trip to the islands.
Minor was our guide for this trip, which started out motor boating across the ~14km that separates San Carlos from the main part of the Solentiname Archipeligo.
We initially had our kayak tied up behind the boat towing it, but about 1/2 way across we realised that it was actually full of water so Minor hoisted it up into the boat with us for the rest of the trip.
Our first stop was the Albergue Celentiname on Isla San Fernando where we would be staying the night. US$25 for a basic but clean room with private bathroom (yet more cold showers), amazing views and fantastic food!
After a quick drink, Caite and I were keen to head out in the kayak. We decided we’d do about an hour or so paddling to the north-west of the Hotel. It was a traditional Nicaraguan type of double kayak – quite heavy and seemed to be influenced a lot by the wind, waves and currents.
I’d never kayaked before so thank goodness Caite had some experience! Admittedly we weren’t kayaking in the best conditions for a novice (it was quite windy), and so it took us a few hours to get the hang of going in a relatively straight line … sort of. Most of the time we were pretty much “tacking” (to borrow a sailing term) along our route – trying to go straight but ending up heading left and then right. I reckon we paddled twice the distance as we actually ended up from our starting point.
The other thing I discovered was that while it might be difficult to take bird photos from a motor boat, it is even harder from a kayak! This was my favourite from this first paddle (no, I have no idea what bird it is 🙁 )
After lunch, we visited the artisans on Isla Mancarrón (see upcoming blog post) and walked up to check out the art gallery on Isla San Fernando. Then we just hung out relaxing and watching the amazing sunset.
The next morning we started out very early (5:30am) and headed the other direction. We agreed with Minor that he would follow along after us in the motor boat (stopping to fish for most of the time and only approaching to keep us in sight) and when we got sick of paddling (or the wind became too strong), he would hoist the kayak into the boat again and we could head back to the mainland.
Turns out kayaking is a lot easier when its not windy and there are no waves. And absolutely beautiful! Loved being in the kayak, despite being incredibly wet (no kayak skirts so the water would run off the paddles into my lap).
We paddled for about 3 hours then checked in with Minor who suggested that if we wanted to get to Isla Zapote it would probably be a good idea to head there. 45 minutes later, we arrived. No mistaking why they nickname it “Bird Island”!
There were thousands and thousands of birds of many different types perched in the trees! Minor dumped the kayak out of the boat again and Caite and I went off for a final paddle around the entire island. A particular highlight for me was to see the Roseate Spoonbills up close. When we went for our aborted walk out to see the pelicans the other day, we could also see pink birds in the distance and thought they must have been flamingos. Turns out not.
The other really incredible highlight was the moment when pretty much all the birds decided to take off at once and fly. Even more impressive than the pelicans the other day!
The other interesting thing was that all the birds were only on the windward side of the island. Once we turned into calmer waters (thankfully from a kayaking perspective), the number of birds dropped off to almost nothing, though we did see a few of our friends from the Río Frio there. Left ourselves to drift most of this quiet side of the island and then back into the wind and waves to re-join Minor in the boat. He’d managed to catch 3 fish (which we ended up eating for lunch) and most of the birds had left the island. Seems like we turned up just in time!
The Solentiname islands are really beautiful and kayaking allows you to get to know them much more intimately than other modes of transport. Gotta admit – my first taste of kayaking (despite the issues) has me wanting more!