Lying in the southeast corner of Lago de Nicaragua, the SOLENTINAME ARCHIPELAGO is made up of 36 islands of varying size. For a long time it was the islands’ colony of naïf-art painters that brought it fame – priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal lived here for many years before becoming the Sandinistas’ Minister of the Interior in the 1980s, and it was his promotion of the archipelago’s primitive art and artisan skills that led to the government declaring Solentiname a national monument in 1990 – but today the islands are better known for their unspoilt natural beauty and remarkable wildlife. The archipelago’s isolation keeps all but the most determined travellers away, so it’s a nice departure from the backpacker trail.
The archipelago’s largest islands are also the most densely inhabited: Mancarrón, La Venada, San Fernando (also referred to as Isla Elvis Chavarría) and Mancarroncito. Most people stay on Mancarrón, home to a simple church whose interior holds vibrant paintings of birds, trees and houses, and make trips to San Fernando and other nearby islands. It’s worth paying a visit to the small MUSAS museum on San Fernando, where you’ll find information on the local wildlife, petroglyphs, medicinal plants and, of course, the local artisanal process. Make sure you bring plenty of cash with you – there’s no ATM on the islands. Other than that, you’re best off interspersing long periods of relaxation with the odd hike along the many trails – where you’ll see plenty of birdlife – and a few spots of fishing.