Twenty thousand years ago, the eruption of Nicaragua’s Mombacho Volcano formed Las Isletas, a series of islands just a 10-minute water taxi ride from the port of Granada, the former colonial capital. Today, archipelago real estate is exploding, along with Granada’s food scene and other developments, including a controversial interoceanic canal project that threatens to wreak environmental havoc on lake life. Make for the pristine private islets while you can.
It’s easy to do, given that most lodges are located on private islands. Try the nine-room Jicaro Island Ecolodge or reserve one of five rooms—choose from a rancho on stilts, a bungalow, or a secluded casita—at the solar-powered Isleta el Espino. The staff, nearly all resident islanders, can tell you the story behind every gorgeous hand-hewn detail, down to the hammocks (made in a hearing-impaired weavers’ workshop in Granada) and the towels (loomed in a women’s collective in León).
To get a sea-level perspective on the archipelago, paddle one of the lodge’s kayaks between islands. Watch guardabarranco, the national bird, flit from tree to tree and local fishermen cast homemade nets to the mar dulce or “sweet sea.” El Espino can arrange lessons in the fishing technique known as atarraya (the graceful, circular toss of the nets is not as easy as it looks), as well as bird-watching and volcano tours and cruises to artisan villages.
Balance island time with a day trip to Granada. Leave by 9 a.m. to beat the heat and the crowds. On arrival, caffeinate with a coco mu (black coffee with coconut oil and butter, essentially the Nicaraguan version of a bulletproof coffee) at Bristol Coffee Bar, a new café located half a block from the landmark Granada Cathedral. Climb the cathedral’s bell tower for views of the rainbow-hued buildings below, then head back to street level to explore the city’s colorful colonial architecture.
Over the last six years, thanks to a handful of progressive restaurants, Granada’s cuisine began to transcend gallo pinto, the national red-beans-and-rice dish. Don’t forget to swing by Ciudad Lounge, an airy den of modern Nicaraguan food—try rib eye with yucca root and cacao-laced butter.
Before retreating to Las Isletas, hunt down the perfect souvenir: a hammock from El Espino’s source, Café de las Sonrisas, where walls brim with bright yarn and sign language pictograms. Back on your island, a sunset Dark ’n’ Stormy—house-brewed ginger beer and Flor de Caña rum—savored with views of the cloud-draped volcano, framed by vetiver grass hedges, may just convince you to extend your stay.