Discover Zapatera Island in Lake Nicaragua

Inhabited by small fishing and farming communities, the picturesque volcanic island of Zapatera lies off the western shoreline of Lake Nicaragua. Tourism infrastructure on the island is minimal, but for nature loving travelers who prefer off-the-beaten track destinations, Zapatera is worth considering. Excursions to archeological sites, hikes through lush forested areas, swimming, bird watching and fishing are some of the activities to be enjoyed on the island and surrounding islets.

Zapatera hill offers a challenging hike and spectacular views from the summit of the island and surroundings as far as the Island of Ometepe and the San Jorge coastline. Most of the trail makes its way through a thick forest which is home to a variety of wildlife such as howler monkeys, deer and armadillos, as well as dozens of species of birds, including colorful parrots and parakeets. Local guides are readily found at the Sonzapote community and their knowledge of the region’s natural and historical treasures can be a real asset when exploring Zapatera.

The island, and some of the surrounding islets, is a treasure trove of pre-Columbian artifacts and it can be fascinating to visit archeology sites where communities lived and left their mark centuries ago – some say as far back as 800AD. Many valuable artifacts have been removed from the island over the years, some legally and others not, but there are still a number of petroglyphs and statuettes to be seen in among the vegetation. US diplomat Ephraim George Squier published the first report detailing archeological discoveries on Zapatera in 1852. Upon reading this report, in 1883 Swedish naturalist Carl Bovallius conducted research on the island and discovered dozens of statues and petroglyphs in the Sonzapote region and on the La Ceiba islet. In the late 1930s, Mexican researcher Felipe Pardines discovered petroglyphs on El Muerte Island and in the 1980s an expedition initiated by Nicaraguan authorities studied and documented many archeological treasures, including statues carved from black basalt stone depicting human and animal figures believed to have had some sort of ceremonial significance. It is not known how many of these archeological items have landed up in private collections over the years, but an interesting collection of artifacts from Zapatera Island is on display at the Convento de San Francisco Cultural Center in Granada.