13 Inspiring Facts About Lake Nicaragua and the Largest Volcanic Lake Island in the World
Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America.
It’s so vast that when the Spanish were exploring Nicaragua, they thought they’d reached the sea! Lake Nicaragua is a magical natural wonder. It has been home to ancient civilizations, as well as prosperous cities.
This lake drains to the Caribbean Sea through the San Juan River. It’s connected to Lake Managua in the northwest via the Tipitapa River.
Keep reading to discover where Lake Nicaragua is, whether it’s swimmable, just how big is Lake Nicaragua, and more. Access 13 amazing facts to know about this place before you visit!
13 Interesting Facts about Beautiful Lake Nicaragua
Located in northeastern Nicaragua, Lake Nicaragua is the largest body of freshwater in Central America. Lake Nicaragua is 3.5 hours from Managua. It’s accessible by bus, a combination of bus and ferry, or by car.
But before you get there, here are 13 interesting facts about this wonderful place!
1. It Has Lots of Names
The indigenous name of Lago Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua) is Cocibolca. Depending on the community, the country, and even the person, this beautiful lake has many different names. Here are the most common ones:
|Big Lake||Gran Lago|
|Big Sweet Lake||Gran Lago Dulce|
|Cocibolca Lake||Lago Cocibolca|
|Granada’s Lake||Lago de Granada|
|Nicaragua’s Lake||Lago de Nicaragua|
|Sweet Sea||Mar Dulce|
2. Its Native Name Has Different Meanings
According to historians and linguists, Cocibolca (or Quauhcapolca, the native name of Nahuatl origin) has four possible meanings:
- A derivation of acotzillipoloa-can, which means lugar donde se destruyen los camaroncitos (place where the little shrimps are destroyed)
- A derivation of coatl-pol-can, which is translated to lugar de la Gran Serpiente (place of the Big Snake)
- Another root may be quah-zpol-ca, which translates to lugar de los árboles de zapote (place of the sapodilla trees)
- A derivation of the phrase coatl-pol-can which means “place where the biggest of the twin lakes is”
3. It’s So Big that the Spanish Thought It was a Sea
When the Spanish conquistadores got to this part of Nicaragua, they thought they had reached the ocean because of how massive the lake is!
The Spanish conqueror Gil González Dávila saw his horse drink water from the lake, so he thought it was a sweet water sea and named it Mar Dulce (sweet sea). Later, they came to the realization that it was actually a lake and not the sea.
4. It’s the Largest Lake in Central America
With an area of 3,191 square miles (8,264 square kilometers), Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America! It’s also the third-largest in Latin America, the tenth-largest in the Americas, and the 25th largest in the world!
5. It Changes Throughout the Year
While Nicaragua Lake has a regular depth of 85 feet (26 meters), its level changes through the year. During the dry season from November to April, the water level on the lake falls. It rises during the rainy season from May to October.
Even with these changes, the water surface remains the same throughout the year, with a temperature of about 70 F (24 C), and the bottom is approximately 60 F (16 C). It’s a perfect place to take a swim any time of year!
5. It’s Origin is Tectonic
Lake Nicaragua is a lago tectónico (tectonic lake), which means the lateral and vertical movements on the Earth’s crust formed it. These include fallas (faults), inclinaciones (tilts), dobleces (folds), and deformaciones (warps) from thousands of years ago.
6. It May Have Been Part of the Pacific Ocean
Some experts theorize that thousands of years ago, the Cocibolca and Lake Managua were part of the Pacific Ocean. According to them, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions led both water bodies to become the inland basin where the two lakes are today.
7. Saltwater Wildlife Live in It
After the saltwater in the ocean began to gradually turn fresh and the animals that were trapped there adapted to this change. That’s why Lake Nicaragua is the only freshwater body in the world with saltwater animals.
Here is a list of some of them and their names in Spanish:
|bull shark||el tiburon toro|
|gaspar fish||el gaspar|
|sawfish||el pez sierra|
|swordfish||el pez espada|
|tarpon||el pez sábalo|
At least 40 species of fish live in the lake, including 16 kinds of mojarras and cichlids. Due to its multitude of birds, the lake is perfect for bird watching!
This lake is home to bull sharks, and Lake Nicaragua also has crocodiles! So, be sure to swim only in designated areas.
8. Sharks Live There
Experts and Nicaraguans once thought that Lake Nicaragua’s bull sharks were an endemic species, meaning they only lived in the lake. But in 1961, scientists discovered that tiburones toro (bull sharks) are a common species in other parts of the world that are known to enter freshwater occasionally.
Experts theorized that the sharks may have been trapped in the lake for hundreds of years and adapted to live there. They also discovered that the bull sharks like to jump from the San Juan River into the lake (like salmon).
Some bull sharks have been tagged to understand their behavior. Surprisingly, sharks like to go back and forth from the lake to the river. They use the river as a way in and out of the lake, taking 7 to 11 days to complete the journey.
9. It has Islets Galore
Lake Nicaragua has at least 400 islets, and 300 of these are just 5 miles (8 km) from the city of Granada, on the northwest shore of the lake.
Most of these islets are covered in diverse vegetation, including tropical fruit trees. While some of them are inhabited, the vast majority aren’t.
10. It has Two Volcanic Islands
Besides the hundreds of islets, there are three important islands on Lake Nicaragua.
Ometepe is a volcanic island conformed by the Concepción and Maderas volcanoes. It is 16 miles (26 km) long by 8 miles (13 km) wide. The lava from several eruptions creates a natural bridge between the volcanoes. Ometepe is the largest volcanic island in a freshwater lake in the world.
Isla Zapatera (Zapatera Island) is the other volcanic island on the lake and is home to the Zapatera Volcano.
11. The Atlantic Port of Granada is Actually Closer to the Pacific
The natural drain of the lake is Rio San Juan (San Juan River) which, since colonial times, has made the lakeside city of Granada an Atlantic port.
Curiously, on a Lake Nicaragua map, the lake is closer to the Pacific than the Atlantic, but because the river was used to reach Granada, it was considered an Atlantic port, which allowed this charming colonial city to thrive.
12. Pirates Roamed its Waters
It is no surprise that wealthy port cities in Nicaragua like Granada were prime targets for pirates. In the 17th century, authorities built fortifications alongside the San Juan river to block the pirates’ access to the towns around the lake.
13. There were Plans to Build a Canal There
Before el Canal de Panamá (the Panama Canal) existed, there were plans to build the ”Lake Nicaragua canal,” an interoceanic canal using the area to connect both oceans. However, the plans were canceled when the United States built the Panama Canal.
Even though the idea of building a canal in the area occasionally resurfaces, it has never become a solid plan. A project of this magnitude would greatly impact the country’s ecology and society.
Practice Your Spanish Fluency while Traveling
As a native Spanish speaker, I can assure you that learning and practicing your Spanish before and while you visit Latin America makes your experience more natural and organic. It’s amazing how at home people will make you feel once the language barrier is broken! Also, according to several studies, learning Spanish helps improve your cognition and decision-making abilities, which are important when traveling around and exploring new lands and cultures.
What are you waiting for? Sign up for a free trial class at Homeschool Spanish Academy before your trip to Lake Nicaragua, and let our friendly, certified teachers help you prepare for your big adventure!
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