At the southern end of Lake Nicaragua near the entrance to the San Juan River is the Solentiname Archipelago, a group of 36 small islands, accessed by boat from San Carlos town.  They are lush and quiet, best known as the home of an artists’ colony established by the poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal in 1967.  The colony has become the center of a “primitivist” school of art, with whole families taking up paint brushes and wood-carving tools, and the artists have gained recognition from museums and collectors worldwide.  Tours here can combine with workshops with local artists. Island highlights include: San Fernando has not only a school and health clinic, but the official art museum; Mancarron has a charming church,designed by Cardenal and decorated by the local people,  and this island enjoys the best hotel choices;  La Venada is home to the well-known artists of the Areliano family. The islands are also rich in wildlife, with more than 80 species of birds including toucans and macaws, and Zapote is the bird sanctuary island.

Combine these islands with a boat tour through the Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge, visiting the research center on the Rio Papaturro, as well as an orchid farm and a caiman breeding center. And along the way, you’re sure to meet alligators, exotic birds and lots of monkeys.

Getting there:  By boat from San Carlos.