It seems to me that Nicaragua’s Pearl Keys are a little-known secret…and a darned good one at that.
Getting to the pearl keys
I imagine it’s to do with reaching them. The collection of 18 islands that range in size, lay about 35km from the Pearl Lagoon. Which itself is 40km from Bluefields OR, we found out a little later, they can also be reached from the (further away) Corn Islands.
However I’ll tell you honestly that the open sea crossing was a bit much for this wary ocean-goer so I’m not going to suggest you’d want to do it for several hours each way unless big ol’ waves in teeny little boats don’t scare you. In which case, you are a better person than me! But I digress…
Anyways, the distance plus the price of gas way over here makes the tour price quite high. This is mitigated by joining groups together to split costs amongst many. In theory – or high season – a wonderful idea. However it was not to be for Sebas and I. In fact, a group of nine had just left a few hours before we arrived to the Lagoon. Drat the luck!
what we did (in low season)
We spent the better part of two days asking every hotel if anyone else had enquired, waiting to see if more people would arrive, approaching random cheles on the street and asking if they were interested…all to no avail and largely because we were travelling in the low season.
But those Keys were the reason we were there and we weren’t going to give up without a fight!
So we changed tactics and instead started asking random strangers on the street where we could find some fishermen and whether they knew of anyone that gave private (but slightly cheaper) tours outside of the hotels. We ran around that little town chasing one lead after another for two days – we knocked on doors and boats and we got up at the crack of dawn to find fishermen.
And it eventually paid off! One fisherman told us to track down so-and-so – which we did – however he was unwilling to go. So he sent us to another so-and-so…and then another…
And that is when we struck gold.
striking gold (um, we found a guy)
If gold can be considered an older, eccentric, somewhat shady man by the name of Zapatero. Which it totally can, right?!
The man who had pointed us in Zapatero’s direction had warned us to keep our eyes open in any dealings with Señor Zapatero, that he could be a little weasel-y, but that he was probably our only option. Uhhhh okaaaay. Super encouraging!
Do you know what else was super encouraging?
We arrived to his house and found that this was Zapatero’s boat…
Allow me to zoom in a little for you there…
But what were two poor Nicaraguan (I go by Nica now, you guys) friends to do!?
A couple hours and several thousand cordobas later (no really, it was 2500 cordobas), off we went in Zapatero’s little fishing boat to cross the ocean to get to some private islands. It was gonna be worth it, I knew that, but I think you will understand that at various points on that ocean crossing I was terrified for my life.
The sea crossing
Honestly that ocean crossing is not for wimps. At some points you really are out there in the ocean in a tiny boat being tossed to and fro. Sebas was exhilarated. Me, less so.
However as we got closer, these were the views we were treated to. So many pretty little tropical islands!
We’ve arrived! Hello tropical paradise islands!
We got to choose our own island, and chose one that was pretty and not too small and mostly seemed deserted. Because OBVIOUSLY. This was the first view of it.
Do you see that water!? It’s so clear!
As soon as Zapatero had the boat tied up, he set to macheteying (uh, I can totally make that a verb, right?) us coconuts to enjoy while we swam in the super warm water. Like, bathwater warm, you guys. Just cool enough to be refreshing but far from cold.
We spent the next two hours mostly just marvelling at the luscious water and surroundings. I do not have a waterproof camera, so I actually took these photos through the water and from above it – THAT is how clear it was! (I don’t know if you can tell, but I was a bit blown away by the water!)
Zapatero went around to the other side of the island to find some fishermen friends, so it really did feel like we had the whole place to ourselves. Only once did two men wander by, shaking coconuts out of the trees before carrying on. The rest of the time it was pure peace and quiet.
As much as we loved the island, we wanted to see one or two more just because there were a bunch and we were there! We rounded up Zapatero and headed out to one of the ones that is very occasionally occupied – by scientists and conservationists.
After another hour of bathing and relaxing, it was time to go. One doesn’t want to be caught on the open seas at night in a boat with no lights!
Getting back at sunset
We passed some more of the islands on our way through and were stopped at a military checkpoint. Apparently this is the one part of Nicaragua that has a serious drug trafficking problem! We had to submit to a couple of questions and a quick check of our bags and then we were on our way.
The sun was just starting to set as we made our way the hour back to the Pearl Lagoon, and I could not put my camera away. The colours and clouds and landscape made for a constantly changing and riveting picture.
We made it back to the mainland just as the sun was making its’ final descent behind the horizon. Phew! An amazing day, in the end. There are few places left on this Earth that are so wonderfully void of people and accompanied by such stunning views. Get there before everyone else does! 🙂