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Chronic: One day in the paradisiacal Zapatera Archipelago

Clementine Haudecoeur | Dec 1, 2015

View from the archaeological site of Sonzapote. | Photographer: Clémentine Haudecoeur

Visit of Zapatera Island and the Island of the dead in the municipality of Granada.

On November 27th of 2015, I had the great opportunity to participate to a trip to Zapatera Achipelago, located in the Lake of Nicaragua in the municipality of Granada, for the closing event of the huge project of development of the rural touristic sector called “Colonial and Volcanoes Route” (CVR).

The day was divided in three moments: visit of Zapatera Island, first with the community of Sonzapote and then with the community of Santa María, and finally, the Island of the Dead.

Zapatera Island – Community of Sonzapote:

After a rough 2-hour boat trip, departing form the dock of Granada close to the pier, we arrived to the wonderful Zapatera Island. Arriving at the dock, I could already know that I was entering a place of much culture and nature, being welcomed by replicas of pre-Columbians statues and seeing the vegetation of the site.
Going off the boat, we climbed up a small path with stairs made of stones for about 15 minutes, until we arrived to the entrance of the archaeologic site of Punta Sonzapote. There, we were able to feel the mysticism of the site looking at more replicas of pre-Columbians statues, found in that exact same place in the middle of the XIXth century, as well as several US$2 per person.
From this site, you have an amazing view of the Mombacho Volcano and you can enjoy completely the natural beauty surrounding you.
For those interested in visiting this site, it is good to know that you have the possibility to spend the night at the hostel administrated by the community where you will be able to enjoy the peace of this site and the generosity of its people, as well as other activities offered by the community cooperative strengthened as part of the project of the Route.

Sonzapote’s replicas of statues:

I think it is important to dedicate a whole paragraph to the replicas of the statues. Zapatera archipelago is an archaeological reference at a national level and also one of the most enigmatic site because we know very little about the aboriginal communities that lived on those islands thousands of years ago.
In total, 54 archaeological sites and 86 unique anthropomorphic and zoomorphic pre-Columbians statues were found, as well as petroglyphs and other cave arts. The experts think Punta Sonzapote was a type of aboriginal sanctuary for the different rock humps and pieces of ceramic were found, looking as ceremonial centers. They say those statues were sculpted by chorotegas, an indigenous community, at the beginning of the century (800 to 1,350 after J-C). Those statues are made up of black basalt, a very hard material.
The first sculptures were found in 1849 by Squier and the remaining ones are exposed in the Cultural Center of San Francisco Convent in Granada. You can also observe a lot of pieces found on the archipelado in another museum of the city called Mi museo.
The community of Sonzapote had been willing to restore this site for years in order to give it a second life and make people know about the life of our ancestors in a more veridic way. Thanks to the support of the Route, this project was finally achieved and some archaeologists helped put the 14 replicas were they were before.
This project would not have been possible without the incredible work of Pedro Vargas, a famous sculptor from Granada. Passionate about sculptures, this great artist is the one who made the replicas of the pre-Columbians statues. He worked for almost a full year on this project and realized those sculptures with a lot of professionalism and love. He explains that he learned to observe each statue in detail and keeps begins amazed by their beauty. He explains that they have factions following the right proportions and incredible details which shows the genius of their sculptors.

Zapatera Island – Santa María Community:

After we finished our lunch, we went to Santa María Community and arrived at the luxurious Santa María Ecolodge Spa. This hotel offers a lot of services, such as massages or boat tours, and will provide you with all the comfort you could want, in an idyllic environment.
From there, we took another small boat to go to another side of the community. Arriving there, some women of the community were waiting for us in order to show us the work they do, knitting scarfs and bags in a traditional handicraft way. Then, we walked up to the archaeological room constructed as part of the Route’s project. This small museum in very interesting, it has nice pieces with detailed explanations in Spanish and English. The entrance to the museum costs C$80 for nationals and US$4 for foreigners but the funds recollected are directly inverted in the communal school.

The Island of the Dead:

To end the day, we visited the Island of the Dead, another member of Zapatera archipelago. The entrance to the Island costs US$2 per person and then you walking up in order to see the petroglyphs drawn in the rock thousands of years ago. What is very impressive about this Island is that in some places, all the ground is covered by petroglyphs!
Going back from the Island of the Dead, it took us 40 minutes roughly to get to Asese Harbor in Granada by small boat so those who are sea-sick, I suggest you take this second option!

As I commented before, this trip celebrated the end of the Colonial and Volcanoes Route. This initiative, implemented in the departments of Managua, Granada, León, Masaya, Chinandega and Rivas, represented an inversion of 8,275,000€ in a period of 3 years and a half. It was financed by the European Union and the Government of Nicaragua, executed by the Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism (INTUR), with technical support from the Cooperation Agency of Luxembourg. A lot of rural MSMEs from the touristic sector were trained by the program and a lot of quality infrastructures were built in order to impulse the economic development of the country through rural tourism. You can find more information on the project here.

It really was an amazing day and I feel blessed for getting the opportunity to see this enchanting place. Even though it represents an important Budget, because transportation to the archipelago is still quite expensive, I would suggest you try organizing a trip to those delightful islands with a huge cultural heritage, I promise you will not regret it!