Pearl Lagoon – or Laguna de Perlas – is the name of Nicaragua’s largest coastal lagoon, located in the Southern Autonomous Atlantic Region (RAAS). The area’s most important town is also called Pearl Lagoon, located about 40 kilometers north of Bluefields. The region has yet to be discovered by most tourists, but it does offer many great natural as well as cultural attractions. A little offshore, there are pristine, Caribbean islands and superb fishing grounds. Inland, there are beautiful rivers and stunning natural reserves. Furthermore, indigenous groups living in the area can be visited in their interesting, traditional hometowns.
The town of Pearl Lagoon: heart of the region
The town with the name Pearl Lagoon is located on the shores of the actual lagoon. Politically and economically it forms the center of the region and the handful of hotels and restaurants make it a good base town to explore the other attractions in the region.
Pearl Lagoon is a small, tranquil town that is inhabited mostly by Creoles, but Miskitos and other ethnic groups can also be found here. Life here is slow-paced but modern technology is little by little finding its way to Pearl Lagoon. Electricity is available – but not between 1AM and 9AM – and there is also a large cell-phone antenna that connects the town with the outside world. Just like the other settlements in the area, most transportation to and from Pearl Lagoon is done over water. Within the village there are cement sidewalks that can be used for a pleasant stroll through Pearl Lagoon.
Most people in the town are fisherman which makes it a great place for fresh fish, lobster, or shrimp meals (depending on the season). Due to the ethnical diversity it can also be possible to try some tasty, traditional cuisine.
Despite being the most important town in the area, Pearl Lagoon itself does not offer many activities for tourists. Nevertheless, the most interesting attractions of the region can be visited from this site, which makes staying in this tranquil town a good choice.
The Pearl Cays: Caribbean Jewels
The Pearl Cays are a group of around 14 small islands, about 35 kilometers from Pearl Lagoon. These islands possess all features common to the Caribbean: white sand, turquoise water, and green palms. They provide an excellent place for a tranquil day-trip from Pearl Lagoon.
There are many activities that can be undertaken at or around these fairly deserted islands. The warm, Caribbean water is great for swimming and snorkeling. It is also possible to do some fishing and catch a very fresh lunch. Most of all, the islands form the perfect setting for relaxation. There are few better places to sunbathe or read a book under a palm tree while enjoying a superb view of the blue water and the other islands.
The Pearl Cays are furthermore an important nesting site for the endangered Hawksbill Turtles. Nesting mostly at night, these magnificent creatures are hard to spot. Nevertheless, other spectacular sea animals are a more common sight: during the boat trip to the islands, dolphins can also be seen!
Read more about visiting the Pearl Cays in our Activity Guide.
Awas: bathing site and diverse landscapes
Awas is a very small town close to Pearl Lagoon, established recently by Miskito people. The town is also located on the shores of the lagoon and it provides easy access to the lagoon’s shallow waters. This fact makes it a popular bathing site during the Holy Week celebrations, when people from Pearl Lagoon and other villages flock this quiet town. Except for this week, Awas is a calm place where a variety of activities can be undertaken.
In addition to swimming, visitors can also explore the beautiful savanna terrain located right behind the village. The odd vegetation of grass and palms combined with the creeks and watery plains form a perfect setting for many birds that can be easily seen during sunrise. In addition to hiking, the area also offers canoeing and horseback riding possibilities. Read more about exploring the savanna area in our Activity Guide.
Most people in the village are fisherman, and they can also take visitors along on a fishing trip. Do not expect advanced equipment or luxury; the attractiveness can be found in observing the methods and practices of these local fishermen.
Awas can be reached after a pleasant 30-minute walk from Pearl Lagoon. Herons and other birds can easily be seen in the swampy area next to the walkway. There are also small vans that function as bus between Pearl Lagoon and Awas.
Inland: rivers, reserves, and traditional villages
Taking a boat and exploring the different areas more inland of Pearl Lagoon can surely be a great experience. One of the possibilities is to go up one of the rivers that feed the huge coastal lagoon. Great scenery is guaranteed with forest along the river, and several cultural visits can be made along the way.
Four different ethnical groups inhabit the area: Mestizos, Creoles, Miskitos, and Garifunas. Generally, one particular ethnical group is present in the different settlements and by visiting one of the traditional villages visitors can get an impression of the culture of the Garifunas or the Miskitos, which are the more traditional, indigenous groups. More about a visit to one of these villages can be found in our Activity Guide.
Another option is to visit the agricultural / forestry project at Wawashang. Set up by FADCANIC, a local development organization, this center provides free education to children from nearby, rural areas. The children are also taught about sustainable agricultural practices and there are planting sites that can be visited. The center is situated on the shore of the Wawashang River, set in a forested area far away from civilization. Lodging options are available, providing possibilities for a unique stay in this remote area.
Not far from here lies another village called Pueblo Nuevo. A natural reserve, part of the huge Wawashang Natural Reserve, is located behind this village, which is another great visit. Before reaching the reserve, hikers will have to cross a rural area where small-scale agricultural activity takes place. This area as well as a part of the reserve was hit by Hurricane Beta at the end of 2005 and traces of this natural disaster are still visible. Fallen trees are commonplace, especially close to the river. Further inland the vegetation becomes denser and despite being hit by the hurricane, the reserve still features a stunning natural setting. Monkeys, deer, sloths, and many birds and insects can all be seen here.
Throughout the area there are also several great sport fishing possibilities. The different rivers as well as certain lagoons like the Top Lock Lagoon provide some great opportunities for catching tarpon or other large fish.
Real estate issues at the Pearl Cays
The area around the Pearl Cays has been the domain of indigenous groups for hundreds of years. They used the islands for shelter when fishing in the area. Governmental law declared the region as belonging to the indigenous people, and until about ten years ago there were no problems. Then, a businessman with Greek origin got hold of ownership papers of the islands (which, according to the law, belong to the indigenous groups and can not be owned by outsiders). The businessman started to sell ‘his’ islands to foreigners, outraging the local population.
So far, the struggle of the indigenous people to recover their lands continues. Ignorant foreigners keep buying the islands. They are later sold at a big loss after the foreigners find out they did not buy their little piece of paradise. The islands are beautiful but fragile natural refuges that should be protected. The tiny islands are not suitable for any type of buildings, and buying an island and constructing a house is a bad idea from an ecological, commercial, and ethical point of view. Our advice: stay away from investments in these islands!
A lot of the transportation in the area is done by boat, but since 2007 Pearl Lagoon can also be reached over land. There is a dirt road that goes from El Rama to Kukra Hill, which then leads to the town of Pearl Lagoon. This road is in fair condition and the easiest way to get to Pearl Lagoon coming from the main land. This way, it takes seven hours to get here from Managua by car and a distance of 385 km.
Public transportation options include an air conditioned bus from the Mayoreo Market in Managua which leaves in the evening, followed by taking a bus that leaves every afternoon at 3PM from El Rama. This bus returns in the morning at 6 AM, and does the El Rama-Pearl Lagoon journey in three hours. An alternative is taking a boat from Bluefields, which is a one hour boat ride. Several boats depart every morning ($10 one-way trip), and it is a fairly tranquil ride. The boats also pass by other settlements like Kukra Hill along the road. The distance from Managua - Bluefields - Pearl Lagoon is 475 km.
From Pearl Lagoon, most of the other attractions can only be reached by boat. Private boats offer transportation to places like the Cays (one-hour ride) and the different rivers and villages (several hours away). Awas can be reached using a walkway, which is a 30-minute walk.
The same boats that come to Pearl Lagoon from Bluefields can also be used to get back to Bluefields. These boats leave in the morning but have no set schedule (once they have enough people, they leave). Alternatively, private boats can be used between Bluefields and Pearl Lagoon, giving more freedom and flexibility at a higher price.