Pearl Lagoon, or Languna de Perlas in Spanish, is just about as authentic, non-touristy and undeveloped Caribbean as it is possible to get without dropping off the map altogether. Time seems to slow to a standstill, the delicious seafood is cheap and plentiful and the rum flows freely. Within a matter of hours we’d fallen under its spell and instead of the two days we’d planned for, finally dragged ourselves away six days later and only then reluctantly.
A small, traditional Creole and Miskito fishing community on the edge of a large and tranquil lagoon on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, Pearl Lagoon is just waking up to the possibility of tourism. While the spectacular Pearl Keys are reasonably well known (although difficult and expensive to get to), community tourism to Miskito and Garifuna villages around the lagoon is definitely about to make its mark. Visit now, because things will have changed in a few years.
This part of Nicaragua is chronically underdeveloped. There is little infrastructure – regular water shortages and power cuts, no paved roads – but its friendly, easy-going people and its beauty have a seductive charm that captured our hearts. Plus, no roads means you get to spend a lot of time in boats zipping from one place to another.
Reggae music is the norm here, and you can almost forget that you’re technically in a Spanish-speaking country – Creole and English predominate.
This region was controlled for decades by an alliance of the British Government and the indigenous Miskito people, who were the regional superpower before Europeans arrived. This alliance effectively kept the Spanish out of the whole region, which, with the importation of Afro-Caribbean slaves and Jamaican migrants, developed an entirely different Creole-Miskito culture to ‘Spanish’ Nicaragua.
The area is also home to a sizeable Garifuna community. The Garifuna can be found all along the Caribbean coast, from Belize to Costa Rica, and were either escaped slaves who rebelled, freed themselves and established free communities on the coast; or, as some anthropologists believe, made their way independently from Africa two centuries before the slavers.
The British ceded the region to Nicaragua when it gained independence from Spain in 1821, but Nicaraguan control was non-existent until they took it by military force in 1894. The region overwhelming opposed the Sandinistas, and with US support launched an armed uprising against the Sandinista government in the 1980s. Which explains the government’s lack of investment in the region.
The lack of government interest in the ‘English’ part of Nicaragua has, in part, been filled by Colombian drug runners. Once-upon-a-time it was rum runners, times change but things stay the same. Drug boats bound for the United States frequently take refuge in the islands off the coast in bad weather or when being chased by law enforcement. To maintain local support they have invested more money in the region’s infrastructure than the government.
This includes a ‘donation’ of the region’s only high-speed internet cafe on Pearl Lagoon’s main street. Sadly, you still need electricity to have the internet and when we were there the electricity barely functioned. Still, you’re unlikely to win a ‘war on drugs’ when the drug runners are more philanthropic than the government.
Let me just say it once more, “We loved Pearl Lagoon.” If you go there, try to stay in one of the stilted cabanas at the Queen Lobster restaurant. Owned by a young local woman and her Spanish husband, this is one of the friendliest and most pleasant places to stay imaginable. Plus, the restaurant serves some of the best seafood in town – although for the very best food try Warner’s Place a block or so behind the Moravian Church. Delicious.
The owners of the Queen Lobster will also arrange trips to other parts of the area, including to the fabulous Pearl Keys. We went only for a day trip, but wished we’d spent the extra cash to stay overnight on one of the keys. Next time.
In the meantime, if you go to Pearl Lagoon for no other reason, go for the sunsets…