Commonly kept aquarium fish seen in their wild environment of a small river in Nicaragua.

I have always been fascinated by freshwater habitats and have wanted to swim in a tropical river teeming with life.  My desire came true in February of this year when we visited the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua.  This friendly Central American country is more known for its volcanoes and coffee than its diving opportunities. That didn’t stop me from finding a beautiful clear stream flowing through the jungle in between the two volcanos that make up this magical island sitting in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.

Ometepe volcanos

The two volcanoes of Ometepe, Maderas on left and Concepción on right, anchor this island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua

The local people in the area view the stream area by the road side as a swimming hole and place to do their laundry.  We showed up on our rented scooter and to their surprise I promptly donned my wetsuit, mask, fins and snorkel and jumped in, underwater camera in tow. One young girl in particular took an interest in me and promptly kicked off her shoes and dove in after me and swam along for a while.

As soon as I put my head underwater and started looking around I knew I was going to have a satisfying couple of hours.  While my partner Kim took off on the scooter and explored some back roads and had some adventures of her own I contentedly snorkeled my way upstream into the thickest part of the forested little stream.

Water Lilies growing in tropical stream

Water Lilies growing in the tropical stream. I felt at home here, just a little warmer than the swamps in Canada

Palm trees along the banks of small river in nicaragua

Palm trees along the banks of the small river on Ometepe

Vines dangling down into the clear tropical water

Vines dangle down into the clear tropical water as I swim among the fish.

Tetras, Mollies and Cichlids were every where.

It was such a delight seeing fish that I had kept in aquariums in the past in this natural habitat. The water was quite clear, but it took very little to stir up a lot of detritus, so I slowly pulled and kicked my way up stream. Everywhere I looked there was life. I was secretly hoping to see a Boa constrictor on the vines dangling down into the water. But I didn’t on this trip. Maybe next time.

Tetra in fast flowing river in Central America

Banded Tetra, Astyanax aeneus, in fast flowing water


Banded Tetra in Nicaragua River

Banded Tetra swimming in lush tropical river


Cichlids and mollies

Cichlid and Molllies swimming in the shallows of this small Cental American stream.

While parrots screeched in the trees overhead I relished every aspect of this new aquatic underworld, including diving down under submerged logs and vegetation as I explored as far as I could. At the end of the first day just as I was about to turn around for he swim back downstream I looked under a log. There to my surprise was a large Plecostomus. This well-known algae eater is commonly kept in aquariums to keep the glass clean. I was happy to see it right on the submerged wood which is the type of substrate I had always heard was preferred by them.

Considering the amount of farming and agriculture nearby and the human activity I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of life in this small stream on an island on a lake.

I can only imagine what the life would be like in more remote areas of the Central American jungles.

Plecostomus catfish on log

Plecostomus sucker fish attached to its preferred substrate in the shallow river

Convict cichlid

Convict Cichlid, a popularly kept aquarium fish, investigating the fallen seed of the Sandbox Tree.

Mollies in shallow river in Nicaragua

Mollies seeking shelter in the marginal plants

Convict Cichlid pair in river

A wild pair of Convict Cichlids.


Just a few weeks after we returned from this magical island we learned of the civil unrest that began to unfold in Nicaragua. Not covered much by the news outlets in North America, we were kept informed by our new friends that we made on Ometepe of the protests and subsequent tragedies. We hope it continues to settle down now, so the awesome people of this country can go back to their peaceful lives. We hope to return soon and support the fledgling tourism industry there.