Set Sail With the Miskito People in Nicaragua


These 40-foot boats are handmade and expertly navigated by the Miskito people. (Photo: Jason Chinn/Yemaya)

The indigenous Miskito people of Nicaragua sail on hand-made boats at night. You will find no GPS, no maps, no technology of any kind helping them find their way. They sail with the stars as their guide. In generations past, the Miskito used these boats to hunt turtles for food and commerce. But the indigenous boating culture has begun a slow fade into obscurity since turtle hunting was declared illegal.

Until now.

The Yemaya Island Hideaway and Spa on Little Corn island off Nicaragua is working to preserve the Miskito’s way of life through a unique amenity — allowing guests to sail on an authentic boat with Miskito guides.

It begins in the morning. Fifteen dollars buys a feeling of uncertain excitement — you know you’re going to venture out that day, but you don’t know when. The captain arrives at breakfast with the details. You will be heading out at lunch to the outer reef. Snorkel gear is provided.

Related: 10 Reasons to Go to Nicaragua Now


Learn about the history of the Miskito people while gazing out over the gorgeous blue-green water. (Photo: Jason Chinn/Yemaya)

The 40-foot boat, all wood and painted a bright teal and rusty red, waits at the shoreline. It’s named Capt’n Maike. You pile in with the other guests and relax on the wraparound seats inside. It’s a clear, warm day, and the seas are calm. After the crew of six native Miskito pushes off, one sail begins its stretch to the sky, quickly followed by a second, smaller sail, ready to catch the wind and take everyone out to the reef.

Everything on the boat speaks of pure craftsmanship, and the body of the craft isn’t the only thing handmade. The sails and everything else you can touch are all made without power tools.

On the way, the captain speaks of Miskito culture and its fables and stories. He speaks of their love of the land and proficiency with plants. You learn that in the bush, 400 types of plant can be used for medicinal purposes, and the Miskito make the cures by hand.


Little Corn Island is located east of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Lunch is a buffet of chopped pineapple and watermelon. Then you strap on your snorkel, hop into the blue-green waters, and explore the landscape of coral below you. You befriend some fish who, once you’re back in the boat, follow along as you sail on.

Related: Ahoy, Matey! Grab the Helm at These Caribbean Sailing Schools

On trips that go out later in the evening, the sail back to the island includes a stunning sunset vista that spreads oranges and yellows across the sparkling surface of the water and highlights the reef just below the surface. The Miskito invite you over for dinner. The sails catch a strong wind and the boat takes you completely around the little island.

Sitting near tiki torches at night by the Miskito house on the island, with a plate of homemade food and authentic cultural guitar music drifting out across the beach, it all starts to make sense. Motor boats and turtle protection could push this fascinating culture into oblivion within the next ten years — but as long as they’re here on Little Corn Island, sharing traditions with others, it will never truly be lost.

WATCH: A Yemaya Sailboat on Little Corn Island

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