Isla de Ometepe
Isla de Ometepe's name derives from the Nahuatl words ome (two) and tepetl (mountain), meaning two mountains. An island in Lake Nicaragua in the country of Nicaragua, Ometepe is one of the country´s must-see. These twin volcanic islands are a remote escape located in the middle of Lago de Nicaragua. There are only a few small settlements on the island, along with a number of small coffee plantations.
- Moyogalpa, harbour village and the main point of arrival of ferries around Volcano Concepcion.
- Altagracia, 2nd biggest town on the eastern side of the island around Volcano Concepcion. Administrative capital of the Maderas side as well.
- Merida, southeastern coast of the island around Volcano Maderas.
- Balgue, southwestern coast of the island Around Volcano Maderas.
- Reserva Charco Verde, a nature reserve with abundant wildlife on the southern part of the island, where you can swim, hike and kayak.
- Santo Domingo Beach, the only sand beach easily accessible on the eastern side of the island. During the rainy season, the lake rises and the beach can disappear for several months.
- San Ramon Waterfall, natural fresh waterfall inland that is easily accessible by trail via a 3 hour hike.
- El Ceibo museum, a privately owned collection of pre-columbian artifacts discovered on an old tobacco plantation on the island. The museum includes the country's largest currency collection at the time of April 2012.
- Punta Jesus Maria a beach on the Concepcion side of the island best accessed by bike. In the dry season a long sandy stretch of land stretches out into the land. During the rainy season it is mostly covered with water. Popular with locals as well
One of its volcanoes active (Concepcion) one of them dormant (Maderas) Ometepe is a sight to behold already when coming in by ferry. Inhabitants like to call the island "oasis of peace" as it has been left largely unscathed by the violent conflicts of Nicaragua's younger history and lying at one of the black volcanic beaches or listening to howler monkeys during the strenuous ascent up one of the two volcanoes you might very well feel peaceful and forget whatever may exist outside this oasis. While it is definitely not a party destination there is hardly anything else you can't do on the island and even though it is not the well kept secret it once was the tourists quickly spread out over the island once you leave the ferry leaving the island mostly to you and your plans.
You can get to the islands main port (Moyogalpa) by boat or ferry from San Jorge near Rivas for about US$2-3. There are two ferries - one that carries cars, costs C$70 (Feb 2014), is quite comfortable and leaves on a set schedule, and another ferry that is smaller, cheaper, and appears to leave when full. There is also a tourist tax of 10 cordobas to pay on departure. (Feb 2014) There are plenty of hotels and restaurants within walking distance of the ferry. Buses pick up and drop off at terminal. Taxis are also present.
On Monday and Thursday, a ferry leaves Granada around 2 pm and arrives in Altagracia (4 hours) for C$104 (first class) second class (Nicaraguan nationals only): C$46. On Tuesday and Friday there is a ferry coming from San Carlos stopping in San Miguelito and Morrito to the Island (12 hr ride) for C$161(first class) second class (Nicaraguan nationals only) : C$63. For more see the national port administration's website
It is not always a smooth crossing - the ferry can get thrown around quite a lot. If you sit indoors on the boat, be aware that water splashes in through the windows, even when they are closed so you may get a little wet if sitting by the window!
In 2014 a new airport has been built with flights to/from Managua and San Carlos twice a week. For more details check with the domestic airline's website.
Very slow local buses run to most villages on the island. Service is relatively frequent between Moyogalpa and Altagracia (roughly every hour), less so to Balgue and Merida (three or four per day).
You can easily flag down a bus for a ride.
Taxis meet all the ferries (in fact, the drivers want you to use their services almost immediately once you step of the boat) but apart from that, it is hard to find one. They also tend to be more expensive than on the mainland.
For travelers with a more liberal budget, renting a motorcycle can be a fun and liberating way to explore the island on your own. There are a few rental outfits in Moyagalpa, and one small operation along the road through Santo Domingo. The best motorbikes and service on the island likely come from an operation run by a guy named Robinson (8691 5044 firstname.lastname@example.org) He speaks perfect English and is very easy to work with. $25 for a motorbike rented out of Moyagalpa and returned to their shop by 6 PM that day. $40 for 24 hours. Also, Robinson will deliver a motorbike as far away as Little Morgan's, outside of Santa Cruz, then come and pick the bike up by 6 PM the same evening. $40 for a bike delivered to your hostel. Or, you can ask him to bring bungee cords with the bike, then tie your bags down at the end of the day and drive yourself back to Moyagalpa for the ferry the next morning. A superb way to get around on a transportationally challenged island.
Word of caution when dealing with Robinson, he has been known to refuse to give back your full deposit or charge you an exorbitant cost to fix a seemingly minute repair ($5 for a scrape on a bicycle sticker, $65 for perforated tire). There are now dozens of other motorcycle rental locations in Moyogalpa who are far more reasonable business owners.
There are plenty of bicycle rental shops on the island that rent by hour(C20), day (C100) or week. It is a good way to get to many of the beaches and places like ojo de agua which are too far to walk to and impractical to reach (and get back from) by bus.
The road along the isthmus and around Volcan Maderas is in very rough shape. It's not recommended to try to cycle around it, although you could ride a motorcycle reasonably easily.
Views of the volcanoes as well as sunsets are worth taking a picture or three dozen.
Options on the island include :
- Hike to the top of Volcan Concepcion (~ 8 hours return, strenuous, guide mandatory)
- Hike to the 1000m look-out point of Volcan Concepcion (~ 6 hours return, moderate, guide mandatory)
- Hike to the top of Volcan Maderas to a crater lake (~ 6 hours return, less strenuous)
- Hike to 80-m San Ramon waterfall on the south side of Maderas (several hours return from Merida)
- See petroglyphs at the village of Finca El Porvenir
- Go horseback riding
- Rent a bicycle and explore the island on your own (actually one of the fastest and most comfortable ways around the island as most things out of cities ar not walkable for anybody but Marathon runners, and buses and taxis are slow and seldom to be found)
- Rent a motorbike and explore the island on your own
- Go fishing
- Hike the trails from the park entrance center on the road from Altagracia (just before you enter Santa Cruz)
- Hire a kayak and explore the lake and one or two of the rivers
- Go swimming in the fresh water
- Trails are generally unmarked and the terrain is rough. Local guides are inexpensive, good.
- If off hiking on your own be aware that many trails are actually being used by locals as a means to work their bean fields,The same beans that are served in the local staple of beans and rice, These beans are of a low growing variety and are barely visibly so please stay on trails so as not to damage their crops.
- The island is very large and to go by bicycle around one volcano in one day is very challenging but possible, getting around both volcanoes by motorbike in one day is a little easier but still difficult.
Ometepe Expeditions is known to be a reliable and bilingual (spanish/english) tour service on the island, organizing volcano hikes, day tours etc. http://www.ometepe-tours.com
- Little Morgan´s, Between Santa Cruz & Balgue (300m towards Balgue from Santa Cruz junction), ☎ 505 8611 7973. Accommodation, bar and restaurant serving great food that gives a nice break from the typical rice and beans. Daily menu includes bacon and eggs, pancakes, cake, sandwiches etc, and then nightly dinner specials including lasagna, curry, pasta and stir-fry. Food ranges from $2-$6.
- Natural, Playa Santo Domingo. Vegetarian restaurant serving delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Great pastas, curries, stir-fries. Dine under a large rancho with a wonderful view of the Maderas volcano.
- Los Cocos, At the Santa Cruz end of Playa Santo Domingo. A family run restaurant situated across the road from the beach, Los Cocos has a small but tasty menu, nearly half of which is vegetarian. Very friendly and even willing to customize the standard veggie fare for vegans $3-5.
- Hostal Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz (On the Merida side of the fork in the road between Merida and Belgue). Hostal Santa Cruz has an extensive menu of both Western and local food. A busier (but still quiet) hostel, there's always other folks to meet, and occasionally a game on TV. Vegetarian options available, and lots of alcohol - but know that the 1L beers here are nearly double the price than at the bar along the beach. $4-8.
- Restaurante Pescaditos, Merida (On the main road by the entrance to Hacienda Merida). Pescaditos is a small, family run affair serving local food. They serve breakfast, have an extensive lunch/dinner menu, with numerous vegetarian options (including soy meat when available!). Usually very empty, but the food is excellent. A great alternative to the limited options at Hacienda Merida. $3-5.
- Little Morgan´s, Santa Cruz (300m towards Balgue past Santa Cruz junction), ☎ 505 8611 7973. The only place around with a pool table and cable TV. Beautiful surroundings with fun atmosphere at night. Beer, wine and spirits available from $2-$3.
- Margarita´s, Merida (About 3 minutes past Hacienda Merida on the main road as you walk out of town). A small bar with a similarly small drink list, Margarita's does have a TV and pool table, and fills the rum-vacuum that Hacienda Merida's restaurant fails to fill.
- Hostal Ibesa Owned and operated by a friendly and helpful local family, shared room US$3 per person, your own private room US$4, there is also a dorm room which may be even cheaper, very clean and comfortable (prices in April 2008), laundry service.
- Hospedaje Espirales, Santa Cruz (at the end of Playa Santa Domingo, at the base of the hill to the fork in the road). Hospedaje Espirales is a small, family run hotel that seems to be filled with people who couldn't find space at Hostal Santa Cruz. There's nothing special about the hotel - except for use of the kitchen - but it's a good place to meet other travelers, and is centrally located for island activities. A double bed private room without bathroom was $6/night. There are two 4 bed dorm rooms, but as of Feb 2014 it seemed that the owners saw them more as private rooms with many beds than as your standard idea of a dorm room. Still, with some negotiation and if everyone sleeping there agrees, she is happy to rent it out by the bed. $6+.
- Finca Zopilote (2 km before Balgue.). Finca El Zopilote is a farm/hostel run by an italian family from Tuscany from 2002 located in Isla de Ometepe in Nicaragua.Finca el zopilote offers to the visitors different types of accommodation such as camping, hammocks, dormitory and private cabins.Is equipped with a communal kitchen where all visitors can cook their own meals and is possible to buy handmade organic products in the reception. Three nights a week pizza is cooked in a traditional wood oven. There are compost toilets and greywaters from the showers and the kitchen is cleaned through a system of constructed. The land is completely planted with trees and plants of every kind, there is a nursery and a vegetable garden and are present many works to limit erosion and water harvesting earth work. Have been used and ferro-cement techniques for the construction of water tanks.There are working possibilities for people interested in permaculture and helping in running the farm/hostel.Is possible to visit the farm including the litthe leather /handycraft shop and observe the view from a look out tower. For more informations check www.ometepezopilote.com. Cabins US$7, dorm US$4, hammock US$2,25.
- Playa Volcan (Near Merida). cheap
- Hospedaje Charco Verde. US$5-18 per room.
- Hospedaje Ortiz (Altagracia). Cheapest place in town, a block or so from the central plaza. There are reports about money being stolen from guests, hence the extremely cheap rates for accommodation.
- Casa Istiam, Playa Santo Domingo. A great budget place to stay right across the road from the beach.
- Hotel Finca Santo Doming (Playa Santo Domingo). A more expensive place right on the beach. Approx. US$30.
- Villa Paraiso (Playa Santo Domingo). Reputedly the nicest place to stay and probably the most expensive. Tours can be arranged. Bicycle rental available.
- Hospedaje Central, From Procredit Bank, 1 block south, ☎ 2569-4262. Very colorful and friendly atmosphere with free parking lot, internet service, dvd movies, laundry, volunteering opportunities, a restaurant and a bar. Unfortunately the owner is wanted by INTERPOL for Fraud, Kidnapping, etc. Dormitory is basic with bunk beds, its own toilet and shower, lockers and a safe available at reception. Rooms are clean, large, with new beds, fan or AC and private bathroom. However, some travellers report that, despite Lonely Planet's endorsement, theft is a problem, especially in the dormitory rooms where random locals wander in and out through three doors. And the bar/restaurant shares a filthy bathroom with guests and plays loud music until late at night. $2.50 hammock-$3.50 dorm-$5.50 to 9.50 for room.
- Hacienda Merida. Created by a rich Nicaraguan family from the city, Hacienda Merida provides some social programs for the local area, but definitely has a feel of keeping tourists away from the real Merida. There are several family owned and operated hostel and guesthouses that are not listed in your guidebooks if looking for a more local feel. Feb 2012 (still true Feb 2014): The owner will create a slightly hostile atmosphere for some guests (i.e. those that don't share his views and have the audacity to engage him in discussion). Experienced some cold and surly attitudes from some employees. After talking with some Hacienda Merida volunteers, know now that the attitude of the employees likely stems from being severely overworked for very minimal pay, and being treated as servants by the boss while they are at work. Yes, the owner is responsible for great social welfare programs on Ometepe, but be aware that, like most things, this also comes with a somewhat sinister dark side. The Hacienda also advertises kayak trips to visit 'monkey island', while warning that these monkeys are likely to be aggressive and vicious. The monkeys are so bad-tempered because they were brought by the Hacienda onto a tiny island with no escape, nothing to do and no food (they are fed by hacienda staff) - think twice about visiting. Dorms for $8.
- Puesta del sol. The community association invites you to come share the rural lifestyle of 16 families in the community of la Paloma, 1,5 km away from Moyogalpa. You will be able to practice Spanish and if you want to, protect environment and help them in their projects.
- Hotel Bahia, Primary a restaurant, it also has two rooms in the back after the open fire kitchen. Private with a bathroom with a shower, no sink and a toilet with cushioned seat for US$7.
- Finca del Sol, Santa Cruz (Ometepe), ☎ 8364 6394. An ecological farm offering 3 private cabins, with private bath for rent. Very private, overlooking Volcano Concepcion and Lake Nicaragua. The Cabins are fully screened, with mosquito netting, purified water, TV and DVD - over 100 movies in English, Spanish and Italian to choose from. We are 100% solar powered and have a composting toilet system. Located a 10 min walk from the trailhead to Volcano Madaras and a few minutes from the best beach on the island, we are a great choice for the adventurer wishing for a little more comfort. On the farm we raise tropical sheep, grow rice, fruits and veggies.Mid price range - We have a maximum occupancy of 10 guests, so reservations are highly recommended. Visit our website for more info
- Little Morgan´s, Santa Cruz (300m towards Balgue from Santa Cruz junction), ☎ 505 861107973. Beautiful accommodation, bar and restaurant. Owned by Morgan (the fun Irish guy) and run by a lovely Australian couple. All types of accommodation catered for with hammocks, dorms and private casitas. It is set amongst tropical tress feeling like a real paradise, and is on the lake, so is perfect for a swim and then relax by the bar or in a hammock. The bar has a pool table and is the most happening place at night. The dorms are far enough away though that you can sleep if you need to. Great food and great people. They offer everything from horseback riding to remedial massage. A wonderful pace to stay, see www.littlemorgans.com for pictures and more information. $3-$30.
- Hospedaje San Ferndando, Communidat San Fernando, ☎ 505 25694876. The nice hostal called Hospedaje San Fernando is found at the beach called Santo Domingo. Only 800 meters from the hotel Villa Paraiso. The place is very central to the most common activities (inside 4 kms) in Ometepe: swimming at 'Ojo de Agua', the beach with the white sand called Santo Domingo, the good old Finca Magdalena, the 'Humedal de Istian' and the forest 'Nebliselva' of the vulcano Maderas which to walk on is the major activity for visitors. The privileged position near the road between the two volcanoes allows you to get around by feed or by public transport. Rooms in several nice small private houses. Price range: 4-12 US$. Breakfast included. Internet included. Very fast for the island (~800 MBit). Access to the beach, Rancho, Hammocks.
- The trails are not marked so if you don't know the island, it is best to hire a guide. They are usually cheap and can give you so much help. Many people have gotten lost climbing the volcanoes and the trails are small. There are no services and help is hard to come by when climbing one of the mountains, so bring what you need before hand.
- Thanks to the fact that it's an island which is kind of easy to check traffic of persons it is, in comparison to the rest of Nicaragua, pretty safe.
- Minor annoyance such as kids begging for money may happen, but in a day, many locals will greet you and are happy to help you.
- Some locals report that there is some danger when climbing the top of Concepcion because of the activity that exist in the top. It is important to take a guide and make sure that if you notice anything suspicious, get away.
- Climbing Concepcion without a guide is illegal. Make sure to bring plenty of water (more than 2 liters) if you climb it. Good shoes go without saying.