LAKE NICARAGUA'S TWIN VOLCANO ISLAND
Oh, Isla de Ometepe... how I love this magical island! Ometepe is unlike any other island we have explored. Two volcanos, Concepción and Maderas, formed this freshwater island many years ago. Their powerful presence still holds strong throughout this mostly untouched land. The lush, tropical landscape of Ometepe feels ancient, almost Jurassic. The waters that surround the island are known to contain bull sharks adapted to freshwater living. The people are as inviting as the island is alluring. Ometepe Island is truly a place where you can get lost in the very best ways!
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GETTING TO OMETEPE ISLAND
Ometepe Island is located in Lake Nicaragua - the largest freshwater lake in Central America. You will need to take the ferry from the mainland Port of San Jorge to either one of the two ports on Ometepe. During this trip, we were traveling with a group of Nicaraguan friends who luckily handled all of the "obstacles" of getting to and on the ferry. If you have rented a car, you will have the option to bring it along on the ship. Otherwise, you will need to pay to park it at the port. Our friends grabbed the tickets, took care of the cars and all we had to do was sit back and enjoy a couple of Toñas (the national beer of Nicaragua)!
Once you make it on the ferry, you can finally relax and enjoy the trip to the island. The journey to Ometepe Island takes a little over an hour on average. I suggest finding some seats on the top deck where the view is best. This is also where all the fun is! The ferry has drinks and light meal options available for purchase. Go ahead, grab something fun, gaze out towards the lake, and get ready for some wonderful island time!
OMETEPE FERRY ADVICE
The ferry to and from Ometepe is, for obvious reasons, a crucial piece of your trip planning. The ferry is weather dependent, so expect delays or even worse, cancellations. You might want to consider adding some flexibility around the dates you plan to stay on Ometepe.
The day we were scheduled to leave Ometepe, the winds were high, and our ferry was canceled. After a bit of a scramble to see if we could extend our stay another night with our lodging, we heard that the winds had died down enough for the ferry to go out. However, many of the previously scheduled ferries during the day had not. This is how we met our good friend, Julia.
Due to the weather, Julia was not able to leave Ometepe as planned. All of the delays caused her to miss the last bus from the mainland port town. You see, she was actually staying in Costa Rica and had made a day trip out of visiting Ometepe Island (I highly doubt she would recommend this to anyone now). To make a long story short, we took her to Managua with us and then put her on the first bus to the border in the morning. I guess the moral of this story is to be prepared by creating a plan B for the worst case scenario. Otherwise, you might find yourself with no other choice than to trust a group of strangers like us!
WHERE TO STAY ON OMETEPE ISLAND - HOTEL VILLA PARAISO
By the time our ferry reached Ometepe Island, the sun had gone down. I have found night arrivals to be one of my favorite ways to introduce myself to a new place. Nothing beats waking up at your destination to discover and explore a brand new world. We stayed at the Hotel Villa Paraiso, which delivered an unforgettable experience. They were exceptionally accommodating to our large group of 15+! Can you imagine my delight when I woke up to discover I was in a tropical island paradise?
Hotel Villa Paraiso is located right on Santo Domingo Beach, one of the island’s best swimming beaches. The charming bungalows are situated throughout the tropical grounds with plenty of privacy, and beautiful views. They have a pool and restaurant on site. We enjoyed sharing our breakfasts with the birds as we looked out across the lake.
GETTING AROUND ON OMETEPE ISLAND
If you didn't ferry your car over to the island, chances are you will need some form of transportation to see much of the island. We went with a dirt bike! I highly recommend one if you are comfortable driving such a contraption. Keep in mind that while most of the roads are quite modern, the island's rural side roads can create a very rough ride; there are literally pieces of volcanic rock everywhere (Volcán Concepción is still an active volcano and will throw lava rocks occasionally). Many people walk on the streets, so use caution. Also, watch out for cattle, pigs, dogs, cats, and chickens!
We felt at home on Ometepe and took off one day to really explore the island. We decided to try and loop around the entire island, and the truth is, we got lost. A lack of road signs makes navigating a challenge, especially when you do not have any internet or cell phone service. After almost dumping the bike on a jagged rural stretch that Evan would describe as the 'worst road ever,' we were flagged down by two men. They were super friendly and showed us where to go on our map. We thanked them and were about to take off when they posed together, asked for a photo, and then they wanted money for their assistance. The best and probably safest option would be to stay on the main roads unless you are certain where you are going. Unless you are well prepared, I suggest not venturing to the north and east sides of Concepción (the other areas of the island have much better roads).
Are you an island lover? I’ve got TWO more great island recommendations to compliment any trip to Nicaragua. Check out the blog posts Soaking Up Lots of Sun on Big Corn Island, Nicaragua and The Best of Little Corn Island, Nicaragua to learn more about these Caribbean islands.
PLACES TO EAT ON OMETEPE ISLAND
We love to eat when we travel! We love trying new places and new cuisines. However, while on Ometepe we ate at the hotel restaurant an alarming amount by our standards (it was just so good!).
La Mariscada Restaurant
We were pleasantly surprised by how good the food was at La Mariscada Restaurant located steps away from our bungalow at Hotel Villa Paraiso. They offer authentic Nicaraguan dishes, and the seafood (aka lobster) was delicious! Also, this was the first chance we had to try Nicaragua's acclaimed cocktail - the Macua - made with rum, fresh guava, and lemon juice. Yum!
This restaurant is also a BnB and coffee shop. What we loved most about this place was the opportunity to eat a leafy salad. We found that vegetable dishes are not typical in Nicaragua. Not that I am complaining. Gallo Pinto, a popular rice and bean dish, is my new comfort food. While at The Cornerhouse, I loaded up on salad and hummus while enjoying their wi-fi.
El Pital Chocolate Paradise
A place for all you chocolate lovers! This super hip, eco-hostel is a bit of an adventure to get to and totally worth the effort. We ordered an array of items from fresh fruit smoothies to kombucha. Most notably, though, we had to have one of their chocolate balls! These beautifully decorated balls of chocolate come with a warm chocolate sauce to pour over the top, causing it all to melt onto the ice cream and goodies below. El Pital Chocolate Paradise is located right on the water and is very relaxing.
THE NATURAL SPRINGS OF OJO DE AGUA
We spent an afternoon swimming and lounging around the natural springs of Ojo de Agua (the "Eye of Water" or "waterhole"). There is a small entry fee for the springs. The older gentleman at the gate promised that the magical spring water would make us all younger, very sexy and especially fertile! I admit I was a little hesitant to jump in after that claim. The pools are beautiful and so serene. There is a swing rope at one end; otherwise, the clear water is excellent for casually floating around. I recommend packing a lunch and taking your time to soak in all of the natural "benefits."
ESCAPE TO NATURE AT LAGUNA CHARCO VERDE
My number one favorite thing we did while visiting Ometepe Island was walking around Laguna Charco Verde. We started at the butterfly sanctuary. There were so many beautiful butterflies! The flowers were gorgeous too - so bright and cheery.
After the butterflies, we headed out on the trail that goes around the lagoon. We enjoyed this nature reserve, the trails were easy to walk, and the landscape was diverse. We walked to the beach with its black sand and views of Volcán Concepción. On the way back, we spotted some howler monkeys playing in the canopy. We watched them for a long time - they were quite silly.
ADVENTURE ACTIVITIES ON OMETEPE ISLAND
As usual, we didn't have near enough time on Ometepe. We had a pretty mild experience when you consider some of the more adventurous activities we could have participated in. I need to return to the island to experience its wilder side! Here is a brief list of activities to inspire your trip to Ometepe Island.
• Hike Volcán Concepción: You will need a guide, endurance, and lots of time - but how cool!?!
• Hike Volcán Maderas: A hike to the San Ramon Waterfalls should take less than an hour and looks amazing!
• Kayak Rio Istian: An excellent opportunity to experience the island and its wildlife.
AN UNIQUE ISLAND EXPERIENCE
Ometepe is a one-of-a-kind island suited well for both adventure and relaxation. During our two week tour of Nicaragua we visited many destinations across the country, each one very unique. On Ometepe, life is much different than it is on the mainland. There's a pride and dedication to the simple life. While there we felt free, we loved the peaceful, laidback attitude of the island. Isla de Ometepe makes for a memorable addition to any Nicaraguan itinerary. You do not want to miss out on the magic of this island!
INSPIRATION: OMETEPE ISLAND, NICARAGUA
Ometepe will always be that island where friends became family. We shared meals and bottles of rum. We celebrated birthdays and the spirit of Nicaragua. It is a magical place that I hold dear to my heart. My inspiration comes from the fruity Macua drink. This drink represents the culture and experiences our friends so enthusiastically shared with us as well as our willingness to drink it all up.
Cheers! To friends near and far!
Freelance Graphic Designer
This trip took place during the fall of 2017. When planning your own adventures, please be sure to check for any current travel alerts or changes in destination conditions first. Keep in mind that businesses mentioned may no longer exist or offer the same products recommended in this post.