Ometepe Island ticks all the boxes no matter what type of holiday you are looking for.
Admired for its diversity of experiences; adventure, nature reserves, rainforests, diverse wildlife populations, beautiful beaches, crystal clear fresh water pools, archeological sites and friendly hospitality that is specifically ‘Ometepe’. All set beneath the dramatic profile of two majestic volcanoes that make this island.
While Nicaragua is fast becoming Central America’s new tourism star, Ometepe Island is becoming a must go destination in its own right.
The island, measuring 276 km² (106.6 sq miles) with a population of approx. 30,000, is the largest island in Lake Nicaragua, a body of water referred to as a ‘freshwater sea’ due to its sheer size. In the middle of this lake, isolated from the rest of Nicaragua, rise two majestic volcanoes joined by a narrow, flat isthmus – this is Ometepe.
To the north of this hourglass, shaped island sits Volcán Concepción, a perfectly cone-shaped active volcano. To the south sits the extinct, or ‘prehistoric’ Volcán Maderas. In stark contrast to the lava stained Concepción, Maderas is covered in cloud forest with a lagoon in its centre.
Add a rich history of different tribes and cultures, the stories told by the petroglyphs, ceramics and statues found throughout the island and you can start to imagine a paradise with all of the allure and mystique of Fantasy Island.
Here are 8 reasons you should visit Ometepe Island.
When you first arrive on Ometepe, whether by plane or ferry, you cannot help but crane your neck in awe at the twin volcanoes. Often the tops will be swathed in cloud giving them a dramatic appearance, reminiscent of a scene from an old King Kong movie. But on a clear day, you can see the waft of volcanic gases drifting away from Concepción’s crater.
We arrived on Ometepe by plane from the south, so were fortunate to fly around the rim of Concepción’s crater on our decent. This was our welcome to Ometepe and we were pretty impressed already.
You are able to climb both volcanoes. Guides are available for both and highly recommended. Maderas stands at 1,394 meters and while it is an easier climb than Concepción due to the established cloud forest, it is still by no means an easy feat. Expect around a 6 – 8 hour round trip to the top of this prehistoric volcano.
Concepción stands at 1610 meters high, a steep climb up mostly loose rock and scree. When we climbed, there had been severe landslides 2 weeks prior that had ripped down any established growth, upturning and gouging the earth from the base up to around 900 meters. This could be a factor to be considered at any time when climbing this volcano. Expect around an 8-11 hour round trip to climb this monolith.
Our guide cost $20 USD each for a 10.5 hour climb and a car to take us to the start point of the climb and back in the evening was $25 USD.
If climbing to the top of an active or even prehistoric volcano is not on your bucket list, there are some great hikes around the base of both.
Spend a nice morning kayaking across lake Nicaragua until you reach the mouth of the Rio Istian. The river and swamp lands run across the centre of the isthmus making this island one. Rio Istian is teaming with wildlife and the constant loom of the volcanoes make for a spectacular backdrop.
Quietly cruising down the river, you can spot caiman taking the sun on the banks, white faced and howler monkeys in the trees and an array of birds that would make any Twitcher twitch. A lovely and relaxed way to take in some of the island’s diverse wildlife.
We took a tour of around 3 hours which included a double kayak and guide. Mornings are recommended before the wind picks up on the lake and it is the best time for wildlife spotting. Expect to pay around $25 USD each. Most of the kayak companies for the Rio Istian are located off a dirt road that requires 4×4 to access. A driver to collect and return us to our hotel was an additional $20 USD.
Dive Into Crystal Clear Lagoons
There are many beautiful black beaches surrounding the island, offering safe swimming in the clean, clear waters of the “freshwater sea” that is lake Nicaragua. Then there is Ojo de Agua (Eye of Water), one of those little oasis’ you will remember every time you dream about an idyllic holiday.
Ojo De Agua is situated on the north-eastern side of the island’s isthmus. It is home to two pools fed by thermal spring water from an underground well in the upper pool. The continuous stream of fresh water flowing through the pools is said to have special qualities. The lower pool is over 40 meters long and around 2 meters deep making this crystal clear swimming lagoon, set in lush tropical surrounds, the perfect place to laze away an afternoon.
Wooden lounge chairs and gazebos line the shore and a small restaurant overlooks the lush green surrounds. Waiters will serve meals and drinks to you poolside. Toilets and dressing rooms are provided, making this one of those magic little places where nature blends perfectly with hospitality and service.
Entry to the reserve is $4 USD and meals and drinks are on par with the rest of the island (around $5 USD for a substantial meal and around $1.50 USD for a beer).
Visit Fascinating Archeological Sites
Ometepe, with more than 1700 recorded petroglyphs is famous for its pre-Columbian history and is renown as one of the most significant rock art areas in the world.
Ancient petroglyphs and stone statues or idols can be found all over the island, with some sites containing ceramic urns and utensils. It is said the ancient Indians considered Ometepe as the promise land with volcano Maderas being the sacred place of the sun and Concepción being the brother of the moon. Petroglyphs dating back to 1000BC have been recorded as well as carvings that demonstrate the use of calendars and stones that suggest human sacrifice may have taken place.
These archaeological sites can be found all over the island. Sites are marked on all maps, as well as in the archaeological museum of La Ceiba, in the Charco Verde area.
Hike Through Nature Reserves and Rain Forests
Charco Verde is a 20-hectare ecological reserve, a tropical dry forest which is home to an abundance of wildlife. Within the reserve is the mystical pond of Charco Verde. It has a distinct emerald hue due to an abundance of algae. Legend states this was the area used by the ancient Indians to make sacrifices to their gods. Marked walks through the reserve will bring you to a beach which offers views across lake Nicaragua to Maderas and Isla de Quiste.
A hike to The Cascade of San Ramon, a 50 meter waterfall on the southern slope of the Maderas is a 4 hour round trip. It offers great views of lake Nicaragua. The trails take you through dense jungle where a wide variety of wildlife can be seen.
This is a hike best done in the rainy season, as there is little water in the peak of the dry season.
Punta Jesus Maria
This narrow spit of sand is formed by water currents and sediment build up. At certain times of the year, the sand bank extends more than a kilometre so that you can stand with water splashing up on either side of you.
From here you have a panoramic view of the island and the two volcanoes. Looking towards the mainland, Volcano Mombacho can be seen. This is also a popular spot for swimming in the calm shallows or watching the sunset.
Get Out And About, See The Towns.
Head into the main towns of Moyogalpa and Altagracia. Moyogalpa is the commercial centre and gateway to Ometepe, serviced by the ferry from San Jorge one hour away. This little metropolis offers a good base for exploring Ometepe, with a number of hotel options, restaurants, bars and services.
Concepción provides a constantly changing and always dramatic backdrop to this village atmosphere. Moyogalpa is a lovely spot to stop for a coffee and watch the Ometepe world go by.
Altagracia is a more authentic, historical town situated on the north eastern side of Concepción. In this quaint little town, you will find a lovely relaxed atmosphere, some of the biggest examples of stone idols and an archeological museum. There is also a number of local eateries and bars.
Hire A Bike Or Scooter – Take in the sights, see the villages and meet the people.
The great beauty of Ometepe is the friendly people, the landscapes and the simpler way of life. This is an island where you can really switch off and relax. Take a ride around the islands various villages and you will find lovely eateries by the beach, how horse and oxen are still so integral to daily life and the many smiling, friendly people. While Ometepe is by no means a fancy island, it is very rich.
Things To Consider
Tours or guides are more expensive than anywhere else in Nicaragua, but still reasonable.
Taxis are more expensive than on the mainland or even The Corn Islands. This is attributed to the high fuel costs on the island. Expect around $20 USD for most trips.
Food is still as cheap as you would find anywhere in Nicaragua. Expect around $1.25 USD for a beer and around $3 – $7 USD for a restaurant meal.
As there is only one main road around the island that is sealed, getting around can be slow. If you bring your own car from the mainland, a high clearance 4×4 is recommended especially if you want to explore off the beaten track. Scooters can be hired for around $20-$25 USD for 8 hours and are a great way to get to most places. Motorbikes and bicycles can also be rented. There is a bus service running between Moyogalpa and Altagracia for around $1 USD but it is very slow, expect around 1 hour to take the normally half hour trip.
Getting To Ometepe Island
There are Ferries operating daily (except Sundays) from San Jorge (weather dependent) A one hour journey will cost ~ $3 USD per person and ~ $25 USD per person with car.
There are also ferries operating between Granada (Tues/Fri) and San Carlos, Rio San Juan (Mon/Thurs) that stop at Ometepe (Altagracia) twice weekly. This is an overnight ferry ~ 11 hours San Carlos- Ometepe.
A 1st class ticket costs around $9 ($4-second class). This gives you access to the AC cabin on the 1st class deck where you can watch TV, or hang your hammock (if you have one). There is no sleeping accommodation on the vessel.
La Costeña Airlines operate flights to Ometepe from Managua and San Carlos on Thursday and Sunday. Expect ~$50 USD for a one way ticket.
Where We Stayed
Ometepe has many accommodation options with a lot more high end options starting to emerge. We stayed at The Santa Cruz Hotel which is pretty indicative of the hotel options on the island. For $20 USD/night we had a basic but comfortable double room with ensuite and a spectacular view of Volcán Concepción.
They had a great restaurant and bar serving excellent meals at very reasonable prices. The staff were very friendly and helpful. They arranged tours, cars, bike hire and taxis for us with absolute ease and professionalism. We received some of the best service on Ometepe, especially at Santa Cruz Hotel. As with most regional areas of Nicaragua, don’t expect to find hot showers.
Ometepe truly is Paradise.