Ometepe is a volcanic island located in Lake Nicaragua. The island is almost shaped like the figure 8, with the towering and active Volcan Concepción to the north and the cloud forest covered Volcan Maderas to the south. For me it conjured up images of mystery and intrigue – an island with two towering volcanoes in the middle of a lake? Amazing! Below we have provided some useful information for anyone who is thinking about visiting this fascinating island.
To get to Ometepe all roads lead to Rivas. Rivas is a relatively big city which is located about 5km from the ferry terminal at San Jorge. We got the Chicken Bus from Granada (near the market) at 8am and it cost $34 cordobas per person (and of course the extra $34 Cordobas for your bag – even though its on top of the bus, yep!). When you arrive in Rivas station it is pretty hectic but we got a shared taxi for $2 per person to the port of San Jorge. When we arrived at the port we could organise our transport for when we arrived on the island. One thing to note is that public transport on the island is virtually non-existent (there is 1 bus a day from Balgüe to the port, and its at 5.30am!) so if you are staying somewhere other than near the port you need to pay for a shuttle. We paid $20 US Dollars to drop us off at our hostel Así es mi Tierra in Balgüe.
Ometepe has got some amazing sunsets!
There is a wide range of areas to stay in Ometepe. The port Moyogalpa is a favourite destination for some backpackers and is a convenient location to visit Volcan Concepción. It is quite far away from other attractions on the island and that is why we decided not to stay here. Our choice was to stay in Balgüe which is on the other part of the island, near Volcán Maderas. This small village is conveniently located close to Ojo de Agua, San Ramon Waterfall and some of the small beaches like Santo Domingo. The village also has some great local restaurants, along with some which are owned by foreigners, such as Cafe Campestre which is delicious.
Some scenery from Ometepe!
As we chatted to other tourists on the island we realized that the one activity on their list was to climb either Volcán Concepción or Volcán Maderas. We had just climbed Acatenango a few weeks before hand so we had no desire to climb either of these, and also the views from the top are normally nonexistent (due to cloud cover) so we didn’t feel we were missing out on anything by not doing it.
The below are what we recommend to do when on Ometepe in order to make the most of your time.
Top of everyones list should be to rent a scooter or motorbike and drive around the island. They will literally give you either a scooter or motorbike whether you have the experience or not. We decided to opt for a scooter as we have no experience on motorbikes! We recommend spending a day to just drive around, stopping off at villages along the way. We first drove to Altagracia before going to the other side of the island and visiting Charco Verde National Park. We finished the day off at Ojo de Agua before leaving the scooter back at our accommodation, Así es mi Tierra. Some tourists will try and fit the San Ramon Waterfall in to their scooter day but we don’t recommend that. Firstly the road to the waterfall is unpaved and is really, really hard to drive a scooter on. You risk doing damage to both the scooter and yourself. Also, there is more than enough activities along the paved roads of Ometepe to occupy one full day! We rented the scooter from Así es mi Tierra for $25 and needed to make sure we returned it with a full tank.
The $25 scooter!
San Ramon Waterfall is well known on the tourist trail and as such it is quite a busy location. To get there you can either rent a motorbike (note, not a scooter) or try and organise a 4×4 with your hostel. The former is what we did, renting the 4×4 for the day which cost $60. Thankfully for us there was a girl from Barcelona in our hostel who also wanted to go to the waterfall so she was able to split the cost with us. We got as far as the entrance with the 4×4 before we had to start hiking to the waterfall. The hike was of medium difficulty but you will sweat thanks to the humidity! We managed to spot a howler monkey family along the way, including some cute babies. When you arrive at the waterfall be aware that it isn’t very deep, so don’t expect to have a refreshing dip at the end of the sweaty hike!! We had heard that sometimes during the dry season the waterfall can be reduced to a trickle, so ask around before starting your hike! Entrance to the waterfall is $3 each.
San Ramon Waterfall
The 4 X 4 we rented
The same day that we hiked to San Ramon Waterfall we decided to go kayaking down the River Istián. Note that there are tons and tons of places to rent a kayak between San Ramon Waterfall and the village of Merida. Our advice is to do it as near as possible to the river to avoid a long kayak through the lake before reaching the actual river. We did it in a small village not far from San Ramon ($15 per person) and had to kayak about 6km before reaching the river, we were pretty tired, especially on the way back! Alot of tours go from Merida which is 4km from the river, but El Peru (another small village) is only 1km so that gets our vote!
The vibrancy of the river
The river itself is beautiful, marshy and full of vibrant colours. There is also an array of wildlife to spot, we even managed to spot some howler monkeys and took a break to watch them!
The Kayaking is a proper workout though!
Charco Verde Nature Reserve is a beautiful 20 hectare dry forest located on the Volcán Concepción side of Ometepe. Its not a mind blowing must see reserve, but for $5 we feel it is a good way to spend a couple of hours when you have rented your scooter/motorbike. There are a number of different trails you can take, each providing you with the chance to spot different birds, and of course the infamous howler monkey. There is also some gorgeous scenery and a small butterfly house to enjoy!
Amazing trees in Charco Verde
First thing is first, this was our least favourite thing to do in Ometepe. It is a man made pool filled with water from an underground river. There are two separate swimming pools, 1 with a slack line going across it, and the other with a tarzan swing to jump into the pool. There is a host of seats surrounding the pools to relax and they also have good services like a restaurant and changing rooms/showers, etc. So why was it our least favourite thing to do on Ometepe? The price of $5 was steep for what it actually is and, to be honest, we were expecting some natural swimming pools – not something man made! For this reason it got the thumbs down for us but if you are looking for somewhere to relax for the day and/or cool down, then this is your spot!
Ojo de Agua and the rope swimg
Some other activities on Ometepe include climbing Volcán Concepción and Maderas (of course), going to Punta Jesus Maria for a viewpoint of both volcanoes at once (if you are lucky and there is no cloud) and view the petroglyphs around Volcán Maderas.
Ometepe is home to some great viewpoints!