Ometepe Island is the largest island in Lake Nicaragua. Covering an area of 276 square kilometers (107 square miles), its curious hourglass shape rises out of the water with an active volcano on one end and a dormant one on the other. Farmland and homes lie between the volcanoes on this island whose name comes from the Aztec word “ome” meaning two and “tepetl” meaning mountain. Here are some travel tips for Ometepe Island in Nicaragua:
The best way to get to this island easily is by ferry boat, which may be boarded in the Nicaraguan town of Rivas. Upon arrival at the port, you will notice that it is small and bustling with a flurry of activity.
When I was in Rivas with a group, there were two small ferries, each about the size of a tugboat and definitely not the size of your average ferry. One ferry even had about 100 mattresses stacked on the top deck. Thankfully we were taking the other boat, which looked old and could spring a leak and sink at any moment. We boarded with our luggage, which workers placed on the second floor. It was fascinating to watch – one man on the first floor would lift heavy bags or suitcases above his head to the man on the second floor, which is where he carefully placed them until the end of our hour-plus long journey to the Ometepe town of Altagracia at the Port of Grace. This luggage handling process then had to be done in reverse for disembarkment.
Arriving on the island:
Ometepe Island has its own bustling port. Once we boarded luggage onto a van, we headed out to our lakeside accommodations on the other side of the island in Altagracia. As we drove through the port town, we noticed tourists milling around, bars and restaurants lining the streets, and small hotels and hostels. Past that, farmland and lush greenery on both sides of the road greeted us. Occasionally, we would see farm animals and stray dogs freely walking along the side of the road, something I was very curious about since you do not see much of that in the States.
There are plenty of options for hotels, homestays, and hostels when you visit this large island, with approximate prices ranging from $10-$200 per night. The cost of a hostel is closer to the $10/night mark and a nicer hotel or resort will obviously be more expensive.
There are many relaxing options on Ometepe, where you can be as lazy or adventurous as you want. Let’s look at a few of those options here:
1. Hike a volcano.
With two volcanoes to choose from, there are a few hiking choices, and all of them are rather challenging and you are not allowed to hike on your own. The stipulation is that you need to hire a local guide, which is non-negotiable.
Through a local guide, choices for volcanic hikes are:
- Hike to the top of Volcán Concepción (1,600 meters or 5,249 feet in elevation). The last part of this 16km hike is extremely steep and rocky.
- Hike to the top of Volcán Maderas, standing at 1,394 meters (or 4,573 feet), is slightly easier, but gets steep and muddy. At the top, however, is a crater lake, which is supposed to be beautiful.
- Hike to the viewpoint of Volcán Maderas, which will still be a challenge but not nearly as difficult as the other two hiking choices. It’s shorter than the other hikes, so if you are short on time, this may be the best option.
Which hike would you choose? To learn more about hiking a volcano on Ometepe Island, please click here to visit the article.
2. Have lunch with a view.
La Mariscada located at Hotel Villa Paraiso is located on the beach and a great place to relax especially if you went on a strenuous volcano hike. The tables are set outside overlooking the lake in a lush, tropical setting. Once your food and drink are ordered, head down to the beach where you can go for a swim, walk along the soft sand, or sit in a beach chair until you decide to go back to your table. Then, feast on delicious Nicaraguan food and wash it all down with a local beer!
3. Swim in a natural spring.
Oja de Agua is a set of natural spring-fed pools fed by an underground river from Maderas Volcano. The water is rather cool, which is incredible on a hot, sunny day (but if there’s cloud cover, you may find it too cold to swim). Coco Loco, a rum and coconut water drink served in a coconut, may be ordered in a number of locations around the pool. Try out the Tarzan swing, which was essentially a rope attached to a thick stick you hold onto with your hands. Just climb up to a platform, grab the rope, and swing into the chilly water. It’s a fun way to get in! There’s no lifeguard around so be as cautious as you can after drinking some Coco Locos. For other brave souls, there’s a tightrope along one of the pools to try. The tightrope is tricky but it’s also incredible to see others walk along it without falling.
Oja de Agua has outdoor showers that can double as change rooms. Admission isn’t too expensive either at just $5.00 USD/person (or even less expensive at $3.00 if you’re a Nicaraguan national). There’s an enclosed restaurant/bar area as well, but you may want to hang in a lounge chair by the pool the entire time. It’s quite a fun experience and definitely worth a visit if you find yourself on Ometepe Island.
During our time here, I asked a local one looming question I had (and you may be wondering the answer, too) – Why are there so many farm animals walking along the side of the road? Those animals looked like strays (at least to me), but he assured me they belong to farms in the area and that they leave early in the morning to go find food and return home around mid-afternoon.
If you do find yourself in Nicaragua, Ometepe Island is a must. There’s just no other place on earth like it!
Note: Nicaragua celebrates Valentine’s Day too! Find out about it here.
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