Bite Size Travel – Ometepe, Nicaragua

03 Sep 2015

Volcanic Ometepe, UNESCO island biosphere with lots of adventure and rugged nature on offer for curious explorers

Why you should go?

Coming to Ometepe island in Central America’s Nicaragua is an adventure. Starting with the arrival on a 2 level open ferry ride over the Lake Nicaragua, to the transfer via the luscious, dense volcanic terrain of the island itself, you know this is no ordinary place. Lake Nicaragua a 160km long freshwater lake and also Central America’s largest, that lies just north of the border to Costa Rica.  The one hour crossing from the mainland departure point of San Jorge to the island’s main port at Moyagalpa gives you just enough time to size up the two volcanoes that will host you for the length of your stay. They’re also the most likely reason you come to Ometepe: to conquer one, the other or if you’re really fit: both. Concepción is perhaps the slightly more intimidating one, a) for it’s height of 1610m if you dare to attempt the steep, rocky and gravel route of an 8 hour return trip and b) the fact that it’s still active. Maderas at “only” 1393 metres height, may seem less threatening as it lies dormant and looks a little less steep from a distance. But the climb to the top is challenging, muddy and the path increasingly inclines the closer you get to the top and the more you run out of steam. The greener of the two, Maderas is covered in a dense cloud forest all the way to it’s crater, which may seem inviting for a swim to cool off. However, unless sulfur is a scent you enjoy oozing from your pores, this is not advisable.


Ometepe, Nicaragua
Ometepe, Nicaragua

Because of the huge changes in altitude on a relatively small space (276km2) on Ometepe, the climate and surface areas change dramatically and make for a diverse ecosystem and animal life. Armadillos, howler monkeys, white faced capuchin monkeys, and a variety of birds and insects will be likely sightings on your adventures towards the Maderas peak, a visit to the San Ramos waterfall  or even on the way the natural spring Ojo de Agua. Romantically captured by a big slab of cement, the crystal clear waters here are said to make you emerge 10 years younger.

A scattering of small villages around the foot of either Volcano allow you to choose your style of accommodation, which these days includes everything from basic and often scenic backpacker accommodation to boutique style lodges, guest houses and working farm stays. Public transport on the island is still very patchy. Your best bet is arranging a motorbike or car pick up from your hosts to deliver and return you from wherever you want to go. Push bikes are often available for rent from your host or they can arrange rental for you, but remember you’re at the foot of 2 volcanoes, so there’s lots of steep hills and roads often come with potholes. Otherwise you can arrange car or motorbike rentals in the arrival port in Moyagalpa, but this is pricier than your average rental due to limited car availability.  Beware roads are often dirt or gravel and can get muddy when it’s wet.

Shoes with good grip are an advisable investment.  They will get wet, muddy and may never look the same as in their pre – Ometepe period. The trails to either peak or even the waterfall are rugged and rough, and there’s no well trodden path. That’s also why it’s a good idea to get a guide for the volcano treks, however you can manoeuvre the San Ramos waterfall trail on your own.

Good for:

Pretending to be Indiana Jones and exploring a rugged Unesco protected biosphere without the bad guys chasing you. Volcano climbing – two if you have it in you. Kayaking. Swinging in Hammocks overlooking banana plantations. 

Best to get to:

Via the capital of Nicaragua, Managua. You can now fly to Ometepe from Managua with Nicaragua’s national airlines, La Costeña in a small 12 seater plane. Flights currently depart twice a week on thursday and sunday and cost approx US$50 one way. The more adventurous way is to hop on a ferry from San Jose (Rivas) port to the main port of Moyagalpa on Ometepe. It’s a one hour ride and ferries leave througout the day. Check here for timetables. To get from Managua airport to San Jose port, either take taxi from the airport (3.5 hours drive) which should cost around US$50-70. You will need to haggle. If you’re staying in Managua or another town beforehand, your reception will be able to organise a shared minibus, which is a lot cheaper than a taxi and often air conditioned and comfortable. 

Ometepe, Nicaragua
Ometepe, Nicaragua


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