It’s not often you find yourself on a massive volcanic island in the middle of one of the world’s biggest lakes. So when we heard about the island on a lake which is Ometepe on Lake Nicaragua we knew we had to see it for ourselves. By the time we reached the shores of Ometepe we’d been in Nicaragua a while. Something unexpected for us as we never anticipated how much we would fall in love with Nicaragua.
THE ISLAND ON A LAKE – OMETEPE, NICARAGUA
THE ISLAND ON THE LAKE – OMETEPE, NICARAGUA
We left Granada after spending way more time than expected in its colonial centre and in our steal of a hostel. Peace and quiet is sometimes so welcomed when you’re used to staying in the liveliest backpacker hostels the continent has to offer. We spent several days in Granada exploring, meeting new friends and almost getting killed off-roading in a non-off road vehicle. Lots of fun really and no casualties with our new Texan friends. Festivities and celebrations filled the streets for whatever reason and we were just happy to be a part of it. The central Plaza was greeted at sunset by crowds of families and friends making Granada buzz.
My first ever glimpse of Ometepe
I think you’ll probably agree arriving on the edge of the lake at sunset to catch our ferry to Ometepe meant our first look of the island was pretty special thanks to the lighting of the setting sun.
Preparing to catch the ferry at sunset
HOW TO GET TO OMETEPE BY FERRY
When we eventually to hit the road and leave Granada. We took a very warm, very cramped, chicken bus south from the city to catch the ferry to Ometepe. Our bus was two hours delayed, what else this is Central America. We reached the ferry port to an area mid way through a re-generation project and we could see Ometepe from the distance.
The sun was going down and our ferry was packed with people all itching to get to Ometepe too. We watched the sunset from a rickety old boat that leaned to one side. It was magical to be on a lake heading to an island somewhere on Lake Nicaragua. Somewhere along the way I fell in love with Nicaragua and I still tell people it’s one of my favourite counties of everything we’ve seen so far. I don’t think that will change any time in the future. Ometepe is a Nicaraguan jewel and I don’t believe any trip to Nicaragua is complete without a trip to this wonderful little isla.
FROM GRANADA TO OMETEPE VIA RIVAS, NICARAGUA
Head to the bus station in Granada (not in a great area of town) to grab the chicken bus to Rivas, check the departure times beforehand with your hostel and don’t be surprised if the bus doesn’t leave on time.
It’s standard to wait until it’s full, even if that does leave you baking on the bus for an hour. There is no shade at the bus station and nowhere safe to sit with your bags. There’s a large supermarket next door though that’s great for killing some time.
The bus to Rivas costs a couple of dollars and the journey is short to Rivas, there is no official connection to the ferry port to get to the island of Ometepe. But there will be taxis waiting.
We were lucky enough to share a taxi with another backpacker heading to the Ometepe ferry port so we split the cost. The taxi ride is short but worth it, don’t pay more than $5.
The ferry costs around $2 it fills up fast and they make sure it’s packed so be there with enough time to spare. There are two separate ferries to Ometepe, we opted for the large one.
Once at Moyogalpa don’t be shocked to be greeted by a local selling his hostel to new arrivals. Usually great value and a very good source of tourist information.
One final look at mainland Nicaragua before boarding the ferry to Ometepe
We arrived on Ometepe feeling fresh off our (not-so-fresh) ferry, the sun had set and darkness filled the island. There is something so majestic arriving on an island like Ometepe, surrounded completely by darkness and water.
We were greeted at Moyogalpa dock by a local man advertising his families hostel. Friendly and kind was the initial impression we got of the island. We had officially arrived in Ometepe to a truly open armed welcome. Our time on Ometepe had begun and it had begun really well at that.
We decided to stay with the family of the man that greeted us at the dock of Ometepe. For us choosing local family-run businesses has become a big part of our adventure. I think contributing to the immediate local economy is an important part of all travelling (without sounding like a self-righteous backpacker trying to fix the world).
For us it’s a way of, I hate to say it, giving back to the communities and people. It makes tourism much more mutually beneficially, something I’ve talked about in previous posts. I’m a tourism management graduate so these things always cross my mind regularly. And next to that we will always remember staying at a warm and inviting family ran hostel in Ometepe, these kind of memories are priceless on our adventure.
Enjoying a local beer at one of the family owned restaurants
Hostel Ibesa reminded us of so many Casa Particulars from our time in Cuba. Clean, friendly and within our price range. The best thing about staying in a family home is the unlimited access to tourist information from genuine members of the community that know Ometepe best. It makes you feel like you’re getting in on the secret. When locals tell you their favourite spot or tell you a shortcut. That’s what it’s like on Ometepe it has a complete community feel. Staying in this welcoming setting and speaking to locals is such an added bonus to experiencing a new place, it’s our favourite way to gain something from a destination.
Playa Jesus Maria, Ometepe
Enjoying the volcanic sand
Playa Jesus Maria has the most incredible black volcanic sand. A lot of people choose to spend a day here during their time on Ometepe and I would certainly reccommend.
More of the black volcanic sand of Isla de Ometepe
PUNTA JESUS MARIA, ISLA DE OMETEPE, NICARAGUA
We spent our first day on Ometepe on the black sands of Punta Jesus Maria. A gorgeous empty and secluded lake side beach. Its easy to forget that Lake Nicaragua isn’t the ocean when the waves are lapping at your toes. It seems too vast to be just a lake.
Getting to Punta Jesus Maria is nice on a bike. Many places in Moyogalpa offer bike and scooter rentals, both things were something we were eager to do whilst staying on Ometepe. The island is the perfect size for a bike or moped adventure. Take some snacks and some water and enjoy the cool breeze as you cycle down the empty roads to this private little spot. It’s a great day spent enjoying and relaxing by the lake. Pictures are okay too.
Cycling across the runway of Ometepe
The only paved road on the island, it’s not even finished yet
MOYOGALPA AND BEYOND – EXPLORING OMPETEPE, NICARAGUA
I’d describe Ometepe as a unique destination, but most of the stand out places you visit in Central America are unique. The poorly organised ferry services are this little islands saviour. Due to their infrequency and unreliability to operate the daily ferries control tourism just enough to help Ometepe keep its identity. Moyogalpa is the largest village on the island and the main ferry route.
Surprisingly Moyogalpa is a relatively cheap destination, for any island it’s rare to see prices that reflect the local income and economy. Although tourism is present in Ometepe prices do remain low, it’s always a good sign to see locals eating in restaurants and cafes. Seeing this we knew we were part of a community and not just the outsider tourists passing by. Moyogalpa on Ometepe still has a strong Nicaraguan cultural identity, unlike a lot of other tourist hot spots in Central America where the culture has been diluted too much.
The most incredible rich countryside – The nutritious volcanic soil supports Ometepe’s thriving ecosystems
We were lucky enough to visit almost all the places recommended to us by locals and travellers we’d met whilst on the Island of Ometepe. This included the lush Charco Verde national park and nature reserve. Here you can follow a nature trail past a lagoon to a private secluded beach. You almost feel like you’re on the coast somewhere hearing the lake waves lap against the black sandy shore. Add this to your Ometepe bucket list and you won’t regret it.
Rent a bike and head to Punta Jesus Maria
Whether you decide to rent a bike or a moped the singular road can take you most of the way around Ometepe
SCOOTER RENTAL ON A BUDGET – OMETEPE, NICARAGUA
We decided to rent bikes one day and explore the island that way and the following day we decided to turn things up a notch and rent a moped to explore Ometepe further. We stopped at a roadside cafe to drink iced coffee and check out photographs. Circling the island felt like a movie to me. Such an incredibly perfect way to see the island for all it has to offer. I cannot recommend this more.
Looking like a total pro – Apparently I’m unsafe
If you’re lucky enough on your exploration of the island you’ll see some monkeys in the canopy above you just like we did. Even if you don’t get to see them I’m sure you’ll feel them following you. Believe it or not this was our second sighting of monkeys that day. Ometepe is filled with the most incredible wildlife and plantlife. It’s rich ecosystems make everyday and every photo extra beautiful.
Thanks to the help of our rented moped we spent an entire day exploring the far corners of this majestic little volcanic island. I could’ve spent weeks zipping along the quiet roads, taking in the beautiful countryside under the watchful eye of Volcan Concepcion. Ometepe had stolen our hearts for sure, we even bumped into some friends doing the journey in the opposite direction.
The volcanic rock just to remind you that you are on an active volcano
BACKPACKER ACCOMMODATION – OMETEPE, NICARAGUA
If you’re heading to Ometepe any time soon I definitely recommend booking your accommodation in advance as it is such a small place and rooms do fill up quickly. From what we witnessed too the standards of rooms fluctuate and some are of a high quality and some don’t even have windows. We foolishly left our beloved first hostel to move over to the other side of the island but unfortunately there was no space for us. We were left wandering the steep streets checking for room at the inn. There was no room on Ometepe for us. We had to settle for a less than desirable room with a resident cockroach and a shower curtain for bathroom door. Classic.
EXPLORING ISLA DE OMETEPE, NICARAGUA
We also rented bikes, as I mentioned earlier and headed to the volcanic lake beach of Jesus Maria, another recommend hot spot that we ended up visiting twice. I was so sad to see all the starving puppies and ended up feeding them all my snacks for the day. I’m a joke sometimes but throughout this trip I’ve felt such empathy towards all the stray animals we’ve been seeing.
Upon reflection I truly hope the popularity of Ometepe with tourists can be controlled effectively. Tourism is and always will be my favourite subject, but I know how devastating it can be on mass, especially to such a unique little place. Maybe that’s why the ferries are so rubbish, Nicaragua knows this too. I certainly hope that’s the case because I do hope to return and drink some more ice cold Victoria Lights on a black sandy beach with a volcano overlooking me. It would be an awful shame if that beach was no longer a secluded, empty little spot.
Chacro Verde Lagoon, Isla de Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua