Last Updated on February 4, 2021 by Bryony Clapperton
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 Ometepe Island 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 little while. Already in love with the country our trip to Ometepe Nicaragua only further added to this.
The island on a lake
I use this phrase ‘island on a lake’ to describe both Ometepe Island and Isla del Sol in Bolivia. The concept of a large inhabited island on a lake is so foreign to me that I began using this phrase.
Lake Nicaragua and Lake Titicaca are two of the worlds largest lakes and in comparison to the lakes I’m used to in the UK and Europe they are incredibly large.
Large enough that they house actual communities, cultures and infrastructures, which to me is pretty mind blowing.
Where is Ometepe Island?
Ometepe Island is located in the centre of Lake Nicaragua. It’s a spectacular volcanic island formed by two sleepy volcanoes.
These volcanoes are better known as Volcan Concepcion, the larger of the two and Volcan Maderas which is the smaller one.
The official name for the island in Spanish is Isla de Ometepe but most people shorten this to just Ometepe.
How to get to Ometepe Island
We left the stunning city of Granada in Nicaragua after falling in love with the colonial buildings and spending way more time than expected.
After several days in Granada exploring the vibrant streets, meeting new friends and taking in the beauty of the city it was time for us to move on.
Ometepe Nicaragua was a destination that had been on our original Central America bucket list since the start of our trip although excited we were sad to leave Granada.
With all this in mind we reluctantly figured out how to get to Ometepe a journey that would take us via. Rivas.
How to get to Ometepe from Granada
Head to the bus station in Granada. It isn’t in a great area of town so be prepared for this.
Grab the next chicken bus heading to Rivas. You’ll want to first get to Rivas, before you take a taxi to the Ometepe ferry port.
For your 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 in Central America, 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 and grabbing supplies.
The bus to Rivas costs a couple of dollars in local currency. The journey itself is short, but be aware that there is no official connection to the Ometepe ferry port However, there will be taxis waiting to take you to the ferry.
It is not uncommon to share taxis or collectivos with other travellers in Latin America.
Once in Rivas were lucky enough to share a taxi with another backpacker heading to the Ometepe ferry port so we split the cost.
The taxi ride from Rivas to the Ometepe ferry is short but worth it, don’t pay more than $5.
The Ometepe 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 heading to Moyogalpa. By the time we borded our Ometepe ferry the sun was going down and our ferry was packed with people all itching to get to Ometepe.
We watched the sunset from a rickety old boat that leaned to one side as our ferry sailed along to Ometepe Island.
Moyogalpa, Ometepe, Nicaragua
Where to stay in Ometepe Nicaragua
The Ometepe ferry will arrive in a town called Moyogalpa.
Once in Moyogalpa don’t be shocked to be greeted by a locals advertising accommodations. We actually decided to take one of these options as they are usually great value and a very good source of tourist information.
Contributing to the immediate local economy is an important part of sustainable travelling and it does help the local community.
Often secluded areas with a large number of indigenous communities are closer to poverty, so it’s important during a trip to Latin America to remember this.
Our accommodation was in the main town of Moyogalpa and called Hotsel Ibesa. I’d recommend this to anyone staying in the area.
Hostel Ibesa reminded us of so many Casa Particulars from our time in Cuba. Which is essentially an accommodation in the home of a local.
Hostel Ibesa is clean, friendly and within our price range. We also had access to unlimited tourist information from our hosts, which is always handy.
Things to do in Omepete Nicaragua
Along with exploring the main town of Moyogalpa and taking in all the local sites there are a wide range of things to do on Ometepe.
The island is a tourist favourite, however the limited number of ferries to and from the island control the number of tourists in Ometepe at any one time.
There are some great bars and restaurants in Moyogalpa and a lot of the food is budget friendly and delicious. From the main town of Moyogalpa you can book a range of activites that include bike rental, moped/scooter rental or quad rental.
Most people choose to do at least one of these, sometimes all 3. For short distaance trips to local by places rent a bike. For further afield destinations you’ll want a moped.
We rented a bike to visit Playa Jesus Maria, but a moped to visit Chacro Verde.
Playa Jesus Maria, Ometepe
Playa Jesus Maria is an absolute must visit from Moyogalpa. The beach has the most incredible black volcanic sand. It is often also refered to as Punta Jesus Maria.
The vibe here is totally chilled and there are some great photo opportunities of the lake and Volcan Concepcion.
We chose to cycle here and rented some bikes from one of the shops in Moyogalpa. Cycling to Playa Jesus Maria is pretty easy and the distance isn’t too far. The majority of the road is paved too, making it easier.
The beach itself is mostly quiet and secluded. . Its easy to forget that Lake Nicaragua isn’t the ocean when the waves are lapping at your toes.
There are a couple of locally run restaurants on the shores of Punta Jesus Maria so you can stop off and have an icy cold local beer if you want.
We decided to rent a moped on the second day of our time in Ometepe. We spent the first hour of our day just driving along the paved road to see how far we could get.
There are hundreds of great photo opportunities along the way. We stopped at a roadside cafe to drink iced coffee and check out photographs.
During our time here, the paved road was unfinished and we couldn’t make a full loop of the island. I believe it has now been finished so doing a full loop of the island should be doable.
Charco Verde, Ometepe Island
Along with a trip to Punta Jesus Maria, a day trip to Charco Verde is another of the great things to do in Ometepe. A little further from Moyogalpa you’ll want to rent a moped or quad to get here.
As part of our moped excusion of the island, we chose to visit the luch national park of Charco Vedre. Laguna Charco Verde, Ometepe is a nature reserve complete with nature trail and secret beach.
Weirdly it is a lagoon, on an island, located on a lake. So essentially a large body of water on an island located in a large body of water.
On your walk along the Charco Verde nature trail on Ometepe, don’t be surpised to see monkeys in the canopy above you. You’ll also want to get used to seeing lots of different species of butterflies.
Once you reach the shores of the secret beach, spend some time enjoying the tranquility before rushing back to continue your moped exploration of the island.
Why you should visit Ometepe Nicaragua
Is Ometepe budget friendly
I’d describe Ometepe as a unique destination, based on experience and purely because of the unique geography of the island.
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.
Moyogalpa is the largest village on the island and the main ferry route and although you’d expect it to be pricey here it isn’t.
Surprisingly Moyogalpa is a relatively cheap destination, for any island it’s rare to see prices that reflect the local income and economy but that isn’t true of Ometepe.
Although tourism is present in Ometepe Island prices do remain low, it’s always a good sign to see locals eating in restaurants and cafes. I would describe Ometepe as a budget friendly destination, despite it’s popularity.
Summary of Ometepe Nicaragua
Moyogalpa on Ometepe still have a strong Nicaraguan cultural identity, unlike a lot of other tourist hot spots in Central America where the culture has been diluted.
Island life on Ometepe is relaxed and enjoyable, it’s very easy to forget the outside world when you are stranded on an island in the centre of a great lake. I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a bad thing either.
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.