From the moment you set out aboard a rickety wooden boat to cross the expansive blue waters of Lake Nicaragua, it will become clear that Ometepe Island is a special place. The two volcanoes which dominate the landscape penetrate the clear blue skies and offer the hint that this is a place where adventures can be had, and travel memories made.
This backpacker haven, no longer a secret to be shared with but a few, provides some of the delights of Central America in microcosm. You can conquer the volcanic peaks, swim in natural pools or waterfalls, kayak down river, get lost on nature trails, taste coffee right next to the field in which the beans are grown or simply enjoy a gorgeous sunset with new friends and a bottle of Toña.
Here are some of our favourite activities and places on Ometepe.
see the island on two wheels
Whilst Ometepe is by no means a huge island, navigating it purely by foot or local bus could take you a long time. So, instead, we recommend getting yourself a pair of wheels. Many people choose to hire push-bikes for the duration of their stay, however, with more than half of the islands roads being unpaved and in parts, treacherous, your best bet is a motorcycle. Ometepe is in fact one of the few places in Latin America where you can rent a motorbike at affordable day-rates, so why not take advantage of it! Not only will you be able to cover much more ground, your butt will more than thank you the following day.
Essentials: Bicycle rental runs at approx $5 per day, whereas you can hire a motorcycle or scooter for $15-$20 USD per day (not including gas). A driving licence will be required.
If you do choose to rent a motorcycle, we would strongly recommend checking with the company or your hostel about the quality of the roads you plan to drive on. A number are not suitable for inexperienced, nervous riders or those not used to off-roading.
visit la ojo de agua
For a country well-known for its tropical climate, it is not a surprise that in the process of exploring Ometepe, you could get a little hot. Or, blood boiling dead on your feet to be quite frank. Thankfully, hidden amongst tropical plants and sheltered from the sun the natural springs of La Ojo de Agua are just waiting to cool you off.
Essentials: Located on the road between the two volcanoes, roughly 2 km after Santo Domingo. From the entrance where you have to pay $2 US per person, there is around 1km walk to get to the pools. There are are lockers on site for your valuables and basic changing facilities.
watch the sunset at punta jesus maria
Everybody loves a sunset, and it doesn't get much better than the one you can find at Punta Jesus Maria. Sure, the beach isn't particularly beautiful but when the setting sun casts an enchanting orange hue across the twin peaks of Ometepe's volcanoes you'll not want to be anywhere else.
Essentials: An easy 4 km bike ride from Myogalpa, near the landing strip. Although we didn't pay an entrance fee, we have heard of others paying $1 US per person. There a couple of stalls where you can buy a beer or some snacks.
hike the volcanoes
Well, you are in Central America after all, the place where you can't turn around without practically falling over a volcano!
You can actually climb both the volcanoes that make up Ometepe, but the most popular by far is Volcan Concepcion. However, before you get too excited, do bear in mind that this is not an easy hike - the people we spoke to who had completed it stated that it was actually the toughest they had ever undertaken.
However, for those up for the challenge, there is no doubting that it is an amazing experience with views from the crater over the entirety of Lake Nicaragua.
Essentials: The hike to the crater will take around 9 hours, with the option of a shorter four hour hike to a viewpoint.
You will need a guide to complete this hike (expect to pay around $50 US) - tourists have lost their lives attempting this independently, so don't take any unnecessary risks.
san ramon waterfall
On the southern slopes of the Volcán Maderas, around 4 km from the beach in San Ramon, you will find the waterfall. At 64m high, it's definitely a little more impressive than some others you'll find dotted around the country.
Essentials: The path to the falls from the entrance is 3 km - the first 2 km is along paved paths and relatively easy, whereas the last 1 km is much more of a hike. Entrance is $2 US per person.
From Merida, the entrance to the falls is around a 45 minute walk, or if coming from Myogalpa, a 3-4 hour bus ride leaving at 8.30 a.m. (the quality of the roads is pretty poor).
charco verde lagoon
On the southern side of Volcán Concepción the more intrepid explorer can discover a lush, less windblown cluster of beaches, centred around Reserva Charco Verde.
Accessible from a short hiking trail that begins at Hotel Charco Verde this is beautiful spot for swimming, hiking and wildlife-watching.
kayak istian river
Top of the list on a number of backpackers Ometepe bucket-lists is a kayak trip down the Rio Istian. Usually taken as part of a guided tour, you will spend hours exploring this small estuary that meanders from Lake Nicaragua through part of the isthmus connecting Ometepe’s two volcanoes and learning all about the wildlife that inhabits it.
Essential: Tours last around four hours and cost between $25 - $30 US per person.
check out the petroglyphs
Ometepe is famous for its pre-Colombian past, and as such, you will find petroglyphs and stone carvings throughout the island. For the ancient history buffs amongst you, your best bet of locating them are at Hotel Finca Porvenir and on Finca Magdalena, both on the slopes of the volcano Maderas or in the museum of La Ceiba.
For more information, click here.
Run by a co-operative of 24 families, Finca Magdelena is a 350-hectare organic farm that stretches along the foothills and up the slopes of Volcán Maderas. Producing amazing organic coffee, plantains, milk, corn, beans, rice and vegetables they offer visitors the chance to take part in a coffee tours, as well as tours of their finca. And when you're done with sampling the produce you can spend some time exploring one of their many easy walking tours.
Essentials: Coffee tour costs $16 US for three people, whilst the finca tour is $10 US per group.
In addition to the amazing birdlife that can be spotted during a kayaking trip down Rio Istian, Ometepe is an excellent place for all things monkey - especially capuchin and howlers. You may hear them before you see them, but keep your eyes peeled and you're sure to catch a glimpse as they swing through the trees.