Updated October 2017 (including all prices)
The route from San Juan del Sur to Isla de Ometepe is well-trodden by international backpackers and, due to the need to take a ferry part of way, it is one of the few we have encountered that does not offer a shuttle bus. Whilst we always favour cheap local transport over expensive tourist shuttles, we know that not everyone is comfortable battling with overcrowded public buses or some prefer the ease of a shuttle.
In saying that, Rivas bus terminal is one of the few places that we've encountered in our year in Central America where it seems everybody is trying to blatantly rip you off. In actuality, it is only the taxi drivers, but there are so many of them, approaching from all sides, that it often seems impossible to tell fact from lie.
So, here's our guide to getting from San Juan del Sur (SJDS) to Ometepe by bus and boat without getting scammed in Rivas.
Step One | Take the Bus from SJDS to rivas
These old school buses leave from the centre of town very frequently (first bus at 5 a.m., last at 5 p.m.) and fill up quickly. Ask for a fare to Rivas Terminal.
Cost: 30C pp (some people have been charged up to 45) | Time: 45 - 60 minutes
Step 2 | Do not get off this bus until you reach Rivas bus terminal
We discovered that, about 1km before the bus station, this bus will sometimes stop and tell people heading to Ometepe to get off there. Or, some helpful looking young guys will get on and tell you that this is the stop for Ometepe. DON'T BELIEVE THEM!
These guys are taxi-drivers who will insist, once you're off the bus, that there is actually no way to get to the Ometepe boat except by their taxi. They'll probably throw in that the last boat of the day leaves in only 30 minutes. In the same spot, they also try the same trick for people wanting to head to to Popoyo/Las Salinas.
So, remember to STAY ON THE BUS until the terminus which is in the market and is made clear by...lots of other buses!
Step Three | don't believe the taxi drivers
We've passed through Rivas bus station ten times and, on each occasion, a group of guys have either boarded our bus or approached us whilst we're waiting around to let us know that either:
1) There is no bus to your desired destination
2) The last bus just left and there won't be another one
3) The next bus isn't for another five hours.
On each occasion, we've known in advance that this isn't true, so have refused to go with them in their 'cheap' taxi. However, it would be totally understandable if you didn't know the schedules and scams that you'd take them at face value.
Our tip is to politely (and repeatedly) say no, and find an old man or a stall-owner in the waiting area and ask them – you usually get an honest answer.
Step Four | Find the bus to san jorge
There's a bus every 30 minutes to San Jorge (where the ferry departure is). It doesn't leave from the 'main' part of the station, but rather from the road running parallel; the stop is in front of an agricultural store and next to a cluster of waiting taxis.
These taxi-drivers will probably continue to tell you that there's no bus today but, again, ask a few other people if you're not certain.
There is however NO bus running on Sundays, so a taxi will be your only option if travelling on that day - don't pay more than 20C
Cost: 7C | Time: 15 minutes
Step five | catch the boat to ometepe
Please note that although there are number of boat services running daily, some of these are large ferries to carry vehicles, and are priced much higher - see the schedule below.
Cost: 10C entry fee for foreigners plus 45C for the boat (ferry costs 70C) | Time: 1 hour
Step six | arrive in myogalpa, isla de ometepe
You've reached an incredible destination. Mark Twain described it way better than we could:
"Out of the midst of the beautiful Lake Nicaragua spring two magnificent pyramids, clad in the softest and richest green, all flecked with shadow and sunshine, whose summits pierce the billowy clouds. They look so isolated from the world and its turmoil - so tranquil, so dreamy, so steeped in slumber and eternal repose. What a home one might make among their shady forests, their sunny slopes, their breezy dells, after he had grown weary of the toil, anxiety and unrest of the bustling, driving world."
You've got days of motorbiking or cycling, sunsets, natural hot springs and climbing volcanoes ahead of you. Why not start planning for your time there with our guide?
If staying in Myogalpa (like we did), then there's no need to take a taxi; there are decent hostels within a 10-minute walk (a popular option is Casa Mauro)
If you plan on staying on the other side of the island (tip: La Urraca Loca is highly recommended!), then there are busses throughout the day but they're not too frequent so you might want to find some private transport.
TOTAL COST: 92 CORDOBAS | TOTAL TIME: 3-4 HOURS
So that's how you get from San Juan del Sur to Isla de Ometepe in less than four hours and without a taxi in sight! It's unfortunate that Rivas bus station has this problem, but with a little advance planning, you'll have the upper hand.
If you really want or need to take a taxi originating from Rivas to either the Ometepe boat or elsewhere along the coast, our recommendation is to do some research as to the price in advance. Otherwise, without having a rough idea, you will get hassled and ripped off.
We have heard from people paying triple what we paid our taxi driver to get to Playa Gigante, and even one poor chap getting driven and dropped off the wrong town (presumably because it was closer than the requested destination, and he'd be able to speed away before the backpacker realised!).
Feel free to let us know your experiences and the prices you've paid for taxis in the comments below to help future travellers avoid getting ripped off in Rivas and, if you're taking this journey, be sure to check the comments for updates on prices and experiences from other travellers.