Flee the really rather average Rivas by boat to the beautiful volcanic island of Ometepe. Though Ometepe is a small place, it’s very much geared up for travellers. In fact, there are probably more backpackers than locals, but once you escape into the island’s nature you won’t even remember.
Things to Do on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
The nature and wildlife is the defining feature of the island and is nothing less than incredible.
Climb Volcan Concepcion
The bigger of the twin peaks and the most popular tourist draw, Volcan Concepcion is the second tallest volcano in Nicaragua and it’s no pushover. We were prevented from reaching the summit by dismal weather and the prospect of landslides, but make it past the tree line and there are glorious views of the land below if the weather’s on your side. The hike to the top takes most people eight hours, so you’ll have to plan ahead and get an early breakfast inside you before starting out.
Watch Howlers Monkeys (and other wildlife!)
Ever since I was three or four years old, I’ve wanted to see howler monkeys out in the wild. After spending six months in Costa Rica with their cries ringing in my ears, I was feeling fairly defeated – I had heard plenty of howler monkeys but seen zero. You can hear howler monkeys all over Ometepe, but given my previous failures I didn’t get my hopes up.
On the way back down Concepcion, I was fortunate enough to run into two of these wonderful animals: a fierce looking male and a much younger companion. Success at last! I was surprised by how small the monkeys are compared to the enormous racket that they make. We stared at each other, me on the ground, them high up in a tree, though clearly visible on an isolated branch. Our guide, an expert mimic, made the howling noise that the monkeys are famous for and sure enough, the monkey above us promptly responded.
You can also see the beautifully crested blue-tailed magpie on Ometepe. These are both gorgeous to look at and expert copycats with a remarkable vocal range. Whilst the locals may scare you with tales of freshwater bull sharks in the lake, it seems that they are now semi-mythical monsters. Scientists agree that a shark-finning factory probably caused their extinction in this area, the last one having been spotted over ten years ago.
Explore the Island by Scooter
Whilst Ometepe is slightly too big to cycle all the way around, it’s mostly empty roads and beautiful scenery make it an excellent place to hire a scooter or motorcycle for a day or two. Charlie and I thought that if we were to stay longer on the island, the lack of traffic and simple road layout would make an ideal place to learn how to drive a motorbike – something we would love to do but have no wish to do in the busy and rainy streets of London!
When you’re exploring on scooter-back, make sure to stop at these two places:
Punta Jesus Maria is a thin finger of land that curls out into Lake Nicaragua. From this point you can not only see both volcanoes clearly, but you will also witness the most golden sunset. You can find the point a little over 5km south of Moyogalpa, though keep your eye out for the dirt-track turning off the proper road.
Ojo de Agua, a natural spring, is ideal for getting some respite from the fierce midday heat. We didn’t know quite what to expect after reading some mixed reviews on TripAdvisor and were surprised to find the site more built up than we had guessed. It’s not a swimming complex by any stretch of the imagination, but there are swings, changing rooms and people selling coconuts. A word of warning: we watched an over-excited local fall from the swing and knock his head against the concrete side. Fortunately he got away with just a bruised ego, but it could have been a lot worse.
Places to Eat in Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
Moyogalpa is far and away the liveliest part of the island with touristy restaurants offering average food at marked up prices. Though we certainly aren’t raving about any of the eating places there, Central Hostal is a good shout for a pasta bowl size portion of breakfast granola at an all right price. If you don’t mind a small splurge, then try out the Cornerhouse Cafe. Their ginger and passion fruit juice is awesome.
Comedor Jackeling in Santa Domingo cooked up the fresh veggies and pasta at decent value and was probably the best place we ate on the island. On the same strip, Naturale Restaurante, is a good for a veggie pit stop but their food doesn’t come too cheap and the staff are pretty nonchalant.
Places to Stay in Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
We stayed in three different parts of the island: Moyogalpa, Altagracia and Santa Domingo.
Moyogalpa is where most tourists will get off the ferry. Expect to be hassled by entrepreneurial locals looking to convince you that theirs is the only place in town worth staying at. We stayed at the very friendly Hospedaje Casa de Familia, where we got a spacious room, double bed, good internet connection and an en-suite bathroom for $10 a night.
Altagracia is another world entirely and the word ‘ghost town’ might spring to mind if you make it this far round the island. The recent landslides may have been responsible, but we were greeted by stern-faced locals drinking toñas at 8:00am in the morning. To be fair, everyone we met there turned out to be friendly, honest and gave us a good price. We stayed at Hotel Kenco, in a dark cell style room for $8 a night.
Playa Santo Domingo is less a village and more a series of ramshackle hostels and restaurants built up along a stretch of black sand beach. We stayed at Hospedaje Buena Vista, where we got the nicest room out of all of our stays for $15 a night.
The island has internet, running water and electricity, though all can (and probably will) go without warning at some point during your stay. Getting between the different towns can be infuriating, as the buses are slow, infrequent, and sometimes decide not to run on Sundays. You can arrange for private shuttles or taxis, which range in price from extortionate to reasonable depending on your bargaining skills!
Recently Charlie and I were given a surprise opportunity to return to Ometepe! We hope it will all work out for next February – but we’ll have to wait and see.
Have you been to Ometepe Island? Would you like to? If you have any other places to recommend, let us know.