Rising up out of Lake Nicaragua Concepcion volcano is a powerful first image of Isla Ometepe.
Isla Ometepe is a large island located in the middle of equally large Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua is so large, in fact, that you really feel as if you are on an island in the middle of the ocean, versus one in the middle of a gigantic freshwater lake. Much of the island’s skyline is occupied by its two famous inhabitants: the volcanoes Concepcion and Maderas.
Getting There and Staying There
The boat options from the mainland (launching from Rivas) range from large, sturdy car ferries to tiny lanchas, which fight their way through the choppy water, but cost half as much (which equates to approximately $2 US). The boats leave fairly regularly throughout the day and if you arrive and a lancha is leaving next you may just want to wait another 30 minutes or so for a bigger, non-vomit inducing boat to leave.
Most ferries land at the main port town of Moyogulpa, where a vast majority of the tourist infrastructure on the island is found. We spent only one night in Moyogulpa before we headed to a more remote part of the island (and our fabulous hotel, Finca Mystica) but if your goal is to actually do things while on the island I would recommend staying in the Moyogulpa area. If you are planning to just hang out and read and maybe do a bit of swimming then find yourself a beautiful finca (a small farm-hotel) and relax.
It’s pretty easy to arrange transport around the island from Moyogulpa, and most people really use the town as a launching point from which to explore the wild surroundings. There is a cheap public bus that runs to most villages on the island, but it is very slow and only traverses the main roads. If you are feeling adventurous you can rent a car or motorbike to get you around the island, but be sure to watch out for the cows, monkeys and children that regularly cross the roads. Truly adventurous and in shape visitors rent bicycles to get around. We did none of these things and instead got a taxi to our finca and then walked everywhere from there.
If you are venturing far out it may be worth considering a taxi or shuttle service. The Madera side of the island is very rural and the rutted roads require a higher clearance, four wheel drive vehicle.
By far the most popular activity on the island is hiking one of the two massive volcanoes. Hiking either is very difficult, and being that we never (ever) hike, ascending either was never even considered. Instead we opted for a much more manageable hike to San Ramon waterfall. The trail head is located far from Moyogulpa, but if you are staying on the Maderas side of the isthmus, like we were, then the hike is a good alternative for exploring Ometepe.
If you have your heart set on hiking a volcano on Ometepe make sure you come prepared. The hike up Maderas takes 6-8 hours and is the trek most tourists make. For the truly badass there is Concepcion. To climb the mammoth volcano takes 10-12 hours and guides are mandatory due to the deaths of a few tourists while making the ascent. Either way you are in for a long, strenuous, HOT day. Have I mentioned yet how hot it is in Nicaragua?
Go to Ometepe. It’s beautiful. There is wildlife everywhere, the lake is a perfect respite from the hot Nicaraguan sun, and there are beautiful fincas to rest your weary head. It was our favorite stop in Nicaragua and one of our favorite stops on the whole Central America trip.