Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
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What to Do
So I'm not going to lie, it won't be the best waterfall you've ever seen, but it's towering at 120 meters and during the rainy season it's really nice. It's hidden away in a little canyon with lush green waters. The hike is only about an hour and a half up to the falls and you can take a nice cold shower. Swimming no, but showering and chillen out is a great way to spend the afternoon. It's hard to get to the entrance since there are very few buses, but if you decide to rent a motorbike for the day this could be part of your trip. Also, you can go kayaking in Merida and then see the waterfalls after. If you don't want to pay for a taxi you can bicycle ride or walk but the roads are pretty bad. Good luck!
This volcano hike is complete different than Conception Volcano. It's "preferred to have a guide", but not necessary. You will not get the views because you will be hiking within a cloud forest, but it is AMAZING green jungle. From the start of your hike to the lagoon, you will be hiking through 5 different eco-systems that are very noticeable with the unique plant life at each level. The lagoon is very mystical and most often is extremely cloudy so I suggest following the path allow the lagoon and there's another area on the other side of the lagoon to chill out away from other hikers. I would start at Finca Magdalena and hike to the lagoon and hike a different trail down to El Porvenir which you will get an amazing view of the entire island! The other trail down is slightly hard to find but it's about 30 min from the top of the crater... Good luck!
If you choose the right day, this will be the most amazing experience of your Central America travels. It's "required" to have a guide because it's dangerous and steep. The weather changes drastically, but I've been living on Ometepe Island for the past 3 months staring at Conception Volcano every day. The best time to hike is when it has rained in the early morning so that the sky clears up when you get to the top in the late morning. When you get off the bus at a village called La Sabana you will walk down the dirt road for 40min to the entrance. From there you will walk straight up the volcano and it is a very clear path with red arrows sprayed on some of the rocks. Only if it's not windy will you have the privilege to sit on the crater's lip and stare down into the abyss. I was lucky enough to see the entire island and Mumbacho Volcano across the lake. I spent nearly 2 hours chillen at the top taking in one of the most beautiful sites of my entire life! (MY PHOTO WON'T UPLOAD!)
Ometepe has two volcanoes: Concepcion and Maderas. Maderas is smaller and take ~8hrs to hike, while Concepcion is the more cone shaped one and takes ~10hrs to hike. Guides are required and the hikes are no cake walk, especially Concepcion. Any hotel or hostel can book guides and transportation for between 15-20$. Wildlife is thriving in the jungles of Maderas but Concepcion has less tree coverage (less shade from sun) thus less animals.
This is my favorite activity on the island besides the volcano hikes. You will need to pay for a guide, but while kayaking you're more solo anyway. Two companies I recommend are Caballitos Del Mar which is cheaper around $20-$25 (3 hours) or Cafe Compestre Tours with an English mate named Ben who knows this island more than most locals. His tour is $35 but longer time (4 hours) and with other luxuries. You will kayak an hour to the river and you will then be able to see amazing views on your right and left side of both towering volcanoes. Monkeys will be howling in the trees, there's very unique birdlife in the wetland area and small cayman crocs linger in the waters. After an hour in the river you will kayak about an hour back to where you started. The village life along this part of the lake is truly rural and amazing. I would suggest going on an early morning trip or a sunset trip which Ben offers. Enjoy!
This is a place that tourists rarely know, but since I've been living here, is my favorite spot on the island to swim. It's about 15 min on the bus from Moyogalpa and you just tell the bus driver "Punta Jesus Maria" and you walk about 15min to the beach. At this point, you can swim with spectacular views of both volcanoes in the distance. Of course if it's a clear beautiful day it's more enjoying, but I really suggest going to this swim spot besides the other popular destinations in the guidebooks.
This review will be short and simple. It's basically a swimming pool. The locals have turned the natural springs into a place where pool chairs are in place beside the "pool" and they have food catering service to bring you food while you relax with the 50 other tourists. If you're looking for something to do on a really hot day the water is cooler than the lake so it might be more enjoying. I also like the small rope swing which is the only reason why I went twice while I've been living here.
La Presa Ojo de Agua is a tranquil little swimming hole near Santa Domingo. It’s made up of several underground springs that flow fresh water into this refreshing swimming hole. Entrance is 2$ and can stay for as long as you like. Up the hill is also some magnificient views of the two neighbor volcanoes. There is all types of beverages for sale as well. Great mid-day swim if rented bicycles for the day. Located in the middle section of the two volcanoes.
I was pretty impressed with the tour. Don't get me wrong, it's nothing like I've experienced in Asia, but this one is only $25 and there's 10-12 zips with AMAZING views of the island and right next to Conception Volcano. You're able to zip upside down and go superman style which wasa huge plus. There's also other activities part of the tour that aren't zips but they will make your stomach drop! The tour guides take your camera and they take photos and videos of you the entire time for free. I would strongly recommend it if you plan to zipline in Nicaragua!
Where to Stay
Awesome!!! Great time and hospitality. http://www.littlemorgans.com this lakeside resort offers dorms or privates ($30/rm sleeps 3) with your own shower and bath they have the best cooks/meals I've had in Nicaragua thus far. Tess and Anton where great host and offer help with anything we needed about the island. If your a vegatarian no need to worry here they got ya covered! I would strongly recommend this to anyone staying on ometepe. Located in Santa Cruz.
Once on the island can stay in Moyogalpa (less preferrable) or try the much nicer Little Morgan's Hostel in Santa Cruz. Take public bus from Moyogalpa to Altagracia, then wait where dropped off for public bus to Balgue and ask to get dropped off in Santa Cruz (buses 2$ each)or taxi whole way for 20-25$. Little Morgan's entrance is at the top of the hill ( http://www.littlemorgans.com/how-to-get-here). Hammocks, camping, dorms (amazing treehouse) and private rooms. Plus large 2litre beers for $2. Rather secluded but the best place to stay on island. Can also arrange all types of tours like volcano hike. Plus the best sunset on the island.
What to Eat
This restaurant is called Cafe Campestre and it's by far the best on the island. It's in the little town called Balgue which is on the base of Maderas Volcano. They have bricked the roads now, so it's not very difficult to get to this town. The owner is an English guy who traveled all around Asia for years and learn recipes while living with locals. They have amazing local Nica food, but the restaurant is known for it's Indian and Thai Green Curry. The dessert is AMAZING as well so get yourself some cake!
The boat from Altagracia, Ometepe Island to San Carlos will be at 6pm Mondays and Thursdays and will arrive around 4:30 - 5am in the morning. This price is around $7 and you must purchase the 1st class if you are a tourist. Make sure you wear warm clothes because there is a lot of air con pumping hard throughout the night. Get in line for the boat first so you can claim a bench to sleep on for the night!
The ferry to Altagracia, Ometepe Island from Granada is at 2pm and arrives at 6pm. It's around $5 but you must get the 1st class if you are not a citizen of Nicaragua. On the boat you will be in the top seating with lots of air con so make sure you wear warm clothes. No joke! Get in line first so you can claim your bench to sleep on!
The most convienent way to get to the island of Ometepe is a ferry from San Jorge to Moyogalpa. Leave every hour from 7:45am to 5:30pm and can transport vehicles. Returns between 5:30am to 4pm. The best way to get to San Jorge is to take a public bus to Rivas then a taxi San Jorge (2$). Once on the island can stay in Moyogalpa (less preferrable) or try the much nicer Little Morgan's Hostel in Santa Cruz. Take public bus from Moyogalpa to Altagracia, then wait where dropped off for public bus to Balgue and ask to get dropped off in Santa Cruz (buses 2$ each)or taxi whole way for 20-25$. Little Morgan's entrance is at the top of the hill ( http://www.littlemorgans.com/how-to-get-here).
What to Avoid
Scams & Petty Theft
Anyone traveling to the island of Ometepe anywhere between October and February - if not well after - do not be talked into a beach tour. There are no beaches at Ometepe during these times. However, I have heard they are very nice once the waterline of the lake drops. From what I´ve heard, the best time to hit up beaches on Ometepe is between June and September.
Money and Banking
I heard mixed stories from other travellers. Some said there was an ATM on the island some said there is not. I got there with hardly any cash thinking "it's a tourist destination, of coarse they have an ATM". ROOKIE ERROR! They do have an ATM but it costs 20 dollars by taxi to get there from my hostel because its so far away. It would take a good few hours to bike ride there and I needed money desperately so I paid the 20 bucks. When I got to the ATM it only accepted visa debit cards and mine is a master debit card. Luckily the grocery shop across the road allowed me to do cash out or things could have gone very pear shaped! My advice. Take more then enough cash! It will take the worry out of your day and you can enjoy the beautiful island of Ometepe :)