With San Juan del Sur, Granada and Leon, the island of Ometepe is an essential stop in Nicaragua. The idea of spending 3 days on an island – located in the middle of a huge lake – with two volcanoes (one of which is active) is particularly appealing.
Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
How to get to Ometepe from Granada
I will write a full article but to summarize, there are two methods:
The 1st method called “lazy” consists of paying a tourist shuttle to the ferry in San Jorge (15$/person) and from the port, take the first ferry that goes to Ometepe (50 cordobas) + 1$ tourist tax at the port of San Jorge . Total: 589 cordobas/person
The 2nd so-called “local” method consists of :
- take a chicken bus (old American school bus) from Granada to the bus terminal in Rivas : 50 cordobas/person
- take a collective cab (colectivo) by negotiating the rate: 30 cordobas/person to the San Jorgeferry
- take the ferry from the port of San Jorge toOmetepe Island: 50 cordobas/person + 1$ tourist tax at the port of San Jorge
TOTAL: 164 cordobas/person
For you, dear readers, we have tested the local method. There are two ports in Ometepe but we choose Moyogalpa because there are more ferries that simply go there.
The island of Ometepe
The island of Ometepe, in the shape of 8 (or the infinite sign) is located on the lake of Nicaragua. This lake is so immense that it represents 10% of the territory of Nicaragua. In spite of its size, it isn’t so deep: 30 meters maximum. It is the only place in the world where you can find freshwater sharks (very peaceful).
There is a project to build a canal financed by the Chinese (equivalent to the Panama Canal), passing through Nicaragua and more precisely this lake. The work has not started and seems to be dragging on, but take advantage of it before thousands of containers come to pollute this environment.
DAY 1: Ferry + The Bamboo Grove
Ferry to Ometepe Island
The ferry has several levels and tourists obviously choose to burn in the sun on the upper level, just behind the captain – for this incredible view of the island and its two volcanoes. On the left: Volcán Concepción, with a perfect cone shape, still active; and on the right, about 300m smaller – and asymmetrical, the Maderas volcano.
Even if it is the end of the rainy season (mid-November) in the other cities, it seems to linger a bit on the island of Ometepe, there are still clouds over the two volcanoes. Today, we are lucky because the top of the Concepcion volcano is almost clear.
In the distance, we see a series of wind turbines on the lake shore.
On our left, we can clearly see the Mombacho volcano, which is still active (on the left).
The trip lasts only one hour, but we take a lot of pleasure in it. The view from the ferry will be more beautiful than on the spot ahahha. On the spot, the view is hidden by the trees.
How lucky to have a husband who knows how to drive a scooter! And I can always count on him to find the best scooter rental company on the island (JB has a flair for finding good rental companies, like on San Andrés Island in Colombia or near the temples of Angkor in Cambodia).
In this case, we went through Dinarte’s Motocycle Rental. The communication and reservation is done via Whatsapp. The owner came to pick us up at the port on a quad, and her scooter is impeccably clean and in perfect condition (all the indicators work, which is rare among scooter renters). The rental costs 20$/24h, but without negotiating or anything, she accepts that we return it 3 hours late without paying anything more. The deposit is 100$ (in cash), or you can leave your passport or a bank imprint. We choose to leave 100$ in cash because hotels ask for passports.
At the agency, there is a map indicating the passable roads vs. the “dirt roads” (passable if you drive slowly). In any case, to go to Balgue, the town where our hotel is located, we have to make a detour (Google Maps knows how to propose the best roads, be confident).
This is what the commune of Moyogalpa looks like. Nothing extraordinary. For lunch you can go to Soda Los Antojitos or Los Ranchitos Ometepe. Both are recommended by our scooter rental company.
After 2km, we fall on this impeccable road and understand that this is the runway of the airport of Ometepe ahahah. There are small planes landing here from Managua, but there are so few that they open up one end of this road to traffic. Don’t hesitate to stop here because this is where you will have the best view of the Concepcion volcano.
There are trees everywhere and the plots all belong to someone. So it’s quite difficult to find clear views of the volcano. Luckily, on a scooter, you can stop as soon as you find a good place to take pictures 🙂
Here is the Concepcion volcano, which is still active. It has a very very nice shape. It is quite possible to climb to the top.
First, you have to cross the forest and therefore be well equipped (the most “dangerous” animals you can find are scorpions and cobras – venomous but not deadly). Then, once you pass the trees, there is no more shade, the difference in altitude becomes more important than it seems. Its top is often in the clouds (sometimes in the shape of too cute hats), so good… Since the death of some tourists trying to explore it alone, it is mandatory to go with a guide.
Here is the Maderas volcano, smaller and more asymmetrical. The ascent of this volcano is easier (even if it takes a lot of time, 4h go – 3h return). It is necessary to cross the forest (and to be well equipped). At the top, there is a lagoon at the bottom of the crater. I have the impression that even the brave ones prefer to climb this volcano than the volcano of Concepcion, for the view and also for the “ease”. Here too, the ascent is obligatory with a guide. Curiously, during our stay, the summit of this volcano is always much more covered with clouds than the other volcano. And fortunately, we took pictures of it on the 1st day, because the other days, it is always half in the clouds 🙁
The Bamboo Grove
We booked a night at La Bambouseraie. Due to the remote location, we only booked one night and will decide to extend it later if necessary. To join our hotel, we have to take the dirt road during 100m and then to engage us on a more or less practicable road. Fortunately it does not rain. The last 50 meters are impossible to cross by scooter, we leave it there, on a small carpark envisaged by the hotel.
Someone comes to our rescue and shows us the “Palmera” hut that is waiting for us. Suddenly, he stops me: a very brown thing makes its way by undulating: a small snake, but not poisonous at all, he says. Since our stay in the Amazon, I understood that the snakes that were running away from us were mostly harmless, but those that aren’t afraid are venomous. I confess that I am less afraid of snakes and scorpions than I am of ants. There is an ant here called Paraponera, black in color, with the sweet nickname“rifle bullet ant“. Its sting hurts as much as if you were shot. I hope I never cross his path.
La Bambouseraie(Booking link) is an eco-lodge composed of 4 cabins – and part of a permaculture project.
The huts (on stilts) are built mainly of bamboo (from the corner), and the flooring comes from the trees destroyed during the hurricane of 2017. There aren’t really any windows, everything is covered with mosquito nets, which makes you feel as if you are sleeping in the middle of the jungle, with the noise and light that goes with it.
This plot, once dedicated to mono-culture, has been taken over and transformed into a lush garden, permaculture allowing to have both fruit trees but also medicinal plants, bamboo (for construction), an optimized irrigation system … This farm and other farms in the area offer permaculture courses of 15 days for those who are interested.
We opted for the Palmera cabin, with a view of the garden (and the banana trees), but there are two other cabins with a view of the volcano. Count 42$/night(Booking link)
Everything is recycled and recyclable here, but comfort remains at the top for us: pressure shower, normal toilets, Wifi at the top (fiber optic, 10mbps down), drinking water (filtered thanks to a pottery system). It’s reassuring to see that we can respect nature to the max without having to live in difficult conditions. With a Wifi at the top and a (shared) kitchen open on the garden, it’s an ideal place for digital nomads too.
It gets dark very quickly so instead of going out (and going back in the dark, not too much desire), we decide to simply take advantage of this beautiful place to recharge our batteries. The room has a wireless Bluetooth speaker, JB puts on his favorite music and sits on the big hammock. Great happiness.
The same evening, it rained ropes and insects of all kinds (butterflies, dragonflies, small flying things…) came to take refuge in the hut too (hence the importance of the mosquito net around the bed). Bienvenidos, make yourself at home! Seen the flood and the road full of mud to be taken on foot or by scooter to the nearest restaurant, we simply decide to be delivered directly to our hut. The hotel gave us the menu and the contact of the two partner restaurants. At 7:30 pm sharp, a deliveryman braves the rain, the mud and the jungle by scooter (he must be used to it) and hands us 2 excellent pizzas in front of the door, for 220 cordobas/pizza. Thank you!
The next day, we are awakened by the bird songs. The insects are already all gone as if nothing had happened yesterday.
DAY 2 : Visit of the haciendas + Ojo de Agua
Today we explore the haciendas (farms) next door. We start with El Zopilote, an eco/hippie/baroudeur style hostel… They have built a bar in a recycled school bus, but it looks closed this morning.
To get to the reception (and to the hostal), you have to follow this small green path on foot, for about 20 minutes. Keep your eyes open because there is just a small sign “El Zopilote” when you have to turn right.
We order a breakfast (125 cordobas/person) at the bar and we find that all guests are also there – because it is the only place with electrical outlets and Wifi.
For $1, you can order a drink that tastes horrible – but it’s good for your health. Uhh…
The rest is quite simple and integrated into nature. There are several corners for rest, yoga… it’s very green, very nice.
You will see these beautiful birds everywhere on the island, they are light blue and very talkative. When they fly, by dozens, it is absolutely beautiful !!
At the bar, we can see some stones with petroglyphs on them. This island counts thousands of petroglyphs, distributed a little everywhere on the island. There isn’t a place dedicated to observe them in a “mass tourism” way, and there isn’t a special petroglyphs tour either, you have to ask for information here and there.
In this case, leaving the bar and going to the left, there is a path leading to the yoga center, then going straight on, we will see this space, where there are still some petroglyphs. But the most beautiful have been brought back to the bar, so it isn’t a necessary walk (which is moreover full of spider’s webs and mosquitoes).
We take advantage of this opportunity to explore the places where we live. There are hanging hammocks, each with a mosquito net. This is the “dormitory” version here. The idea is attractive but the cleanliness leaves something to be desired unfortunately (especially the common toilets). But I like the principle very much.
As you climb up to their watchtower (just behind the bar), you can see that they use solar energy in addition to electricity. All good!
We then visit the oldest hacienda in the area, which has been transformed into an eco-responsible coffee plantation farm. It is from here where we can climb the Maderas volcano
Access to the farm is difficult, already. It’s a bit hard for our scooter, there are too many stones everywhere. The locals come on foot or by motorcycle (manual). The access to see the coffee plantations and the petroglyphs costs 100 cordobas/person. If we want to pay a guide to take us there, we have to pay a tip of about 150 cordobas. We decide to go there alone, but I turn back as soon as I see that we sink into the jungle. I have my sandals, not too much desire to cross a cobra today. Here is the plan to visit the plantations, the petroglyphs from the farm. As you can see, the ascent of the Maderas volcano is done from here – but it is obligatory to go there with a guide – it would have been too dangerous otherwise.
We take advantage of the magnificent vegetable garden of the farm. It is a pity that the Concepcion volcano is in the clouds, because from the 2nd floor of the farmhouse we have a very beautiful view of the surroundings.
As we are about to leave, I see a kind of butterfly… but with a long beak. No, it’s actually a very small hummingbird species – hardly bigger than butterflies, with beautiful green feathers, flying at an incredible speed, going from flower to flower! What an extraordinary sight.
We take the scooter back and ride 30 minutes to a place where we can do zipline (type Canopy Mirador Del Diablo on Google Maps). For 25$/person, we can follow a 2km zipline route, cross 2 (small) suspension bridges, abseil down( my very first! ) and have an incredible view of the Concepcion volcano.
But to do this, you have to walk 20 minutes with all the equipment up to the top. We are accompanied by 2 guides. One of the guides notices a snake hidden on a tree. The snake which camouflages itself very well thanks to its green color, flees quickly from fear. We have to go down ziplines, of varying length and difficulty. It’s quite fun, even if JB finds it’s medium security level (the trees at the arrival of the descents aren’t padded for example).
But the view is really incredible! Payment is in cash only and they never have any change so try to top it up.
We continue another 5 minutes by scooter and arrive at this eco-park, well known for its butterfly sailboat. For 5$, we access the whole complex and can go to the beach “Playa Bancon”.
This is the only butterfly I could take a picture of, the other huge (and blue) butterflies are always in motion. There are really a lot of butterflies, it’s sublime! For them to take you for a flower, you have to dress in red and/or white 😀 which isn’t our case today.
There are several watchtowers on the way, overlooking a lagoon, but nobody swims there, it is possible to fish there.
Lunch in Santo Domingo
The scooter rental company recommended the restaurant Comedor Mirador del Cocibolca with a beautiful view of the lake. According to them, you can eat freshly caught fish from the lake. The beach isn’t very beautiful (a little garbage) but for lunch it is superb. The service is very long, but the fish is huge, and a little marinated. I love it!
I observe a fishing family from next door. The father brings his daughter to refresh herself in the lake water. His son follows with his two small homemade wooden and plastic boats.
I don’t know why, but it reminded me of a trip I took with my mother when I was very young. We went somewhere, the road was muddy and instead of walking on the side, I walked in the middle of the road – on the mud so I fell, face in the mud, staining my white clothes, my face, my legs…. it was no big deal but I cried a lot. Next to it, there was a lake where the locals were swimming and playing. And my mother entrusted me to a man bathing there, so that he could take me to bathe in the lake and remove the mud. The poor man, who didn’t ask for anything, had to calm a little girl who was scared to death and crying in despair😀
Mirador Los Volcanes
We should have eaten at the Mirador Los Volcanes as well, with a splendid view of the two volcanoes (but especially the Volcano Maderas). Each time we pass in front of it, we say to ourselves that it would be nice to sip a drink on the hammock, looking at the volcanoes… but each time we passed by, we were neither thirsty nor hungry… ahaha In short a good address well noted on Google to test if you have the opportunity.
Ojo de Agua
Ojo de Agua is a natural swimming pool (well, not too much because they concreted the surroundings to make it safer), in any case the water sources that feed this pool are always natural. The water is a bit cool (between 22°C and 28°C) but with the heat outside, you can enter without any problem. You can jump from a platform. There are changing rooms, showers, toilets, chairs and deckchairs on site. 5$/person. There is also a restaurant if needed.
Next to the large swimming pool there is a smaller, less frequented and prettier, more natural pool.
The locals (well, those who live on the island) do not swim here because they do not want to pay, whereas there is an equivalent, free, just by the roadside. We met some locals bathing all dressed up here: https: //goo.gl/maps/5xb4vsJff6cMdy9L8 it’s much more like a natural swimming pool, and the water is as transparent and beautiful (same springs as Ojo de Agua) but not deep at all.
The water from these springs is very good for your health. As we are in a volcanic area, the water contains beneficial minerals for a rather long list of diseases, it is proven that it is as good for health as hot thermal water.
The hotel of the first night being too far away for us, we prefer to spend a night in another hotel, Xalli Beach Hotel(link Booking) with a restaurant on the spot – and direct access to a beach of the lagoon.
This hotel is a haven of peace, with hammocks in the garden (and blue birds passing by ten in the trees) and its restaurant which is open from everywhere (protected only by mosquito nets).
The restaurant isn’t bad at all (I love their limonada) and breakfast is included. The price is a bit high compared to the comfort offered – because they have air conditioning in the rooms (and electricity is expensive).
The beach is beautiful and clean (there are only leaves and branches lying on the sand). The water is good and much warmer than the water of Ojo de Agua. We see three locals fishing. Attention ultra artisanal method: two people hold a kind of scarf to create a mini-thread – and the third person accompanies the other two, keeping the fish caught in a cloth bag.
Around 4:30 pm, it rains like hell… and the rain only stops after an hour. It is already dark night, we are too lazy to take the scooter to find a restaurant. We simply dine at the restaurant of the hotel.
DAY 3: Punta Jesús María & back
The next day, we go to Altagracia to see what this city looks like. Unfortunately, it has nothing interesting and even its museum does not attract us. We have lunch at Campestre Café, an organic restaurant that sells ceviches to fall. I take the opportunity to buy some forest honey (125 cordobas) with an incredible taste. I love it!
We visit Ojo de Agua again and stop again at the watchtowers to strafe the volcanoes….
…. before going to Punta Jesús María. On the way, we cross monkeys eating, too cute! In us see, they hide very quickly in the trees, without forgetting to offer us a rain of … pee 😀
From Punta Jesús María you can see the Mombacho volcano and part of the Concepcion volcano. Usually, the access costs 1$ but today, there is nobody to make us pay. The highlight of the point is this sandy beach. Going to the end, in the dry season, we can see the three volcanoes at the same time. It seems that the sunset is very nice too, but I couldn’t test it.
The return of Ometepe to Granada
We return the scooter and take the ferry at 4pm to return to the port of San Jorge. There is a chicken bus that goes to Managua, waiting at the exit of the ferry.
By laziness, instead of taking the way as on the way (a cab colectivo to Rivas then a chicken bus to Granada), we climb on it.
The driver tells us thathe isn’t going to Granada but goes through Masaya, a nearby town. The ticket costs 110 cordobas to Managua, but 100 cordobas to Masaya. We try to contest by stretching just 100 cordobas (for two) but there are buses like that in Nicaragua where the price isn’t proportional to the distance traveled, they only take 10 cordobas (or nothing at all). We observe the locals and they too pay 100 cordobas.
I was expecting the bus to stop at the Masaya terminal but this isn’t the case. Luckily Lauriane (who we told you about here) is coaching us live on Whatsapp because she is worried about our late return
She warns us that this kind of bus will stop on the highway outside Masaya. And that we have to ask to be dropped off at the roundabout where the micro-buses for Granada (which is called Rotonda Las Flores) pass by. We start to worry a little bit, afraid that there will be no micro-bus to Granada at this hour (it is already dark) but Lauriane reassures us a lot by saying that there is “life” on this traffic circle, with cabs and several expresos that pass regularly.
I follow the advance on Google Maps and close to Rotonda Las Flores, I ask for the stop, telling the driver that it is to go to Granada. He is super nice and tells me that he will drop me off a little further, at a stop called “hospital”. He even shows me the bus stop on the other side of the street and tells me to wait for the expresos there.
We meet locals waiting for buses. A local woman goes in the same direction as us and “coaches” us. When the bus arrives at full speed, she tells us to run and go up with her. Luckily she helped us because the bus stops for a moment before leaving in a hurry. Being two short-sighted, we wouldn’t have seen in time “Granada” written on the front of the bus ahahah. The trip costs 15 cordobas/person – and we are dropped at the central place of Granada
During all this time, Lauriane is asking about Whatsapp (it’s too nice, thank you thank you thank you thank you!). Without her, we wouldn’t have known that the bus was stopping on the highway – instead of going to the Masaya terminal.
It’s “super simple” and economical to travel by local transport, provided you can speak Spanish and know where the buses go to ask for the stop and make the connection. The same trip, by tourist shuttle, would have cost us 15$/person. In public transportation, we only spent 115 cordobas ($3.4/person)
I’m biting my fingers a bit that we came back so late. It’s dark very early now and the driver is speeding along. The advantage is that he doesn’t stop to pick up people every 2 minutes; but the disadvantage is that this kind of bus has absolutely no seatbelt and very little room for luggage (you have to pay an extra ticket if the luggage occupies a seat). However, I’m glad to have travelled like locals and to have seen how the “connection” between two buses, à la nica, went.
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Hotel :
- Scooter rental at Dinar’s Rental: 20$/24h (and 100$ deposit)
- Gasoline: 140 cordobas
- Food: between 100 and 250 cordobas/person/meal
- Transportation :
- Granada -> Rivas : 50 cordobas/person (chicken bus)
- Rivas -> San jorge ferry: 40 cordobas/person by cab colectivo (the good price is 30 cordobas)
- Tourist access tax to Ometepe: 1$/person (or 34 cordobas)
- Ferry San Jorge -> Ometepe Island : 50 Cordobas
- Chicken bus ferry from San Jorge -> Masaya: 100 cordobas/person
- Micro-bus from the Masaya -> Granda highway: 15 cordobas/person
- Visits :
- Ojo de Agua : 5$/person
- Chaco Verde : 5$/person
- Zipline: 25$/person