Rising from the waters of Lake Nicaragua, on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, is the island of Ometepe, the tenth largest lake island in the world (i.e. island on a lake). Ometepe is made up of twin volcanos connected by a narrow, hour-glass-shaped isthmus.
The island of Ometepe
Volcán Concepción, the taller of the two volcanos, has erupted at least 25 times in the last 130 years, while Volcán Maderas, its smaller brother, lies dormant. Which makes it rather odd that the two most sizeable towns on the island, Moyogalpa and Altagracia, both lie on the base of Concepción, while Maderas remains largely uninhabited.
Most tourist outings begin in Moyogalpa. It’s where the majority of the ferries dock, and where the majority of the hotels, bars, and restaurants are situated. Moyogalpa is reasonably undeveloped as yet, but it shows signs of developing into a Nicaraguan version of Khao San Road. Better get here soon if you want to experience the place before it becomes just another cheesy tourist trap.
Playa Santa Domingo, Ometepe
Grab a scooter in Moyogalpa and head straight over to the black sand beach of Playa Santa Domingo (which, if you weren’t feeling particularly generous, you might call a mud flat).
Be careful on those scooters. The roads on Ometepe are full of potholes, and there are escaping chickens, herds of cows, and wandering horses to contend with. Grazed forearms, shredded shins, and backs covered in road rash are the rewards for those who tumble from their scooters. You’ll see plenty of backpackers sporting these injuries in Nicaragua. And all them come from Ometepe.
The isle of Ometepe was home first to the Nahua culture, and then the Niquirano culture. Evidence of these Pre-Colombian cultures can be found across the island in the form of petroglyphs and stone idols. The carvings range from obscure scratchings on random boulders, to complex anthropomorphic/zoomorphic figures and calendar stones (such as the one in the picture above).
Laguna Charco Verde, Ometepe
Laguna Charco Verde is a private property with some pleasant walking trails. The highlight of a visit to the lagoon is the view it affords of Volcán Concepción.
Punta Jesús María, Ometepe
Punta Jesús María is a narrow spit of white-shell-covered black sand that juts out into Lake Nicaragua. This kilometre long formation also gives great views of Volcán Concepción.
If you are lucky you’ll spot lenticular (lens-shaped) clouds forming over the peak of Volcán Concepción.
Punta Jesús María is a popular spot to watch the sunset. Tourists and locals alike enjoy the show. Tourists tend to take it in by wandering out to the end of the sand spit. Locals tend to take it in sprawled on park benches with a bottle of rum in hand.
Volcán Maderas, Ometepe
If you’re feeling energetic consider climbing Volcán Maderas (1,394m). It’s not as tall as Volcán Concepción (1,610m), but its summit is covered in lush cloud forest.
The cloud forest on Maderas is in pristine condition; a major contributor to Ometepe being named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2010.
Expect to see a few White-headed Capuchin Monkeys on the lower slopes of Volcán Maderas. These little guys have been hitting it big in Hollywood in recent years. Remember Ross’s pet monkey in Friends? That was a Capuchin. The larcenous monkey in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark? Another Capuchin. Jack the Monkey on Pirates of the Caribbean? Another Capuchin.
There are plenty of Mantled Howler Monkeys on the mountain as well; their loud, guttural calls – a noise resembling that made by a sick cow – can be heard several kilometres away. They’re not nearly as successful in Hollywood though.
The crater at the summit contains a large lagoon (which makes it a lake on an island in a lake). Two years of drought had dropped water levels significantly at the time of my visit. But in less dry times it makes a great swimming hole.
And if you’re feeling really energetic you can climb Volcán Concepción. Keep in mind that it last erupted in 2010, and, if you average out 25 eruptions over 130 years, you get an eruption occurring roughly every five years. Which means it’s overdue!!
Practical information and how to reach Ometepe:
If you’re coming from Granada, you need to make your way to Rivas (trip time = 2.5 hours on a chicken bus). In Rivas, continue to the ferry terminal (via bus or taxi), The ferry between Rivas and Moyogalpa takes approximately one hour. More transport info here.