It’s easy to understand why Nicaragua is known as the land of lakes and volcanoes when you see Isla Ometepe. Located in the middle of Central America’s largest lake and home to two volcanoes (Concepcion and Maderas), Ometepe is a beautiful little slice of tranquility. It’s the kind of place where you see more cows on the roads than traffic and everybody says hello when you pass them.
Ometepe was our second stop in Nicaragua and although we were only there for a couple of days, we managed to see the best bits of the island without feeling too rushed.
When Getting There is Half the Fun…
From whichever direction you’re coming from, you’re likely to need to pass through Rivas to get to Ometepe. We went from San Juan del Sur, which is only about an hour by the local chicken bus and cost 30 Cordobas ($1) each – watch out for the luggage guys on the buses, they’ll try and charge you more so try and find out the correct price before you travel.
Rivas is another place where you’re at risk of being ripped off. As soon as you arrive you’ll be hounded by taxi drivers who tell you that there’s no bus to the ferry terminal in San Jorge. They’re lying. They’ll also say it’s $5 for a taxi to San Jorge. Also a lie. There is a local bus for 8 Cordobas (less than 30 cents) per person, although we’re not sure how regular the bus is, we couldn’t find it when we were there. Instead we asked for a ‘taxi colectivo’, where you share the taxi with other people but it only costs 20 Cordobas (65 cents) per person. It then only took us 15 minutes or so to get to the ferry terminal. There’s usually a boat once an hour and we paid 50 Cordobas each for the journey, which takes an hour. The boat crossing was actually really nice, you get great views of Ometepe and both volcanoes.
We stayed in Hostel Plinio just outside the main town of Moyagalpa, so we easily walked there after arriving on the island. However if you’re staying elsewhere, you can take a local bus (a long journey), a taxi (more expensive), or hire a scooter/motorbike/quad bike.
A perfect end to a journey – arriving at the hostel and seeing chicken tikka masala on the menu. And we can vouch that it was delicious! Happy Fran and Joe!
Exploring, Kayaking and Chilling
There is so much to do and see on the island, from hiking the volcanoes to chilling out by the lake, so for our first day we decided to explore the island, try a spot of kayaking, and visit a freshwater pool called Ojo de Agua.
Hiring a scooter is a popular way to get around the island and we were more than happy to jump on the bandwagon when we found out rental was only $18 per day. However although most of the main road is paved, some sections aren’t and we struggled over a few kilometres to get to the stretch near Rio Istian where you can hire kayaks. We had been recommended a kayak tour with El Peru by our hostel and when we turned up we were able to kayak straight away. We paid $20 each for a 2-hour guided tour of the mangroves in Rio Istian, where we kept our eyes peeled for caimans.
Unfortunately we didn’t see any caimans but we did see lots of birds and even a shy little turtle. We also just really enjoyed paddling through the mangroves, such a quiet hidden gem of Ometepe. The paddle to and from the river along the lake was really nice too – we got great views of the volcanoes and right across the lake.
We’ve also come to the agreement that we weren’t meant for a double kayak. For two people who both want to be in charge of the direction, a double kayak is a mistake…!
Thanks to our unreliable scooter that decided not to start (then randomly worked fine after an hour), our drive to Ojo de Agua was a bit delayed after our kayak tour. We finally managed to make the 15 minute journey though and were pleasantly surprised to find a little piece of jungle paradise with freshwater pools in the middle.
Locals were jumping off a rope swing into the water and there was a stall selling fresh coconuts with rum. Definitely our kind of place!
We lazed around in the water for an hour watching howler monkeys in the trees before hopping back on the scooter for a sunset ride back to the hostel.
Hiking Volcan Concepcion
One of the main draws for people visiting Ometepe is the chance to conquer an active volcano. Concepcion is the second highest volcano in Nicaragua, with a summit at 1600m above sea level, and known to be a tough old climb. We read mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, some people were claiming that the loose rock made conditions dangerous whereas other people said it was tough but safe.
We’re not that easily scared off a challenge (although the talk of scree and loose rock made me nervous), so we decided to go for it. We couldn’t come to the land of volcanoes and not climb one! For a day’s hike with transport and a guide, we paid $28 and booked through our hostel. We also opted to pay an extra $2 each to hire gloves and a stick, which we highly recommend particularly for the scramble downhill! After stocking up on plenty of water (3 litres each), snacks and a packed lunch, we were ready to tackle Concepcion.
The 6:30am pick up was early but it meant we did the majority of the climbing before it got too hot. The first 2.5 hours were in shaded forest and we spotted quite a few howler and capuchin monkeys.
Once we were out of the forest we made it to the main lookout point, which as you can imagine gave amazing views! Just as well really, since the summit of Concepcion was covered in cloud. A couple in our group decided to turn back at this point, which is totally doable if you don’t fancy the scramble to the summit. We decided to be very British – keep calm and carry on.
The next 2.5 hours was a bit of a steeper climb with lots of loose volcanic rock. With the misty cloud and the shapes of the lava flows, it looked like we were walking into Mordor.
By midday we had made it! And it was a complete anticlimax because all we could see was cloud.
Nevermind, at least we could say we had made it to the top of an active volcano! It made for a pretty cool lunch spot.
I found the walk down probably harder than the way up. The loose rock and gravel made the trail really slippery and we both fell a few times. I had a nasty fall quite early on, landing right on my coccyx, so I basically clung on to all the rocks the rest of the way (glad I had those gloves). I’ll be honest, I did have a small tantrum at one point but Joe was amazing and helped me the whole way. Major husband points!
By 5pm we were back at the bottom of the volcano where randomly, there’s a bar! We treated ourselves to a victory cerveza to celebrate making it back down without any major injuries. We celebrated with another beer back in the hostel, while watching sunset from the viewing tower. Seeing Concepcion in the evening definitely made us glad we had done the hike. It was hard but we still enjoyed it and we’re super chuffed that we achieved it! A pretty good end to a lush couple of days in Ometepe. There’s also so much more to see on the island that we didn’t have time for – Isla Ometepe, we’ll be back!
Have you visited Ometepe? Or have you hiked in some cool places? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear about it! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram to see more of our travel photos.