If you are traveling to Nicaragua, you definitely can’t miss Ometepe.
A volcanic island in the shape of an 8, Ometepe island is home to two active volcanoes (Concepción and Maderas). It’s the kind of place where you will find lush vegetation; beautiful small beaches; a lagoon; archeological sites and plenty of wildlife. Yet, what you’ll end up enjoying the most about it is the slow pace of life which – together with the lack of reliable internet – make it a perfect place to get away from the stress of daily life and recharge your batteries.
Scattered around the island you will find a few pretty towns – Altagracia and Moyogalpa, both at the foot of Volcán Concepción, are the largest and best equipped to welcome tourists. At the other end of the island, Balgüe is at the foot of Volcán Maderas and quite easily the prettiest area of the island.
Ometepe is charming, welcoming and simply beautiful. In this post, I will highlight the best things to do in Ometepe island and share some tips that will help you plan your trip.
What To See And Do In Ometepe, Nicaragua
Hike a volcano
Nicaragua is known as the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes, and you will find two active ones in Ometepe island, Volcán Concepción and Volcan Maderas. Both of them can be hiked.
Maderas is a less challenging hike, but it still takes 8 full hours on a terrain that is often muddy and that goes through the thick vegetation of the cloud forest. The trail starts in Finca Magdalena, in Balgüe.
Volcán Concepción is a 9-hour (though it often ends up being up to 12 hours) incredibly challenging hike. Trails start in either Moyogalpa or Altagracia. There is a shorter hike that goes just to a viewpoint, lasting just 4 hours.
GOOD TO KNOW: You need to be well equipped with hiking boots for these hikes, and you really need to hire a guide. The vegetation is so thick that it is easy to get lost – I remember when I stayed in Finca Magdalena some girls who had been on a hike of Maderas were desperately looking for their friends, who got lost during the hike.
Visit El Ojo de Agua
El Ojo de Agua is a fabulous natural pool with the clearest waters you could hope for, and incredibly refreshing. The spring is created from a river that starts in Volcano Maderas. Water is about 2 meters deep and the pool is about 40 meters long, so about the size of an olympic pool. The area is equipped which chairs and benches perfect for a relaxing time. This heavenly place is located amongst the thick tropical vegetation of the island, where you can get a much needed respite from the sun and the heat.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: El Ojo de Agua is at about 2 km from Santo Domingo and 5 from Altagracia. There is a $3 USD entry fee, and you will find lockers, toilets and a very basic changing room right by the ticket desk. From there, it’s about 1 km to get to the pools.
GOOD TO KNOW: This place became incredibly popular among the locals, who typically enjoy it at weekends.
Take in the sunset views
Ometepe is an incredibly scenic island, and no matter where you are, you are bound to catch a fantastic sunset. I remember just sitting on the porch of Finca Magdalena I could get stunning views of the sun setting behind Volcano Maderas. If you are looking for the perfect sunset experience, head to Punta Jesus Maria. Hardly the best beach on Ometepe Island, the sunset views from there are out of this world.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can get to Punta Jesus Maria by bike from Moyogalpa. It’s an easy 4 km ride roundtrip. There is a $2 USD entry fee.
Spotting wildlife is easy peasy in Ometepe. I remember chilling on one of the hammocks in Finca Magdalena when I noticed a bit of a motion among the trees nearby. It took me a moment to realize that I was staring at howler monkeys playing around! You should also keep your eyes out for capuchin monkeys, and there are several species of birds too.
GOOD TO KNOW: The best time to spot wildlife anywhere in the world is early in the morning, right after sunrise, and right before sunset. That’s when animals are most active. You may want to kayak around the lagoon for higher chances of spotting animals, and remember to bring a good pair of binoculars!
Explore the island by motorbike
One of the most fun things to do in Ometepe is roaming around by motorbike. Even though the island isn’t that big and chicken buses will take you to the most important towns, you may opt for a more fun way of exploring that will also allow you to save time – and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
There are several places scattered around the island where you can rent a motorbike, and if you aren’t too confident with manual transmission, there even are scooters for rent. Alternatively, check out this site for easy rental.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Expect to pay around $20 for a day. You will have to return the motorbike with the same amount of gasoline it had when you picked it up. Make sure to bring your driving license.
Go to San Ramon waterfall
This is one of the places I enjoyed the most in Ometepe. The waterfall is 64 meters high and there is a nice swimming hole right below it, where you can cool off after your hike to get there.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: San Ramon waterfall is on the southern slopes of Volcán Maderas, at roughly 5 km from the village of San Ramon. If you are on motorbike, follow the signs to San Ramon and once there those for the waterfall. You will get to a parking lot from where a 1 km trail leading to the waterfall starts. There is a $3 USD entry fee per person, which you can pay at the parking lot.
And Charco Verde Lagoon
An easy hike starting from Hotel Charco Verde will take you to Charco Verde Lagoon, a place perfect for swimming, water sports and wildlife watching – living in the forest of Charco Verde there are several groups of howler monkeys, as well as migratory and local birds.
The lagoon is covered in mangrove forest as well as large fruit trees.
Located in the lagoon there also is a hill at the top of which you can access the Mirador del Diablo (Devil’s Viewpoint). Easily reached by hike, from there you can enjoy one of the best views in Ometepe.
Kayak on Istian River
Easily accessed from Merida on a one-hour kayaking trip, Istian River is located on the isthmus that connects the two sides of Ometepe island. Rio Istian, as it is called locally, and its estuary on Lake Nicaragua are among the best places on the island for birdwatching.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can rent a kayak and explore the area independently, but I recommend joining a guided tour to make the most of it. They last around 4 hours and are in the range of $30 USD.
Find the petroglyphs
Not many people know – in fact, I didn’t know this before visiting – but Ometepe is scattered with petroglyphs and stone carvings dating back to pre-Colombian times, when the island was seen as the promised land. Back then, volcano Maderas was thought to be the sacred place of the sun, and Concepción was considered the brother of the moon.
The best places to spot them are the Hotel Finca Porvenir and Finca Magdalena – which is where most petroglyphs have been found. Both locations are at the foot of volcano Maderas. Another good place to see them is San José de Marcos, on San Antonio farm and on La Primavera farm. Alternatively, you can go to the museum of La Ceiba in the Charco Verde area, or in the museum in Altagracia.
Visit Finca Magdalena
Finca Magdalena is the first place I visited in Ometepe island, and also where I based myself the first time I visited. An “ecolodge” (though basic would be the best way to describe it), this is actually a coffee plantation right on the slopes of Volcan Maderas, run by a cooperative of some 30 families. Coffee is obviously the main produce, and you can go on a coffee plantation tour for very reasonable fee (it was in the range of $15 USD when I was there). Other local products are milk, plantains, corn, rice, beans and vegetables – pretty much the staples of Nicaraguan diet.
If you have more time, I recommend spending an afternoon just taking in the lovely atmosphere at the finca. It’s incredibly chilled, as it is completely isolated from the rest of the island – so the only noise you will hear is that of animals playing around.
Explore the cities
Don’t hold your breath for city life in Nicaragua! But at some point or another, you will come across the two main ones – Moyogalpa and Altagracia.
Moyogalpa is the main access point to the island, as this is where ferries from Rivas dock. It sits on the slopes of Volcán Concepción and it’s a great access point to the hiking trails and your best bet for budget accommodation and tour companies.
Altagracia, also on the slopes of Volcán Concepción, is where ferries from Granada and San Carlos dock. It is a bit more interesting with its historic village and a 1924 church with a wooden bell tower. It also has a small archeology museum where you can admire some of the famous petroglyphs found on the island.
Hang out at the beach
Not far from Altagracia, you will find a few good beaches where to spend an hour or two.
Paso Real is 800 meters north of the village center. It’s a good place to swim and relax. San Silvestre is at about 1.5 km from the village. It’s a rocky beach but it affords great views of Volcano Maderas.
Tagüizapa beach is reached via a 1.3 km walk through the banana plantations. It’s a great place to swim, and the hotel right on the beach is a good lunch spot. On the grounds of the hotel there is the oldest tree on Ometepe island – it’s a ceiba tree which apparently dates back to more than 800 years ago. Tagüizapa is also an important archeological site as various stone idols were found in the area.
A bit further away from Altagracia, Calaiza is a nice scenic spot, whereas Playa Santo Domingo is a nice sandy beach – the one you have to walk by to reach Ojo de Agua.
Enjoy the slow-paced life
Quite frankly, the best possible thing you can do in Ometepe island is enjoying rural life, and take in the slow pace. With internet being hardly a thing – especially if you are staying at Finca Magdalena – and nature taking in an important role, this is a place to forget about the stress of the city.
Most importantly, people in Ometepe are truly friendly and welcoming, so take your time to practice your Spanish with the locals, and learn about their culture and way of life.
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Ometepe
Guided tours of Nicaragua
If planning trips is not your thing, you may be glad to know that there are a few tours of Central America that also go to Nicaragua and include Ometepe island in their itinerary. I have selected the best ones – they are actually quite inexpensive. Make sure to check them out!
- Central American journey: rainforests and ruins – this G Adventures tour lasts 33 days costs about $2000 USD. It starts in Cancun and crosses most of Central America, stopping in Nicaragua (including Ometepe) along the way. It’s best for a younger crowd.
- Backroads of Central America – another G-Adventures tour that lasts 18 days. It starts in Guatemala and terminates in Costa Rica, stopping in Nicaragua along the way.
Where to stay and eat in Ometepe
During my trip to Ometepe, I stayed in Balgüe. I was looking for something rural, remote and completely off the beaten path. Accommodation options in Balgüe are a bit limited, but you will find a few decent options.
- Finca Magdalena is labeled as a lodge, but don’t hold high expectations in terms of accommodation. The Finca (farm) is located at about 1.5 km off the main road, on a trail through the woods – so it’s a hike to get there. You will have a selection of very basic dorms, private rooms with access to the common showers and toilets, and a family room with private bathroom. Meals are served for a steal, and there even is a sort of bar (well, they sell drinks). It’s a basic place, but the location is just stunning and the atmosphere incredibly relaxed. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Totoco Ecolodge has beautiful views and a fantastic swimming pool where you can cool off after a day of exploring. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
If you need a break from the classic rice and beans diet of Nicaragua, head to Café Campestre. It’s run by an English expat and you will find a selection of Middle Eastern and Indian fare.
If you’d rather stay in a more central location, you can opt for Altagracia. Here are a couple of good options:
- Xalli Beach Hotel has comfortable, spacious and stylish rooms in a beautiful setting and with easy access to the beach. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Banana Guest House offers plain but clean rooms. It’s very budget friendly. Click here for the latest rates.
If you need to fix a sweet tooth, El Pital is the best option in Altagracia. Their desserts are heavenly!
Moyogalpa is the second largest town on the island and has a decent selection of places to stay. Here are the best ones:
- Hospedaje Soma Boutique Hotel has plain but spotless rooms set around a lush garden. The common areas are perfect for socializing, and the pool a great place to relax. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Hostel Coco’s offers both private rooms and dorms. It’s an excellent budget friendly option. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
The Corner House is by far the best restaurant in Moyogalpa. They serve a fabulous brunch! El Picante is a good option if you feel the need for something spicier.
How to get to Ometepe
Ometepe is located in Lake Nicaragua. You can get there by ferry from Granada – but keep in mind that there are only weekly departures. Regular ferry departures are available from San Jorges, near Rivas, which can be reached by Granada by bus; and from San Carlos, which is on the border with Costa Rica.
If you are tight on time, you can even go on a full day trip to Ometepe Island departing from Granada.
How to move around Ometepe
It’s fairly easy – albeit a bit slow – to move around the island by chicken bus. Alternatively, you can opt for shared taxis or rent a motorbike for a day to hit the main highlights.
Make sure to check out my post Everything You Must Know About Chicken Buses.
How long should you stay in Ometepe?
I recommend spending at least 4 days in Ometepe, to fully embrace the relaxing atmosphere and all that is has to offer. I don’t recommend going there on day trips from Granada, but should you be tight on time, you can opt for this full day trip to Ometepe Island departing from Granada.
Other useful information
I recommend double checking that you don’t need a visa to travel to Nicaragua. Also keep in mind that Nicaragua is part of the Central America 4-border control agreement, which means you will be allowed to stay for a total of 90 days within Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Should you decide to stay longer, the closes place for a visa run is Costa Rica.
You will also need to get a good travel insurance – especially if you intend to rent a motorbike. Get yours here.
Check out my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”
Finally, considering that wifi isn’t always easy to come across and reliable, you may need to take a good guide book with you. You can check one of these:
Further Readings About Nicaragua
If you are planning to travel to Nicaragua, these posts will help you plan your trip:
- 33 Awesome Things To Do In Nicaragua
- 15 Cool Things To Do In Granada Nicaragua
- A Complete Guide To Leon Nicaragua
- 5 Incredible Sunsets In Nicaragua
- What To Expect When Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro, Nicaragua
- All The Nicaraguan Food You Should Try
- Latin America Border Crossing: What You Need To Know