A Complete Guide To Ometepe, Nicaragua

If you are traveling to Nicaragua, you definitely can’t miss Ometepe. 

A volcanic island in the shape of an 8, Ometepe 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 to help you plan your trip.

Make sure to also read my post What You Must Know Before You Travel To Nicaragua.

Volcan Concepcion
A view of the mighty Volcán Concepción

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 around 4 hours. 

You need to be well equipped with hiking boots for these hikes, and you must hire a guide. The vegetation is so thick that it is easy to get lost – 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.

This guided hike of Volcán Concepción departs from Moyogalpa. It is reasonably priced considering it is a full day hike with a guide. Lunch is included.

Ojo de Agua
Ojo de Agua is one of the coolest spots on the island

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 (6.5 feet) deep and the pool is about 40 meters (131 feet) long, so about the size of an olympic pool.

A very popular place with the locals, who enjoy hanging out there during the weekend, 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. 

El Ojo de Agua is about 2 km (1.2 miles) from Santo Domingo and 5 (3.1 miles) from Altagracia. There is a small 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 (0.6 miles) to get to the pools. 

Ometepe sunset
Ometepe will grant you some stunning sunsets

Enjoy the sunset in Ometepe

One of the best things to do in Ometepe is catching a breathtaking sunset. Sitting on the porch of Finca Magdalena I could get stunning views of the sun setting behind Volcano Maderas.

For a 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. 

You can get to Punta Jesus Maria by bike from Moyogalpa. It’s an easy 4 km (2.5 miles) ride roundtrip. There is a small admission fee.

Ometepe wildlife
Spotting wildlife is easy – keep your eyes open!

Admire wildlife

Spotting wildlife is easy peasy in Ometepe. I was 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! I also spotted capuchin monkeys and various species of birds.

The best time to spot wildlife 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 bring a good pair of binoculars!

travel to Nicaragua

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’s actually quite budget friendly.

There are several places scattered around the island where you can rent a motorbike, and if you aren’t too confident with manual transmission, just get a moped.

Alternatively, check out this site for easy rental.

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. Bring your driving license. 

San Ramon waterfall
San Ramon waterfalls is reached via an easy hike

Go to San Ramon waterfall

This is one of the best places to visit in Ometepe. The waterfall is 64 meters (about 210 feet) high and there is a nice swimming hole right under, where you can cool off after your hike to get there. 

San Ramon waterfall is on the southern slopes of Volcán Maderas, roughly 5 km (3.1 miles) 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 (0.6 miles) trail leading to the waterfall starts. There is a small entry fee, which you can pay at the parking lot.

Ometepe well deserves a visit

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. You can hike it to get to the Mirador del Diablo (Devil’s Viewpoint) for one of the best views on the island.

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.

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. Enquire locally at your hotel or hostel for guided kayak tours.

Ometepe petroglyphs
Seeing the petroglyphs is one of the things to do in Ometepe

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 petroglyphs in Ometepe 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.

San Ramon waterfall
Happy at San Ramon waterfall during my first trip to Nicaragua

Visit Finca Magdalena

Finca Magdalena is one of the best places to visit in Ometepe, and 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 around 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 can, spend 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. 

Ometepe towns
Make sure to visit one of the local towns

Explore the cities

Don’t hold your breath for city life in Ometepe! 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 (half a mile) north of the village center. It’s a good place to swim and relax. San Silvestre is about 1.5 km (less than a mile) 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 (0.8 miles) 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. 

Ometepe island
A sight of rural Ometepe

Enjoy the slow-paced life

I’d dare say that one of the best things to do in Ometepe island is enjoying rural life. 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, and learn about their culture and way of life. 

Ometepe Maderas
A view of Maderas Volcano from San Ramon

Practical Guide

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. There are some good accommodation options.

Finca Magdalena is labeled as a lodge, but it’s very basic. The Finca (farm) is located about 1.5 km (0.9 miles) off the main road, on a trail through the woods – it’s a hike to get there. There are very basic dorms, private rooms with access to the common showers and toilets, and a private family room. Meals are cheap, and there even is a sort of bar (well, they sell drinks). The location is stunning and the atmosphere incredibly relaxed.

Totoco Ecolodge has beautiful views and a fantastic swimming pool where you can cool off after a day of exploring.

You should also read my post Where to Stay In Ometepe.

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. 

Ometepe island
One island, two volcanoes – Ometepe as seen from the ferry


If you’d rather stay in a more central location, 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.

Banana Guest House offers plain but clean rooms. It’s very budget friendly.

If you need to fix a sweet tooth, El Pital is the best option in Altagracia. Their desserts are heavenly!

things to do in Ometepe Nicaragua


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.

Hostel Coco’s offers both private rooms and dorms. It’s an excellent budget friendly option.

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 otherwise available from San Jorges, near Rivas, which can be reached by Granada by bus; and from San Carlos, 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?

You can visit Ometepe on day trips from Granada such as this one. However, I recommend spending at least 4 days there to fully embrace the relaxing atmosphere.

Other useful information 

Most travelers from Europe and North America won’t need a visa to travel to Nicaragua – you’ll get a stamp on your passport when you enter the country. However, 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. If you want to stay longer, the closest 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 your travel insurance here. Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.

Further Readings

If you are planning to travel to Nicaragua, these posts will help you plan your trip:

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Read about the best things to do in Ometepe - via @clautavani

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