Ometepe Island, Nicaragua – The Ultimate Guide
So you want to visit Isla de Ometepe – an island (duh, ‘isla’ means Island in Spanish) comprising of two volcanoes in the middle of Lago de Nicaragua (‘lago’ means lake). Ometepe Island may seem a bit of a trek, and my amigo and I heard mixed reviews with regards to accessibility and beach/water quality. All that being said after scrolling through numerous volcanic sunset pictures online I knew I had to go. I’d also already fallen in love with the infinity pool at Totoco Eco Lodge, but more on that a bit later!
Getting to Ometepe Island
All roads lead to Rivas to get to Ometepe Island. Rivas is a city and main hub and bus station to get around in South Western Nicaragua to all the Pacific surfing beaches like San Juan Del Sur, to Ometepe Island and to Rio San Carlos.
Rivas is busy, confusing, and sadly, there are taxis there that take advantage of tourists. We opted to get a taxi from Rivas to San Jorge and I found myself rowing with the driver in broken Spanish (I think my words were “amigo, vas a seguir así de todos modos” which translates to “mate, you’re going that way anyway” – cheeky sod tried to charge $5 per person in the cab as opposed to whacking the meter on).
Here are a few important tips that will ensure you don’t get scammed!
A. Options for arriving onto Ometepe Island
First you need to get to Rivas from wherever you are (we were in Granada):
1. Take a mini-bus (tourist bus direct to the ferry port)
There are a few travel agencies on Calle La Cazada (the main area of restaurants) in Granada that organize direct mini buses to the ferry launch. The mini bus costs about $25-30 per person and there are only 1 or 2 buses per day. This option is a shorter but more costly option to get to Ometepe (10x more costly).
Hey – some people aren’t on a tight budget and are not up for schlepping on public transport. That’s okay.
2. Take the local (Chicken) bus to Rivas
The local “Chicken bus” is the most economical way to travel in Nicaragua. Often decorated and modified to carry people and goods in Latin America, it’s a fun trip for people watching. However be warned; the bus stops quite a lot to let on vendors that sell all manners of sh*t. On our way from Granada to Rivas a clown hopped on and attempted to sell my amigo and I a balloon dog. Failing that, he tried packing cards or nail clippers. He probably should stick to just 1 target market
Where: Catch the bus at the Granada Market Station; it is in front of the Shell petrol station. This is the same place to catch the bus to Masaya, but different from the bus stop for Managua. Your hostel or hotel should easily be able to direct you
Schedule: Buses schedule Monday-Sunday is 6:30, 8:05, 9:30, 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 3:10. The bus will leave once it’s full, it doesn’t mean it leaves on time! My amigo and I waited TWO FLAMING HOURS. I finished my snacks and tried some Vigoron in that time
Price: Rates are posted in the front window bus, so it’s the same for everyone! HOWEVER: you will be charged an extra seat for your bag, whether you are a local or visitor. One of the bus attendants take on and off the bags and often your bag takes up another seat (or it is carried at the top of the bus) 20 Cordoba/per person + Large Bag 20 Cordoba total: 40 Cordobas ($1.31)
Duration: 60-75 minutes depending on number of stops to drop off passengers.
B) Rivas Bus Station to the Port of San Jorge (Ferry to Ometepe)
You have two options for getting to San Jorge from Rivas:
1. Take the bus to the Port of San Jorge
Rivas is a short 10-minute drive to the dock at San Jorge. You can travel again via Chicken bus but it isn’t obvious where to get on and where to get off.
Price: 20 Cordoba ($0.65)
We missed the bus (surprise surprise) so had to take a taxi.
2. Taxi to the Ometepe Ferry Launch
The other option is taking a Taxi to the Ometepe Ferry. This is where you need to negotiate. Unfortunately my amigo (being from Barcelona) was the strongest Spanish speaker out of the two of us, and sh*t at negotiating. We completely overpaid.
The taxi will stop right at the main gates to the ferry, and you can walk in directly.
Price: Lord knows (dunno emoji).
C) Ferry Ometepe
Ferries from San Jorge will go to two ports – Moyogalpa (the main city on Ometepe) or San Jose. Moyogalpa is the main port and most ferries stop at this location. San Jose is closer Balgüe and Merida
Schedule: The Ometepe Ferry Schedule is posted here. If you are time strapped, plan ahead as sometimes the boats are down for maintenance so make extra time to get onto the next ferry. Note: take these with timings with a slight pinch of salt. No, really. Get there on time but bring a book. Nicaraguans and time keeping (or lack thereof) is a rather consistent pain point mentioned throughout my blog
Duration: Roughly 1h to 1h 20 depending on weather and winds!
Price: Rates are posted in the boat and they are the same for locals and travellers. We paid about 60 Cordoba ($1.97)
Travelling around Ometepe Island
Woooo! You got here! Mazel Tov. However Ometepe Island is bigger than you think! Taxis are quite expensive and it is $25 dollars to get from Motogyolpa and Balgüe.
There is a relatively regular Ometepe bus schedule in more populated areas of Moyogalpa/Altagracia and Santa Domingo and a less frequent bus to the southeast areas of Santa Cruz, Merida, and Balgüe. You may need to stop at El Quino (transfer bus stop) in order to transfer instead of a direct bus to Moyogalpa or to Merida and Balgüe. We stayed in Balgüe and it was a bit of a pain in the ass (our eco lodge was 20 minutes walk down a mountain to the bus stop) but worth it to see the beautiful sights.
Cost: Between 17 Cordoba ($0.55) and 30 Cordoba ($1) depending on distance.
Schedule: Local Ometepe bus schedule
Taxis aren’t particularly budget friendly on Ometepe Island. Furthermore like with the rest of Nicaragua, taxis are Collectivo and taxi drivers may collect other passengers at their discretion. Similar to Uber Pool, your fellow passengers could be lovely folk or absolutely terrible – it is all part of the fun. So don’t expect a fast and direct car ride to your destination!
Renting a bike
Ometepe Island is one of the cheapest places to rent a bike – bicycle hire costs around $5 a day and motorcycle hire costs between $25-40 a day depending on the vendor and the type of bike you hire.
If you’re hiring a motorcycle or quad bike some (not all) will ask for a drivers license (a provisional should do – although it doesn’t harm to provide proof of CBT). For those daft enough to hire a motorcycle without any prior experience (i.e. me) I recommend hiring a push and go style scooter. Also ensure you check with your hostel about the roads you plan to ride on as a lot of the roads are not suitable for nervous or inexperienced riders. Most of the island is paved with interlocking brick however there is a lot of loose gravel – between Balgüe and Merida it isn’t paved at all and you’ll need at least a 150cc motorbike!
The first time I hopped onto a motorcycle I was extremely nervous. I drove it like a mobility scooter (i.e. extremely slowly) therefore had no control and wobbled off the bike and almost into a Ford Fiesta. I was left with some very sexy bruises and the ordeal was filmed for Snapchat (😳🙃). I’ve since sat a CBT!
Where to stay on Ometepe Island
Ah, so now you’re here you’re wondering about the accommodation on Ometepe Island. If you have been browsing on Hostelworld you would have noticed that accommodation options are spread out over the entire island. The island is bigger than you think!
What area should I choose?
- Want peace and relaxation? Definitely Merida or Balgüe.
- Want easy beach access? Santa Domingo is your best choice.
- If you want to be close to a town with lots of amenities – Moyogalpa is the most obvious choice. The benefit of staying here is that you will be walking distance to accommodation, restaurants, and shops from the ferry port. However even in Moyogalpa you will need to hire transport to visit most of the attractions. And to be honest, Moyogalpa is a bit of a dive.
Accommodation on Ometepe Island
Totoco Eco Lodge
I’m going to come clean: I agreed to completely pay wayyyyyy over budget at Totoco Eco Lodge just for the instagrammable photos. That pool 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻!
Totoco Eco Lodge sits 1Km up a hill and comprises of 6 very cosy lodges equipped with compost toilets – “sorry so where do I poo again” is a question I asked many times (or “perdon, dondé caca” in Spanish – don’t I teach useful phrases). There was something quite cool about knowing that every time I went to the toilet I was helping nature in some way.
We had a lovely roommate called Jeremy. Jeremy was a tarantula, a rather beastly fella. Jeremy and I had a tense relationship, mainly because Jeremy didn’t respect personal boundaries. A compost loo is even harder work with 8 beady black eyes staring at you.
There is limited wifi making it the perfect place to completely lose yourself in your surroundings. Whilst my amigo was waving her phone around to try and get signal, I sat myself in a hammock and read a book whilst admiring the jaw dropping views. I’ll never forget sitting on the hammock late at night, admiring both the stars in the clearest sky I’d ever seen paired with the glitter bugs lighting up the ground. Astounding!
One disappointment with Totoco Eco Lodge was the lack of accessibility; it isn’t suitable for people with mobility problems, and the 1Km walk through the jungle during the night was pretty frightening, so we decided not to do it again. This meant in the evening once we were back at Totoco Eco Lodge, we were pretty stuck. For the price you pay I do think Totoco should offer a shuttle service for its guests.
Do you like to party? Then Little Morgans is for you! I heard it gets pretty wild at Little Morgans (well… by sleepy Ometepe standards) and I’d have probably stayed here had I travelled around Ometepe solo.
We popped in here for a beer and the vibe seemed pretty chilled. Lazy Crab is catered to younger, low budget backpackers but unlike Little Morgans it isn’t a party hostel – quiet time starts after 10pm!
Casa Del Bosque
A highly rated B&B beside Volcán Madera; the owner also runs the highly rated Café Campestre so even though the rooms are basic, you can guarantee the food is good. Casa Del Bosque is more upmarket than a hostel but much cheaper than Totoco Eco Lodge.
Another hostel that we frequented due to their famous Pizzeria night (Tuesdays and Saturdays from 6:30pm). What isn’t to love about a stone baked pizza under the stars? Zopilote is also catered to a younger crowd and doesn’t allow reservations, so make sure you get there early. It has a bit of a hippie vibe – apparently they do free yoga on a morning and organic cooking classes if you’re into that (I am).
What is there to do on Ometepe Island?
#1 Visit Ojo de Agua
Ojo de Agua is located on the road between the two volcanoes, roughly 2 km past Santo Domingo. Entry costs $2 per person and there is around 1km walk to get to the pools. There are lockers for your valuables and changing facilities.
#2 Watch the sunset at Santa Cruz, Santa Domingo or Punta Jesus Maria 🌅
I mean you can watch the sunset from anywhere, and we were lucky enough to have a spectacular sunset view from our terrace at Totoco Eco Lodge #istagoals. HOWEVER if you’re not at Totoco Eco Lodge (or even staying up a hill) then head to Punta Jesus Maria; the beach is a bit crap but the view of the sun setting between Maderas and Concepción is magic like no other.
Apparently there are a couple of stalls where you can buy beer and snacks.
#3 Visit the San Ramon Waterfall
On the slopes of Volcán Maderas – come here to do your best Mysterious Girl impression. At 64m high there is more than enough space to perform a backwards hair flick.
It is a 3Km walk from the entrance to the waterfall and the final 1Km is a bit of a hike. If you’re coming from Balgüe or Merida it is about 20 minutes cycle on a pushbike or a 45-minute walk to the entrance. Entrance is $2 per person.
#4 Hike Volcán Concepción or Volcán Maderas 🌋
Ometepe Island has 2 volcanos – Volcán Concepción and Volcán Maderas. Volcán Concepción last erupted in 2012 however Maderas is dormant (it last erupted 3000 years ago i.e. before the birth of Jesus for the anxiety ridden folk amongst us who worry about being swallowed by the lava and into the pits of hell).
Apparently both volcanos are similar in terms of difficulty; Conceptción is a hot hike (bring your factor 50) whereas Maderas is in the rainforest – but it is muddy! A hike to the crater takes roughly 9 hours or you can opt for a shorter hike of 4 hours if you only want to get to a decent viewpoint (i.e. me). Tours cost between $35-50 per person.
FYI – it is illegal to hike either volcano without a guide. Tourists died doing self-guided tours; some blogs will mention ‘self guided tours’ but the laws have since been changed.
Eating on Ometepe Island
Food is a vegetarian and vegans dream on Ometepe Island! I almost fainted with excitement when I saw a big sign saying ‘VEGAN FOOD’ – I was so sick of beans and rice (usually accompanied by that awful cheese or a sad looking egg) at this point that I considered taking up chain smoking to curb my appetite.
I’ve just redirected you to the websites; if you’re anything like me you study the website of a restaurant (and the PDF menu) like the Talmud before you arrive. We didn’t venture too far from Totoco Eco Lodge for food so most of my recommendations are in Santa Cruz and Balgüe:
- Café Campestre
- Hacienda Marida
- El Encuentro
- El Bamboo
- Comedor Isabel (doesn’t have a website or a Facebook)
Ometepe Island Nightlife
Ha ha ha very funny. If you’re wanting to party until the sun rises then from Rivas head to San Juan del Sur instead. I’m being facetious; there are a couple of bars but normally tagged to hostels (e.g. Little Morgans). Ometepe Island is a place to relax and enjoy the magnificent views. Instead of your shot glasses I suggest you bring a good book (or a charged iPad with some downloaded films).
See my other posts ✌🏼