Adventures on Ometepe Island!
Ometepe Island is one of the most visited places in Nicaragua. As soon as you board the ferry to the island, you’ll see why: the island was literally formed by two enormous volcanoes rising out of the largest lake in Central America, Lago de Nicaragua. Views of the island are stunning. And once you’re actually on the island ~ the views get even better.
While on Ometepe, I compiled a list of my favorite things to do on the island ~ adventures you can have few other places in the world. Most are for the active, adventurous person ~ especially the rigorous volcano hikes! But all of the other adventures are suitable for everyone!
Let’s Go to Ometepe Island!
How to Get to Ometepe Island!
Directions to Ometepe: Grab a ferry from the port town of San Jorge, close to Rivas. Cost is $2-3. This is by far the easiest way to get to Ometepe Island, with the most ferry options. There are, in general, ferries leaving approx. every hour ~ so you should never have to wait too long. The crossing is 15 kilometers and takes about one hour. They pack the ferries full of people & cars, so be prepared to squeeze ~ or like I did, find a cool spot on deck for great views of the islands.
Landing on Ometepe Island: The two most popular ports on Ometepe are Moyogalpa and San Jose del Sur (not to be confused with popular San Juan del Sur). Both port towns are on the western side of the island (near Volcan Concepcion, the larger of the two volcanoes), so if you’re staying anywhere east, you’ll need to figure out transportation to your destination. Take your chances hailing a taxi, or while in San Jorge, there’s a tourism office just around the corner from the ticket booth ~ they can help arrange a collectivo taxi to pick you up, which will be significantly cheaper. I chose this option & rode with four other people, which cut the cost to $20 to get from Moyogalpa to Playa Santa Domingo.
San Jorge, Nicaragua
Top 5 Adventures!
1) Hike a Volcano!
There are two main volcanoes on Ometepe Island: Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas. Both are very challenging, so if you’re an inexperienced hiker, I would skip them! Also, you must hike with a guide ~ people have gotten hurt, lost, or even died on these volcanoes. So don’t go it alone! Finally, getting to the summit requires an 8-12 hour effort for both volcanoes ~ so if that doesn’t sound fun to you, then skip it!
Volcan Maderas = MUDDY, MUDDY, MUDDY!!! Just think: Maderas = MUD. Oh. MY Goodness. Stupidly, I wore brand new shoes & they got absolutely ruined. Most of the Maderas is in the shade, so if it has rained recently, all that ground is just going to be CAKED in mud. I fell so many times on the way down I lost count. I would not recommend this hike for older hikers or those with bad knees ~ it’s just too much of a slog. However, the payoff at the top is a beautiful blue-green lagoon; many people sit atop at the viewpoint & enjoy lunch with a view. Other than the lagoon though, there aren’t many views; you’re pretty much covered by trees the whole way. You get about two great viewpoints along the hike, including one spectacular shot across to Volcan Concepcion.
Starting Points for the Hike to Volcan Maderas = Finca Magdalena (this is where we started from, & got breakfast as well). Finca Magdalena is the most accessible route; there are also routes from Finca El Porvenir & Merida. My guide said the Merida route is steepest, so unless you LOVE hiking, I’d avoid this route!
Volcan Concepcion is the hotter, drier option of the two volcanoes. Unlike Maderas, for the entire last part of the hike, you’re not protected by trees, which means you’re getting just baked by the strong island sun. WEAR sunscreen, & bring it along so you can re-apply ~ it’s going to be a long day. Concepcion generally takes longer to hike than Maderas, between 10-12 hours ~ so bring food & whatever other supplies you need. The last part of the hike is very steep & slippery on the volcanic rocks, so wear sturdy shoes.
Starting Points for Hike to Volcan Concepcion = Altagracia (you’ll see many guides on the corner, at the entrance to the park) and Moyogalpa.
2) Horseback Ride on the Beach!
It seems like almost everyone on the island owns horses; without many cars, horses are a significant way to transport goods, as well as a good way to earn money via tourism. While walking along Playa Santa Domingo, a long stretch of beach with views of both volcanoes, I saw a group of about ten horses trotting along the beach with their owner. Simultaneously, they all made their way from the beach into the water. I’ve never seen a sight like that before; I was literally in awe, & without my camera, just able to stand back & enjoy it.
Ask your hotel if you want to horseback ride ~ every hotel I stayed at either offered them or knew someone who did. If in doubt, head to Playa Santa Domingo & ask any of the hotels along there to point you in the right direction. It’s a very small area & the people are extremely helpful; you should have no trouble at all finding someone to take you riding. Cost = $5-10/hour.
3) Hike to Petroglyphs!
Ometepe Island is known for its rich, pre-Colombian past, and is considered one of the greatest rock art destinations in the world. Statues and ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) can be found all over the island, most notably near Hotel Finca Porvenir and Finca Magdalena ~ both of which can be found at the base of Volcan Maderas, on the eastern side of the island.
Early Indians considered Ometepe Island their promised land; they believed that Volcan Maderas was the sacred place of the sun, while Volcan Concepcion was the brother of the moon. Meanwhile, archaeologists refer to Ometepe as the island of circles & spirals due to numerous curvilinear motifs found on rocks all over the island. The most common motif found on Ometepe is the spiral.
Starting Points for Hikes to Petroglyphs = From Finca Magdalena, follow signs towards the Volcan Maderas hike. At the entrance to the hike, turn left instead of going straight; follow signs for “Petroglyphs.” From Hotel Finca Porvenir, ask for directions & they can point the way. Neither hike should take more than 45 minutes to an hour.
4) Swim in Shark-Infested Waters!
There are plenty of opportunities to swim on Ometepe Island ~ starting at the longest stretch of beach on the island, Playa Santa Domingo, which stretches like a kind of “waist” that connects the two volcanoes. Not only will you be swimming in Central America’s largest freshwater lake, Lago de Nicaragua ~ but you’ll also be swimming with sharks! How is this possible?? Well, Lake Nicaragua is actually connected to the Carribean Sea via a small river on its south-eastern side. Sharks entered the lake a long time ago by swimming this river upstream, thus ending up in Lake Nicaragua! Miraculously, their systems adapted to be able to survive in the fresh water, which means: these are some pretty hearty sharks! Ha ~ happy swimming!
Seriously, Lake Nicaragua was lovely to swim in. It’s not necessarily the most picturesque beach I’ve ever been to (minus the volcanoes), but the water temperature is perfect ~ & particularly refreshing after a hot day of hiking or adventuring. If you’re on Ometepe Island, you must take at least one dip in the waters…or better yet, go for a skinny-dip at night! Either way, you’ll enjoy.
5) Bike Around the Island!
Cars are NOT the main source of transportation on Ometepe ~ think motorcycles, scooters, bikes & horses. You’ll see plenty of all these on Ometepe! So take your pick ~ whatever kind of transportation makes you happy. I heard several warnings about scooter accidents, particularly on the east side of the island, where the roads are largely unpaved ~ so since I was traveling solo, I opted not to rent a scooter. But biking is a different story!
Best Place to Bike on Ometepe Island = The central, Santa Domingo area and the west side of the island, around Volcan Concepcion and near Altagracia ~ this entire area is paved. The east side of the island, particularly by Merida & beyond, is largely unpaved, & makes for a less pleasant biking experience. The roads on Ometepe are not terribly busy, so other drivers should give you plenty of room. And the views you get of the volcanoes along the way are unforgettable.
And That’s It!
That concludes our “Top 5 Ometepe Island Adventures!” Have you been to Ometepe Island? What was your favorite activity on the island? Did you hike to the top of Volcan Maderas…and if you did, did your shoes get ruined like mine did?! Tell me all about it in the comments below!