Top 5 Adventures on Ometepe Island!
Ometepe Island is one of the most visited places in Nicaragua ~ yet still maintains a relaxed, island vibe. As soon as you board the ferry to reach the island, you’ll see why: Ometepe was literally formed by two enormous volcanoes rising out of the largest lake in Central America, Lago de Nicaragua. Views of the island, & on the island, are stunning. And many of the activities listed in this post show off some of the island’s best views. So let’s dig right into the “Top 5 Adventures on Ometepe Island” in Nicaragua!
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 very rigorous volcano hikes! But all of other adventures are suitable for everyone!
Let’s Go to Ometepe!
How to Get to Ometepe Island!
Directions to Ometepe Island: Grab a ferry from the port town of San Jorge, close to Rivas. The cost is $2-3. This is the easiest way to get to Ometepe Island, with the most ferry options. Ferries leave approximately every hour ~ so you shouldn’t have to wait long. The crossing is 15 kilometers & 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 west 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 transport 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 arrange a collectivo 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.
Map of Ferry to Ometepe Island!
San Jorge, Nicaragua
Top 5 Adventures on Ometepe Island!
1) Hike a Volcano!
There are two main volcanoes on Ometepe Island: Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas. Both hikes are very challenging, so if you don’t like to hike: skip them! Also, you must hike with a guide ~ people have gotten hurt, lost, & even died on these volcanoes. So don’t go alone! Finally, getting to the summit requires an 8-12 hour effort for either volcano ~ so if that doesn’t sound appealing, then do something else!
Hike to 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 hike is in the shade, so if it has rained recently, the ground will be CAKED in mud. I fell so many times on the way down I lost count. I don’t 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 up top at the viewpoint & enjoy lunch. 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 (yes, that’s it!), including one spectacular shot across to Volcan Concepcion.
Starting Point for the Hike to Volcan Maderas = Hotel 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 it!
Hike to Volcan Concepcion: This is the hotter, drier option of the two volcanoes. And longer. Unlike Maderas, for the entire final part of the hike, you’re unprotected by trees: meaning, you’re getting baked by the strong island sun. Wear sunscreen, & bring it with you to re-apply ~ because it’s going to be a long day. Concepcion generally takes longer to hike than Maderas, between 10-12 hours; you must bring food & whatever supplies you need. The last part of the hike is very steep & slippery on volcanic rocks, so wear sturdy shoes, & go with a guide.
Starting Point for Hike to Volcan Concepcion = Altagracia (you’ll see many guides on the corner, at the entrance to the park) & Moyogalpa.
2) Horseback Ride on the Beach!
It seems like almost everyone on the island owns horses. Without many cars, horses are an important way of transporting goods, & good way to earn additional money via tourism. While walking along Playa Santa Domingo, a long stretch of beach with views of both volcanoes, I saw 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 anything like it before; it was absolutely beautiful to watch.
Ask your hotel about horseback riding ~ every hotel I stayed at either offered it, 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, & is considered one of the greatest rock art destinations in the world. Statues & ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) can be found all over the island, most notably near Hotel Finca Porvenir & Hotel Finca Magdalena ~ by the base of Volcan Maderas, on the eastern side of the island.
Early Indians considered Ometepe as their promised land; they believed that Volcan Maderas was the sacred place of the sun, while Volcan Concepcion was the brother of the moon. Archaeologists refer to Ometepe as the island of circles & spirals, due to numerous curvilinear motifs found on rocks all over the island.
Starting Point for Hike to Petroglyphs = From Hotel 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. Either hike will take about 45 minutes to an hour.
4) Swim in Shark-Infested Waters!
There are plenty of opportunities to swim on Ometepe ~ starting at the island’s longest stretch of beach: Playa Santa Domingo. 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, the lake is actually connected to the Carribean Sea via a small river on its south-eastern side. Sharks entered the lake many years ago by swimming this river upstream, ending up in Lake Nicaragua! Miraculously, they adapted to the fresh water, which means: these are some hearty sharks!
Seriously, Lake Nicaragua was lovely to swim in. It’s not the most scenic beach I’ve been to (minus the volcanoes), but the water temperature is perfect ~ & particularly refreshing after a day of hiking or adventuring. If you’re on Ometepe Island, you must take at least one dip in the water…or better yet, go for a skinny-dip at night!
5) Bike or Scooter Around the Island!
Cars AREN’T the main source of transport on Ometepe. Think: motorcycles, scooters, bikes, & horses. You’ll see plenty of all these! So take your pick ~ whatever makes you happy. I heard several warnings about scooter accidents, particularly on the east side of the island, where many roads are unpaved. 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 & the west side of the island, around Volcan Concepcion, near Altagracia: because the entire area is paved. The east side of the island, particularly past Merida, has rougher roads, & makes for a more difficult biking experience. The roads on Ometepe aren’t very busy, so drivers should give you plenty of room. And the volcano views you’ll get along the way are unforgettable.
And That’s It!
That concludes our “Top 5 Adventures on Ometepe Island!” Have you been to the island? What was your favorite thing to do? Did you hike to the top of Volcan Maderas…and if you did, did your shoes get ruined like mine?! Tell me all about it in the comments below!
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