Ometepe Island sits in the middle of the largest lake in Nicaragua. The lake, called Mar Dulce or sweet ocean, looks like the Pacific Ocean with waves just as big as those lapping the west coast of Nicaragua. You can reach the island via a bus or shuttle to Rivas from San Juan del Sur or Granada, then a taxi or bus to San Jorge and a boat or ferry across to the island. We spent a total of $4 each for the entire trip.
On either side of the island sit volcanoes that birthed the land between them. At one end you have the conical volcano of Concepcion that still huffs and puffs smoke and erupted with hot lava 50 years ago. On the opposing side of the hour glass island sits volcano Maderas, which is dormant but not extinct. This beautiful, sleepy island near Granada and Rivas welcomes tourists throughout the year, but doesn’t feel overrun with tourism.
After three nights on the island, we fell in love. There’s no high rise hotels or strip malls. You don’t feel overwhelmed by locals trying to sell you tours or souvenirs. You exit the ferry or boat from San Jorge and feel you’ve entered a local community not transformed by tourism.
There’s only two main roads in the main town of Moyogalpa with shops and restaurants. You can try local fare at restaurants connected to locals’ houses, or visit other more touristy spots to dine on pizza, poutine, or the best fajitas in the world at Mar Dulce restaurant. We stayed near the town at a locally owned hospedaje called Casa Mauro that is run by a very friendly man and his family on their property. Everything just feels local and authentic. I hope this never changes.
We spent our first full day hiking up the smaller of the two volcanoes, Maderas, on the opposite end of the island. Though the island is less steep and more dormant, the trek to the top and down into the crater lake feels extremely difficult due to the constantly muddy and rough terrain. Bring shoes you don’t care about, because you are going to get muddy!!
Unfortunately, we lost our great trekking shape after a month of lounging on beaches. We felt the burn as we climbed at a steady 45 degree angle and sometimes 90 degrees. You must lift yourself over tree stumps and hoist yourself up between fallen branches. You slip and slide and bump your head. You sweat and shiver from the humidity of the cloud forest and the chill of the blustery winds carrying raindrops off the leaves.
Our morning view from the first mirador, revealed only the skinny waistline of the island and a conical shaped cloud obscured the whole of volcano Concepcion. We began to wonder why we paid $35 each for a torturous trek with no views. Howler monkeys echoed their deep grunts through the dense forest and we joined them with our deep groaning at the slippery mud coating our bodies. These kinds of hikes challenge the mind and body as you curse yourself for choosing to attempt such a feet instead of just relaxing at the beach.
Alas, it provides camaraderie for the group as you struggle together to survive. Our group of five included a French Canadian couple, ourselves from the US, and a sweet Swiss girl who just graduated high school. Our guide, Levis, completes this trek at least three times a week and somehow managed to escape with not even a speck of mud on his legs.
Once we reached the crater lake that looked like something out of the Creatures from the Black Lagoon with a heavy milky cloud hanging over it, we sat on the cold wet ground to eat our makeshift lunches. We snapped pictures of our muddy selves then attempted the descent in a quicker manner. Going down in mud is tougher than going up. We careened down the trail, each taking turns at sliding on our sides and butts by accident like a bunch of kids on a slip’n’slide! We looked like a bunch of contestants on the show Survivor by the end. No one survived unscathed.
Thankfully on the way down we were rewarded with the sunny view of the island and volcano we sought earlier. The view below us made it all worth it in the end. Rarely do people work so hard for zero return on investment. Without a spectacular view, you feel cheated for all your misery and hard work. Of course a sense of accomplishment is also of value in these endeavors.
We celebrated our hard work with some Toñas beers and a quick refreshing dip in the lake at Playa Santo Domingo on the east side of the island. We all cheers-ed to our accomplishment and scarfed down tostones and queso (fried plantain and cheese). On the drive back to Moyogalpa, we watched the sun set in an explosion of pink behind the volcanoes.
Our second day on the island was a lot more relaxing! We rented motor scooters and rode down to the Ojo de Agua, a natural fresh water spring pool in the middle of the island. On the ride we weaved around farm animals crossing the road. I screamed to Ethan every few miles, “watch out for that (fill in the blank with Old McDonald farm animals)”! There were dozens of horses, cattle, pigs, and dogs meandering across the road. Locals on motorcycles also zipped around us as we drove cautiously.
The Ojo de Agua was a large stone pool full of fresh spring water surrounded by trees and grass huts. We swam for several hours in the refreshing waters in between quick rain showers. It never got too crowded since it was a Monday. It only costs $5 to enter. The restaurant on site is over priced though so you are better off packing your own lunch.
On our way home, we stopped at the Punto Jesus Maria, a sandy point that stretches out into the lake and provides a great view of the sunset. We reached it just in time. The black lava sand beach creates a narrow pathway into the lake with water lapping it on either side.
The sun shimmied behind layers of clouds shooting its rays out like a fan. The bellies of the clouds sparkled in gold. The sky turned fuchsia. Everyone lined up for pictures on the point. Couples sat on blankets drinking beers. We took a moment to just enjoy the spectacular sunset in each others arms. It’s so easy to get caught up in taking pictures and not enjoy the present moment. We dug our toes in the black sand and let the warm waves lick our feet.
We’ve seen so many amazing sunsets on this trip and each one is so unique! They each allow us a moment to take a deep breath, slow down, and appreciate where we are! Ometepe is a very special place and we will remember our visit here for a lifetime!