Though filled with bright colors, tasty local food, interesting wildlife, and beautiful scenery, Nicaragua rarely makes it on to the average person’s travel bucket list. When someone adventurous decides to give the worthy country a shot, they often visit the cities of Granada or San Juan del Sur. While these are wonderful travel destinations in their own right, Nicaragua is home to another lesser-known gem: “Isle de Ometepe” or Ometepe Island.
The second you step foot on tropical island of Ometepe, you feel as though you have gone back in time. Stunning volcanic views, wide beaches, endless greenery, and untouched local ways, make you feel as if you can experience Central America as it’s supposed to be.
Just talk to a local, and they will inform you there is no need for traffic police on Ometepe; the frequently passing animals keep everyone slowed down. Nobody leaves Ometepe Island without thinking they might have caught a bit of traveler’s magic.
Things To Know About Ometepe
- The Island of Ometepe is surrounded by Lake Nicaragua, a large freshwater lake
- Two volcanoes are responsible for Ometepe’s hourglass shape: Maderas (extinct) and Concepcion (active)
- Don’t expect crowds. Ometepe’s entire population is around 30,000.
An already off-the-beaten track place, you have a plethora of unique experiences when visiting Ometepe Island. If you want to make sure to enhance your stay, here are six unique ways to experience the island.
Take A Fisherman’s Ride
Since Ometepe is an island about 19 kilometers away from the mainland, you are going to need to take a ferry ride from San Jorge to Ometepe. Most of the boats that will take you over are large, nice ferries – typical to any ferry you may have taken before.
To make the experience even more special, you can opt to take a fisherman’s boat, sometimes referred to as a Lancha or Lancia. Sure, these brightly colored boats seem a bit rickety or battered, but they are an entirely safe way to cross Lake Nicaragua in fun Central American style.
Expect the ride, no matter your boat choice, to take you about an hour each way.
Land In San Jose
The majority of boats take you to Ometepe’s main city, Moyogalpa, on the northwest side of the island. This is a much more highly populated area, and it feels more similar to inland Nicaragua. Of course, it’s a lovely area, but you may find more charming entering through the lesser-known stop – San Jose del Sur.
When the boat arrives in San Jose del Sur, do not expect to see helpful signs pointing tourists in the right direction. In fact, don’t expect to see anything in English at all. This is largely a local’s port. Luckily for all you adventurous types, the locals are extremely friendly and ready to help.
Entering San Jose del Sur will bring you straight to some of the most gorgeous areas and best hotels/hostels on the island.
Rent A Dirt Bike
Forget cars on Isle de Ometepe; opt for two wheels. Exploring the dirt streets and bumpy trails of the entire island is best made when you rent a local scooter. But do go into the experience knowing that finding a bike rental shop is not as easy as it is in some more touristy areas.
You may have to ask, or if you can’t speak much Spanish, even play charades until you can find somebody who can point you to a shop or family who will rent you their scooter. Typically, you will make an agreement, give a deposit, and set a meeting time to drop off the bike when your trip is through. This is especially true if you enter through San Jose del Sur.
For approximately $25 to $35 a day plus fuel, you can roam the entire island with ease, seeing the locals in their daily lives.
Stay & Play Near Santo Domingo
No part of Ometepe is over-crowded by any means, but the Santo Domingo is the epitome of quiet, tropical bliss. Drive your new dirt bike over to the hilly, green area of the island and find a small hotel or hostel to stay in. You will be right next to beautiful beach sand and plenty of small eateries.
This area also keeps you close to the must-visit: Ojo de Agua (water’s eye or waterhole in English). This area is a natural cold spring pool. The crystal clear waters are said to have healing powers. For those who want to spend the hot afternoon in a cool, shaded place, this would be your ideal area.
Ojo de Agua costs $3 per person.
Walk Only Half Way To San Ramon Waterfall
Most people who visit Ometepe Island know to make the San Ramon Waterfall a must-see; after all, the gorgeous hike leads you to an equally gorgeous waterfall. But not everybody realizes it is even better to only climb half way. The entire trail is about 3km, but you are actually able to bring your dirt bike half of the way up.
Dirt biking through the rest of Ometepe is simply road biking, but the trail up to San Ramon is a rocky, rutty, twisty trail of pure dirt biking fun. While it is neither for the faint of heart nor for the inexperienced, taking your rented dirt bike half way up the waterfall is a blast.
Still prep for a serious hike with good shoes, sunscreen, extra water, and a snack.
Eat Meals Like A Local
Eating meals at the Ometepe resorts can be a wonderful treat; you will taste great food for an extremely low cost. But it is important to remember to spend some meals eating like a local. One of the best ways to get a good idea of the cuisine is to simply pull your dirt bike over whenever you see a local “comedor.”
Order a plate of grilled meats, beans, rice, and plantains. Try their local beer, Toña. Sip a white Piña Colada. For breakfast, enjoy gallo pinto, a rice and beans mixture alongside fried eggs and plantains. Sip on natural fruit juices. You will be amazed how much delicious food and drinks you can order for a small bill.
Remember, however, to pass on the tap water and keep to bottled water throughout Nicaragua.