Ometepe Island is probably the most popular destination in all of Nicaragua, and for good reason. It’s stunning. Formed by two volcanoes in the midst of the largest lake in Central America, the island has so much to offer! Here are my fave things I discovered over just a short stay:
- Kayak the lake and river Kayaks are available for rent all over the island, but especially on the southern half of the island near the mouth of the river Istián. We rented ours from Caballito del Mar in Santa Maria, working a deal into our night’s stay at their hotel – $35 USD for a private room and use of the kayaks whenever we wanted. Most places I saw were renting kayaks for $5 per hour, so we deemed this as a pretty good deal. We paddled out from Santa Maria for about a 45 minute long, strenuous paddle against the wind to the entrance of Rio Istián. It looked like we were just entering a swamp, but a few minutes in the river opens up to a calm sanctuary filled with all sorts of birds, a few monkeys, and even a few caimans. We spent around an hour paddling up the calm river, before arriving at an impassible section and turning back around. We came back out into the bay just as the sun was plummeting to the horizon, making for a colorful paddle back across to the hotel.
- Hike to the San Ramon Waterfall A lot of people who visit Ometepe choose to hike to the top of one of the volcanoes that form the island, which the tropical heat and strong winds make for a very demanding and exhausting day without much reward – the crater of the active Volcán Concepción is often not even visible, and the top is generally shrouded in clouds.
We choose to take an easier day hike to the waterfall San Ramon, which in the end proved plenty challenging for us. Located on the south end of the island, the hike begins in the Biological Station, where you have to pay a $3 entrance fee per person. From here, the hike to the waterfall is a 4 km hike up (don’t be deceived by the signs that say 3 km, it’s definitely 1 more). The first half takes you along a wide path through the biological station and the conjoining farm up to their hydroelectric plant. After the plant, the path narrows significantly to a small trail that winds through the jungle and up the mountain until you reach the small river. The last 1/2 km of the hike is the most difficult, becoming more of a rock scramble straight up until you come out to a beautiful flat pool, the spray of the tall waterfall immediately cooling you off from the hot hike.
Bring plenty of water for this hike, as it does get very hot. And if you end up running out, we did fill our water bottles from the clear water dripping down the side of the rocks, which was clean and refreshing.
- Eat Greek food
Okay, I know that seems like a really random tip, but I can’t get over how great this restaurant was. Maybe it was how hilarious and welcoming the chef and waiter were, maybe it was just how wonderful a change it was from the typical Nica rice and beans cuisine, but I love this place. It’s called Thalassa, and it’s in Merida, on the southwest part of the island. We had a kabob plate and falafel, which was absolutely delicious, and the owner brought us cocktails and dessert on the house. If I could eat here every day, I absolutely would.
- Relax at the Ojo de Agua This beautiful little spot is just north of Santo Domingo on the stretch between the two volcanoes. Formed by an underground river that comes from the Maderas Volcano, this crystal clear pool is the perfect way to escape the afternoon heat, relaxing in the shade, swimming in the cool waters. It’s also a great place to people watch, as it’s pretty popular, and there is a rope swing to jump off in the deep end. We had a great time drinking rum and coconuts and watching people belly flop. Pro tip – buy a coconut for only a $1, but sneak in your own rum.
- Enjoy the sights on Playa Santa Cruz We came to this island to vacation from our vacation, and that is just what this beach is for. You can grab some cold beers from one of the nearby restaurants, pick out a spot in the sand, and gaze out as kite surfers dance on the choppy waters, men on horseback race by, and the local boys start up a game of fútbol. This water here is always a bit choppy and shallow, but it’s nice to wade in and swim for a bit. It’s also one of the few spots on the island where you get a clear view of both volcanoes at the same time. Divine.
Tips on traveling the island: It is difficult to get around the island – buses are infrequent and unreliable, and don’t go as far as you’d like. If you want to get anywhere out of Moyogalpa, rent a moto. There are plenty of places to rent scooters on the island, usually for $25 USD per day, but I suggest checking around Rivas for a motorcycle rental before even crossing to the island, as you can usually find moto rentals for around $15/day, and the rough roads on the far end of the island almost require something more powerful than a scooter.
Have you visited the island? What was your favorite spot?