Duration: at least Five days
Stay: Zopilote & Finca magdalena
Visiting Isla Ometepe in Nicaragua was a surreal experience! The scenery and wildlife were simply spectacular – from soaring volcanoes to lush forests, it’s the perfect place for an unforgettable adventure. The lake surrounding the island, Lago Nicaragua, was unbelievably pristine, and it’s actually the biggest freshwater lake in all of the world.
The twin-coned island
Formed by two volcanos, Conception and Maderas, the island took the shape of an infinity symbol. The once native Nahual people called the island “two hills” (Ome = two, tepe = hills). Because of Isla Ometepe’s mystical charm and breathtaking rugged landscape, humankind has been intrigued by the island ever since.
- Natural Beauty 95% 95%
- Beaches 85% 85%
- Culture 95% 95%
- Activities 100% 100%
As you approach the island with its twin-coned silhouette dramatically rising into the horizon, the boat ride itself promises a magical experience.
Beaches at Lago Nicaragua
The Spanish conquistadors referred to Lago Nicaragua as “La Mar Dulce” for its sheer size. Naturally, there are many beach spots across the 270 km big island.
Playa Puesta del Sol
Whereas you need about one hour from Moyogalpa to Santa Domingo, you can quickly reach Playa Puesta del Sol within a few minutes. The beach is not just tranquil and relaxed. You’ll also find great homestay options there. Several families offer a room in their own home to a guest.They enjoy telling intriguing island stories and never fail to feed you with insider knowledge. It’s an exciting chance to get an authentic experience and glimpse local life.
We have never been disappointed when we stayed at homestays. To us, it’s a must-do not to miss the chance to learn more about the friendly culture.
Playa Santa Domingo
Playa Santa Domingo is one of Isla Ometepe’s most popular beaches. This 4km long beach stretch is located right at the isthmus. You’ll find great swimming, numerous bars, restaurants, and hostels. In addition, the two indigenous communities, Urbaite and Las Pilas, are just outside Santa Domingo.
Santa Cruz is located right at the island’s isthmus and offers a great starting point to discover. We spent our first night at the quiet Hostal Maria, a favorite for its cheap, traditional food. You might have to wait a while, but the delicious dishes are worth it. Afterward, we ventured out to get to know the island.
Relax by the water
After a tasty Nicaraguan breakfast, we headed to the beach to enjoy the water and the first sun rays. We admired the vast lake, which could have been easily mistaken for an ocean. However, the pristine water was calling for a swim. We got pretty sunburned even though it seemed overcast. For most of the day, we had a little bay to ourselves. It’s a lovely spot to let time pass. Every once in a while, a gaucho would lead his herd of horses to the water. It’s so beautiful to watch!
Have a beer at Morgan's Bar
We ended up at Morgan’s Bar, a lively place where you can get in touch with the party crowd of the island. Of course, it gets wild in the late hours, but it’s an excellent spot to meet other travelers.
Take in the sunsets at Zopilote
Zopilote is the place to conclude the day with a magnificent sunset. We enjoyed the lush vegetation and the laid-back vibes. The eco-friendly permaculture farm is nestled right amid the jungle. It’s a fantastic spot to meet locals and travelers and kick back.
Impact travel opportunity - REMO
Overwhelmed by Isla Ometepe’s magical beauty, we forgot to arrange a place to sleep. So, because Maria was booked entirely, we headed out at night to find a new place to stay. Luckily, we struck it rich and found a hostel right down the main road. We were excited to learn that the owner is part of the organization “REMO.” REMO supports women and girls suffering from domestic and sexual abuse. They develop actions and projects to intervene and prevent such incidents. The organization also strengthens women by providing employment and career development opportunities
Climb the twin volcanos Conception or Maderas
Nicaragua offers plenty of volcano hikes. On Isla Ometepe, you can climb both volcanos on a guided tour. Conception is still active and is considered one of Central America’s most beautiful volcanos. It promises a stunning view over the island and mainland if it’s cloud-free. The near-perfect coneshaped volcano reaches an altitude of 1610 meters. Islanders will confirm that sporadic explosions of ashes and dust are commonplace. The inactive volcano Maderas has become home to a crystal clear crater lake. The slopes of the 1394 high volcano are covered in a lush cloud forest, boosting a magical setting. According to the Islanders, this area is inhabited by ferries and supernatural spirits. Even though we heard about the fantastic experience and the breathtaking views, we decided against climbing a volcano. Both hikes take 8- 10 hours to return and are incredibly challenging. So we have to admit that we did not have enough confidence or the appropriate gear. Hiking boots, a wind jacket, and several liters of water are an absolute must!
Hike the waterfall San Ramon
You find the waterfall, San Ramon, on the southern side of Isla Ometepe. Expect about a 3-4 hour drive from Moyogalpo. The two villages, San Ramon and Merida, lie on the south slope of Maderas. You can hike to the waterfall from either one in about 2 hours.
The public bus reaches the villages twice per day. However, you can rent a vehicle in Moyogalpa or Santa Domingo to be a little more flexible. The way towards the waterfall leads you through a nature conservation area. However, the unpaved road is a little rough. You’ll have to pay a small fee of 100 C ($2,50) at the park’s entrance gate. The easy walk towards the waterfall leads you through lush vegetation. You can quickly get there on Flipflops. You’ll see the diverse local wildlife unique to the island on your way. The waterfall is beautiful and offers an opportunity to cool down. The water is not deep enough to swim, though.
Swim in the Ojo de Agua
Admittedly, the Ojo the Agua is a touristy spot. However, the mineral spring lies just 2km outside Santa Domingo amid a jungle. The two large swimming pools are 40 m long and perfect for swimming. It’s crowded at times. But, if you’re up for a bit of cooling down in crystal clear water and the company of other travelers, this is the perfect spot for you. The entrance fee is $2-3
Discover Laguna Charco Verde
The lovely green shimmering lagoon is located in the eponymous natural reserve Chaco Verde. It’s a 30 minutes bus ride from Moyogalpa. Chaco Verde is super calm and an excellent place to relax. However, you can best get in touch with its originality by wandering the hiking trail. Some of the most beautiful beaches are located along the way. Playa Baleón offers unbeatable views of the volcano Maderas. On top of that, Chaco Verde is excellent for wildlife spotting. There is a small butterfly farm, too. If you are lucky, you might even see different kinds of monkeys.
Mirrador Diabolo offers fantastic views of the island. On top of that, 10 Ziplines are waiting for you if you are ready to wake your tired bones!
Finca Magdelena is a 350-hectare organic farm is run by a co-operative of 24 families. It is located in the foothills and up the slopes of Volcán Maderas. The farm produces fantastic organic coffee,plantains, milk, corn, beans, rice, and vegetables. They offer visitors the chance to participate in coffee tours and tours of their Finca. The tours usually do not need to be arranged in advance, turn up and speak with one of the staff members. The tours of the coffee plantation take place a short drive away (transport is included), cost $16 for a group of three people, and last around 1.5 hours. If you don’t have time for a tour, you can still buy their delicious coffee in the on-site café. Finca Magdalena is a great place to learn about organic farming and sample some delicious coffee!
Get ready to travel Nicaragua
How to get to Isla Ometepe
You’ll have to get to Rivas first to reach the ferry port of San Jorge. However, it’s straightforward
and comfortable to go. If you are starting from Managua’s bus terminal UCA (Universidad Centro Americana), take a bus to Granada and change there for a bus to Rivas. Alternatively, take a chicken bus to Rivas from Mercado Huembes in Managua. Once you get to Rivas, you should take a cab to the ferry terminal in San Jorge. However, it’s only a 10 minutes ride.
Ferries to Isla Ometepe
The ferries to Isla Ometepe leave approximately every half hour. We choose a spot right next to the captain’s hut. The cheerful and friendly team even let us take over the steering wheel! The boat ride usually takes about 1 hour, depending on the weather and the type of boat—the ride costs between 35 and 55 Cordoba. You will arrive in Moyogalpa, a picturesque port village. There used to be a ferry from Moyogalpa to Granada, but they aren’t operating.
Transport on Isla Ometepe
You’ll arrive at Moyagalpa; from there, you can choose the local bus or a cab to reach your destination. Buses commute every hour without a fixed schedule. Just ask the locals – they are super eager to help.
The island’s taxes are more expensive and charge you around 10$ for a ride.
Places to stay on Isla Ometepe
For some reason, many accommodations don’t take reservations. Therefore it’s best to arrive in
daylight. Check out our responsible travel guide for Isla Ometepe to find some great options.
Best time to travel Isla Ometepe
Isla Ometepe’s climate is warm all year round. However, it gets boiling and rainy during summer
(from June-October). So, the best time to visit Isla Ometepe is from October to April.
After a personal experience with some parasites: Tap water in Nicaragua is not good to drink! Bring a Lifestraw Pro to get clean and cool drinking water.
Biggest challenge for the responsible traveler
Trash: Often, you’ll find food vendors selling typical Nicaraguan dishes on the go. It’s not just delicious but cheap. To avoid plastic wrapping, choose to buy your food at the bus stations and have them put it in your collapsible container. Bring your Lifestraw Pro to avoid having to buy bottled water.
Sunscreen: Protect Marine life and wear reef-friendly sunscreen!
Packing List Nicaragua
Nicaragua is super diverse and offers plenty of things to do. Check out our packing list, and get ready for an incredible adventure!
Find everything from eco-friendly toiletries to the only travel shoes you’ll ever want to exciting travel gadgets!
Places to visit in Nicaragua
Often overlooked, Nicaragua is home to friendly people, dramatic landscapes and rich culture!
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Copan – a pleasant if not surprising stop in Honduras
We traveled to Central America a couple of times and had the chance to see several Maya sites along the way. Each impressive in its own way. Contrary to other Maya ruins across Central America. You’ll often have Copan to yourself. The mysterious archaeological site boasts remarkable hieroglyphics and sculptures. On top of that, the town of Copan itself is drop-dead charming.
Golfo de Fonseca – our most unique border crossing
Golfo de Fonseca, an archipelago shared by Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, a former playground for pirates, afforded us with the most stunning and relaxing border crossing experience in our backpacking history.