Planning a trip to Nicaragua and wondering what you absolutely must do among the vast array of options? With the amazing beach towns, colonial cities and vibrant capital, you can spend your whole life exploring this incredible country. Enjoy this guest post written by Hollis Guerra.
During my recent trip, which certainly will not be my last, I was told by many friends to check out Ometepe Island for a bit of adventure.
Ometepe Island is formed by two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua (especially compelling to see now before the canal is built): Concepción and Maderas. The energy of Ometepe is palpable and the landscape lush. And the lake is the largest in Central America.
How to get to Ometepe Island
You arrive by ferry from one of two ports, Granada or San Jorge. In our case we left from San Jorge, landing in San Jose on Ometepe before grabbing a car to Santa Cruz and our fantastic AirBnB. The hour or so boat ride was perfect for people watching, reading up on things to do on the Island, keeping an eye out for the dwindling bull shark population, and for watching the impending volcanoes grow larger and larger as they come into view.
What to do in Ometepe Island
Once on Ometepe, there are a variety of activities and it is recommended to stay 3 nights, 4 days, although we certainly only scratched the surface of all the fun things to do. Highlights below:
San Ramon Waterfall Horseback Ride & Hike
I stumbled across Hari’s Horses when looking for something a little different than just a hike. Though they have a variety of options, we selected the 4-hour San Ramon waterfall tour. Hari was incredible – he gives great instruction on riding and is super knowledgeable about the area and history around the Biological Station in San Ramon, which you meander through in order to get to the waterfall. It’s a stunning hike or ride whichever way you cut it through the jungle. We were treated to two different types of monkey and snake sightings as well as a variety of gorgeous butterflies and birds! The ride leaves at 8am and ends back at Hari’s gorgeous farm where you can wander the grounds and have a refreshing cerveza… you’re also really in for a treat if you can book a spot at his hotel Finca Montania Sagrada.
(Prices vary depending on tour)
El Ojo de Agua Swimming Hole (Eye of the Water)
Simply put, it’s hot on Ometepe! After a morning walk around the beaches of Lake Nicaragua or hiking the volcanoes, this natural swimming hole is ideal for cooling off AND people watching! The surrounding area is once again, stunning and lush, under a canopy of cool trees. The pool is hidden behind a banana plantation with great views of the volcanoes. The water is from Volcano Maderas and an underground river that forms the two pools. It is constantly renewed, which keeps it clean and very refreshing (i.e. a little chilly). It’s much bigger than I thought and on our particular visit was busy, but not overly crowded. In fact, it was great to be surrounded by both locals and tourists who were having a blast playing on the slack line and perusing the souvenir stands. Spend an hour or a whole afternoon.
Play with the Locals
Island life isn’t just about nonstop sight-seeing. While tourism in Nicaragua is booming, we also decided to come to this incredible country for its off-the-beaten path adventures and tropical climate. For me, this means not just cramming in and checking off to-dos, but slowing down enjoying the experience. This might mean renting a moto and driving around the island, reading a book in the backyard or doing some yoga on the beach. Even better if this means meeting locals and just talking.
One particular afternoon after checking out the town of Altagracia, the beach was calling us. This meant a walk with wild horses and joining in on a local soccer pick-up game! The locals were more than happy to have alternate players and spectators. I was more than happy to run on the beach with wild horses that came out of the trees and watch the sunset over the volcanoes!
Looking forward to returning as soon as possible!
Where to sleep in Ometepe Island
Accommodations and Recommendations
- Casa Linda – 30 minutes from San Jose port, you are literally on the beach – enjoy the breeze, those wild horses mentioned above, and fresh fruis and veggies from the garden. Linda is well connected, having been on the Island 10+ years, and is quick to offer up tips, schedule taxis or tours.
- Finca Santa Cruz Hotel & Restaurant – An 8 minute walk up from Linda’s this hotel is open 24/7 and has fantastic food. Seating is all outside with great views. If you need to connect, free wi-fi.
- Xalli Restaurant & Bar – Maybe our favorite dinner spot, the ambiance here is perfect for a romantic dinner or a late lunch. The staff was so friendly and we closed the place down over fresh fish, yummy desserts and wine.