We got out of San Juan Del Sur and the Naked Tiger Hostel, to go find some activities on Ometepe Island a short distance away. Ometepe is a Nahuatl words "ome" (two) and "tepetl" (mountain), meaning two mountains. They are actually two two volcanoes, Volcán Concepción and Volcán Maderas. The island is also in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, a freshwater lake. Here are 5 interesting facts regarding Ometepe and Lake Nicaragua.
- Ometepe's Volcanoes at 1,610 meters (5282 feet) is the tallest island in a freshwater lake in the world.
- Ometepe is the only island with two separate volcanoes on it.
- Ometepe's magma flows into the two volcanoes from separate magma channels, only place in the world this happens. (Concepcion is active and Maderas is dormant).
- The only freshwater sharks known in the world can be found in Lake Nicaragua.
- Lake Nicaragua is the largest Lake in Central America.
It's not all the incredible facts about the island and surrounding lake, but what there is to do on the island, that will blow your mind!
Eight Activities On Ometepe Island
1. Ride A Motorbike Around The Island
You can get around the island via tuk-tuk, buses or bicycles, however the best way is to rent a motorbike. Motorbikes are cheap and the most efficient way to tour the island. The roads are in great shape and made of concentric bricks laid to create a unique pattern. The island is big, and has little traffic. To get around and do all the things you want to do, a motorbike is perfect. For 15-20 dollars a day you can't go wrong. You might be able to get a weekly rate that's better. Be careful however, animals are everywhere on the Island, and it's advisable not to ride at night too far from civilization. Many of the roads are dirt and require some advanced scooter skills. The island is beautiful and diverse, from beaches to mountains, cloud forests to lagoons, it's all accessible on motorbike.
2. Climb A Volcano Or Two
Volcano Concepción is Nicaragua's second highest volcano and one of the most perfectly shaped volcanoes of the Americas. The 10-hour hike up Concepción starts at dawn and has a high degree of difficulty, however worth the climb. Once you get to the top however, the summit the trail becomes dangerously steep, you might touch the clouds quite literally, so bring some wet/warm weather gear or you will get soaked. The mountain top is nearly always covered in dense clouds. This is an active volcano so, check with local authorities before climbing to make sure it's not going to erupt on your way up.
Maderas on the other hand is a dormant volcano that hasn't erupted in a thousands of years. It's covered in a dense cloud forest and takes approximately 8 hours. The most popular trail starts in Balgüe from Finca Magdalena and is 4.5 km one way. The two slightly shorter trails are from Santa Cruz and Merida. It's a cloud forest, so it's wet... really wet. Muddy and tough to climb, once reaching it summit, a crater lagoon has formed where you can swim, wash the mud off, and cool off before heading back down. Wildlife abounds on the slopes of Maderas and you are guaranteed to see Howler and Capuchin Monkeys, many species of birds, butterflies, orchids and ferns, moss-covered trees and more! Because of its ecological and archeological importance most of the Maderas side of the island has been designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Both hike require a guide so prepare before heading out and make sure you bring the right equipment, both hikes are graded difficult and if you aren't a hiker, you might want to skip this mind-blowing activity.
3. Take A Dip In Ojo De Agua
Ojo de Agua is a natural spring fed pool that has been turned into a tourist attraction. Still worth the visit, the pool's crystal clear waters are fed constantly by Volcano Maderas. Ojo de Agua has become popular with tourists and locals so during the peak season, this place will be crowded and loud. There is a cool rope swing you can use at the pools or hang out and get some relief from the heat of Nicaragua. The volcanic water has a constant temperature of 24-26°C (75-79°F), a maximum depth of around 2 meters and loaded with minerals rumoured to help rejuvenate you. There is also security and lockers there to store some things so bring a lock. A nice way to spend the day poolside in a different way.
4. Kayak Down The Istian River
Exploring the Rio Istian by kayak is one of the most popular tours on Ometepe. The 3 km paddle around Lake Nicaragua a lazy river paddle down Istian River and estuary is an incredible place to see a variety of wildlife. Tropical and water birds abound, there is the occasional caiman (“cujipal”), monkeys and other wildlife can be seen down the river. It's an easy activity that will bring the power of the lake and tranquility of the river in one tour. Don't forget your bug spray and sunscreen, the tour starts early and lasts a few hours. You will get not only stunning wildlife views, you will be able to see both volcanoes and take in some local history from your guide. We suggest Caballito's Mar Kayak Tour. They have an excellent reputation and also offer other tours.
5. Take In Nature At The Charco Verde Lagoon
The natural reserve, Charco Verde, ‘Green Puddle’ in English, is derived from an abundance of algae found in the lagoon which gives the water an opaque-emerald hue. The reserve has numerous species of plants and animals. There's a nice walk through nature where you will see all the different types of animals of the island. You will get to a Mirador ("lookout") which shows off the forested peninsula, Isleta el Quiste, and Maderas Volcano in the distance. The Lagoon itself is a walk down from the Mirador, and the beach is made of black volcanic sand. The green of the lagoon and black of the beach create a nice contrast of colors. Although, not the epitome of "nature" check out the butterfly and orchid greenhouse. This place is a must see while at the lagoon. There is a laboratory that works on replenishing butterfly populations on the island by breeding at least 4 types of butterflies, indigenous to the area. A relaxing place with wonderful views, butterflies and orchids... what more could you want?
6. Get Wet At San Ramon Waterfall
7. Sunset At Punta Jesus Maria
Punta Jesus Maria is a black volcanic sand beach and sand bar that juts out nearly 1km from the shoreline. This is also a seasonal place to visit as the dry season will have a better view of the peninsula of sand. In the wetter months, you might find most of it underwater. This is an incredible place to see a western sunset over Lake Nicaragua, and catch the beautiful hues the sun casts on Volcano Concepcion. It's also a great place to sunbathe, drink a beer, or relax and reflect on your trip. It's not too far from the main road, and a small charge of around a dollar is charged to get in, however you won't find masses of people here. Make sure you head back just after sunset, or you might find yourself walking back to the main road in the dark. There are no "facilities" or lights to guide you and remember... safety first.
8. Hangout in Santo Domingo Between The Volcanoes
Santo Domingo is the best location to find a hostel or hotel. A myriad of options for food, including a great vegetarian restaurant, and all sorts of accommodations to suit every budget. The beach in Santo Domingo is arguably the best on the island. The eastern beach is protected more from wind (generally coming from the west) and provides a great place to sunbathe, get a tan, or a romantic walk. Santo Domingo is central to just about everything on the island including the two volcanoes and is in the isthmus that connects them. Just up the street in Santa Cruz you can take some kite surfing lessons. Some say this sport is really taking off... ok bad pun. Sun Kite School is the place to learn how to harness the wind to skim across the water or get some air off a wave. Don't worry the waves aren't as big on the east side of the island. You can also take a nature walk up the Peña Inculta Ecotursitic Trail. It's an intermediate hike that isn't too long that will get you on top of a hill with views to die for. The trail is managed by the Sendero Peña Inculta Women's Cooperative , formed by a group of 20 low-income women who fight to protect the biodiversity of this area. The minimal charge to get in goes to a great cause.
Change In Perspective
Ometepe was a great place to relax and get away from San Juan Del Sur for a little while. We wish we had known that we could ferry our Jeep over and we wouldn't have had to rent a motorbike. Ometepe is a wonderland of diversity. Diverse things to do, see and experience. No matter what you do, you will enjoy Ometepe. Everyone does. It's just one of those places that feel special. Even the Blue Magpie Jay that ate chips out of my hand showed the specialness of this place. This was a wild bird at a restaurant, not some reserve or aviary.
We would love to go back to Ometepe some day and spend some more time there, our short stay there simply wasn't enough.