Ometepe is a volcanic island in Lake Nicaragua. It is home to two volcanos, one active and one dormant and they are a beautiful sight to behold as you approach the island on the ferry. Going to the island is a chance to retreat from the hustle and bustle of cities and immerse yourself in a relaxed and quiet way of life, while also having the chance to stay active through hiking and kayaking. In this article, I’ll go through the main things you need to know before you visit, from how to get there, to a mini budget-breakdown to activities available on the island.
How To Get There:
The ferry to Ometepe goes from San Jorge; ferries run throughout the day and the last one is at 5.45pm.
To get to San Jorge you need to first get a bus to Managua. From the Leon bus station take a bus to Managua; this costs C$54. The bus to San Jorge leaves from Huembes station so you’ll need to take a taxi from UCA which will cost you around C$80 – C$100 depending on how many people are in your group, and should take around 20 – 30 minutes. From Huembes station there are buses that go directly to San Jorge for C$70. However, these only run up until mid-afternoon, so if you’re travelling later in the day you’ll need to get a bus to Revas and from there take a taxi to San Jorge, which will only take around 10 minutes.
From San Jorge you take the ferry to Ometepe, which costs C$50. Once on the island there will be lots of taxis to take you to where you’re staying; these normally cost around $12-$15 dollars depending on where you’re going.
What To Do:
- Hike One of The Volcanos
There are two volcanoes on Ometepe Island: Volcan Conception and Volcan Maderas. Volcan Conception is one of the most perfect examples of a conical volcano; it looks like something out of a child’s drawing. It’s still active and is covered in volcanic rock, while Maderas is a dormant cloud forest volcano. You can hike one or both volcanoes depending on how into hiking you are; both are known as extremely difficult hikes, though Conception is far more difficult than Maderas.
AJ and I hiked Maderas, which cost us C$290 each for a guide; because of a number of deaths on the trail it’s now mandatory to hire a guide for the hike. I’ll be honest, it was one of my least favourite hikes I’ve done so far. This was mainly due to the weather and terrain; it was raining quite heavily which meant the clouds were really thick and so we didn’t get to see any of the stunning views we’d seen pictured, and the trail was covered in really thick mud to the point where we were constantly slipping and sliding with nearly every step. Both of us fell at least ten times, we were covered in mud and our legs were killing us. One mistake we made was forgetting our hiking poles; if you’re going to hike either volcano then definitely bring a pair!
If the clouds had cleared up and we had been able to see the view out over the bay and the crater lake then the hike would have been worth it, but it felt like we went through a lot of pain for no real reward other than a workout. I would say that if you were going to do the hike then make sure to check the weather for the day before and the day of the hike so that you can be sure you end up hiking in decent conditions.
- Kayaking Tour on the Istián River
This tour was a lot of fun and is an activity I would definitely recommend. We did our tour with Ometepe Unique Tours and it cost us $45 each which covered transport from our hotel to the kayak place and back, a guide and all the equipment.
The tour itself is on the Istián River, but to get there you first need to kayak along the lake to the mouth of the river. I’m really glad we went with the tour company that we used because they use the dock that’s closer to the mouth of the river, so you’ve a shorter journey along the lake. Kayaking on the lake is HARD; the currents and the wind were constantly pushing us off course and we had to work really hard to keep ourselves on track. We were out on the water for just over three hours and our arms were dying by the end, but it was completely worth it. Some tour companies that go from further away will offer the use of a motor boat to pull the kayaks across the lake to the river mouth, I would recommend this option! Kayaking along the river is really gentle and peaceful; the river is beautiful and tranquil, and there’s lots of birds and plants to see, including the blue mockingbird which is Ometepe’s national bird and one of my favourite birds I’ve seen so far on our travels.
The beach stretches along the far side of the island between Santa Cruz and Santo Domingo. It’s quite a beautiful beach at the Santo Domingo end where you’ll find a few hotels, bars and restaurants, although it is a bit narrow at some points when the tide comes in. AJ and I walked the entire beach and found it to be relatively quiet with only a few sunbathers and kite surfers, so it’s a great spot for beach goers who don’t want to battle for space.
Deciding on Where To Stay:
Although it’s not a very large island, the public transportation system is essentially non-existent and so travelling around the island is done by taxi, walking, cycling or mopeds, which you can rent from nearly everywhere for around $25 a day. While you’re deciding where to stay you should first decide on what you mainly want to be spending your time doing; there’s no point in staying in town near the ferry port if you want to spend most of your time at the beach. We stayed in Hostel Finca Magdalena which was lovely because it was in the middle of farmland and forest at the foot of Volcan Masaya so we had easy access to the hike, and it wasn’t too far of a drive from the Kayaking Tour. However, it was pretty isolated which meant that we were limited to where we could go on foot. Staying near the beach is pretty popular as you’re not far from restaurants and small shops, and are close to the different activities available.
How Much Money Should You Bring:
While there are ATMs on the island, they are few and far between, and most places are cash only. Therefore, it’s best to bring enough money to last you the entire time you’re there.
During our six-day stay (one of which was spent travelling), we spent C$12,732.57, or $429.80, which averages at C$2,122.10 or $, a day. (Please note, all our prices are for two people) This broke down into:
- $71.72 / C$2,124.56 for four nights in a double private room with shared bathroom in Hotel Finca Magdalena, and one night in a dorm room in The Landing Hostal by the ferry port. We were travelling straight to San Jose in Costa Rica from Ometepe so needed to get the 6am ferry to make the 9am bus from Revas so we crashed by the ferry port the night before to avoid any delays.
- $118.94 / C$3,523.37 for the volcano hike and kayak tour.
- $75.87 / C$2,247.64 for transport to Ometepe from Leon, taxis to our hotel and back to the ferry port, and transport to Revas to get the bus to San Jose.
- $163.28 / C$4,837 on food, snacks, water, and the occasional beer.
I would advise that you work out what activities you want to do and set aside money for them, the transport, and accommodation. Keep this separate from any other money you have.
Then work out how much you’ll probably spend on food each day – we tend to eat breakfast in the morning (~$4 / C$118.50 per person), a couple of snacks throughout the day, and then one large meal late afternoon/early evening (~ $8 / C$237 per person), and then factor in any other spending you’re likely to have; gift shopping, drinks, etc… When you work that out, add it all together and you have how much money you’re likely to spend. THEN, take extra emergency money – after our kafuffle at Tortuguero we ended up actually bringing too much money with us but better safe than sorry!
Ometepe is the perfect little getaway for travellers looking to unwind on the beach, see some beautiful volcanoes (and hike them if you’re feeling up to it!), and immerse themselves in nature as they float in a kayak down a tranquil river. It’s a definite must-visit place in Nicaragua, and one that you won’t regret taking the time to get to know.