Ometepe Island looms up at you as you take the ferry across, and the laid-back hippy nature then hits you when you reach the shore. But it’s not only hippies that inhabit this island (though there are a few around), there are also passionate locals that spend their time here and also attempt to live an equally laid-back lifestyle.
Ometepe rests in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, with the skyline dominated by 2 volcanoes (that are climbable) that always seem to finish up in the clouds. These are called Concepcion and Maderas, and you will hear their names mentioned more than a few times by touts hoping you’ll join a tour.
We arrived after a very windy boat ride across (TIP: take the big ferry if you can, you pay slightly more but won’t feel as seasick!), we arrived in the main town of Moyogalpa looking for a bed and some food. We managed to find a place called Hospedaje El Gran Jade. Some people might be put off by this place as it feels like they have converted barns into rooms, but we were not. And with the price set at $4.50US for a private room (each) without breakfast, or $6US with breakfast, we couldn’t really go wrong!
And after a beautiful sunset (don’t miss it down by the docks), Day 1 passed (without seeing any creepy crawlies)! We went to bed with the knowledge that we would be making our way around to the other side of the island the following day to Balgue, and the promise of natural springs and other delights!
The following morning, we hopped on an early public bus and settled in for the bus ride towards Balgue. We of course were required to change buses along the way in a town called Altagracia (details on the buses can be found here and is mostly correct!), and then took a second bus all the way to our hostel in Balgue called The Lazy Crab.
We would definitely recommend this place, everyone is so laid back and its super easy to just lay back in a hammock and relax the day away with a good book. The hostel also rents out scooters, motorcycles, and bikes if you feel the need. We would say that given the proximity of most attractions and excursions on the island you will need some form of transport, and we ended up renting a scooter for 2 days for the low, low price of $30US. We are not sure if this is a regular price or not, but we were happy with it after having negotiated it down from $50US.
Not wanting to waste the day away, we decided to scooter our way to what is called Ojo de Agua – a set of natural springs that have been semi-concreted to create some very nice pools for guests and visitors to swim in. The price to enter here was $3US, which allows you to park your scooter (free anyway), use the pools and also their tarzan swing! We recommend relaxing in the pools, grabbing a coconut from the local vendors (with an option to add rum!), and then give the swing a go – because why not. We had a great time here and it was the perfect way to spend a quiet afternoon.
On the way back we passed some amazing beaches (or as good as they can get on a lake), including Santo Domingo, and Santa Cruz. These are also great places to stay on the island if you don’t feel like going to Balgue, and they have many offerings for either hostels or guest houses also.
If you don’t end up staying there, we would at least recommend stopping here for a swim and to explore the area a bit. In addition to swimming here, there are some great food options available including one of our favourites- PIZZA! We were very surprised to find a great pizza place in Santa Cruz (just before you go up the hill towards Balgue) offering very large pizzas for 150 cordoba. We shared one whilst talking with the local owner who had some great stories about having split his time on the island for a number of years.
Finishing up the day, we returned to The Lazy Crab for a relaxing night and sleep. Day 3 and we started the scooter back up and made our way around to the other side of the island (or the other side of Maderas Volcano) towards a waterfall we had heard about called San Ramon Waterfall. Because this is located in a pretty remote area, we firstly had to navigate through some of the worst roads imaginable. Basically we were twisting left and right on dirt tracks covered with rocks and potholes, hoping for the best on our little scooter (which was definitely not meant for off-road action!). After a little over an hour, a few uncertain shakes on some of the worst sections of the road, and having been passed by all manner of 4WD vehicles and trail-bikes, we finally made it to where the waterfall and the hike to get there began.
Unfortunately for us, a combination of lack of time and a bit of sickness led us to stop our adventure for the day here, and we did not get to visit what we have heard is an amazing waterfall and hike combination. For those that do wish to go, there was also an entry fee here of $3USD.
Instead, we decided to head to the nearby Monkey Island Beach, which was a nice little tranquil beach protected from the majority of the wind. This meant that there were little to no waves, and also that we had the beach all to ourselves for an hour or so! After a nice swim, we headed back towards paved roads, and also towards an organic farm and accommodation that we had heard of called El Zopolite Organic Farm.
This place was a site to be seen – located on the side of a hill, you can either come and visit the little shop set up in an abandoned bus at the base of the property, or you can take a quick 10 minute hike up to the restaurant and accommodation options to see what they have on offer. Here at Zopolite they tend to make a lot of produce themselves including jams, dips, and creams, and generally cook organically in their kitchen. In addition to this, you can stay here in either a room, hammock, or even set up camp, and take advantage of the viewpoints they have on site to see a great view of the island.
Whilst here we indulged in a vegan slice and contemplated volunteering just to be able to spend more time here. If you would like some more information on this place, head to their website here. A similar place that we would also recommend on the island that is a little harder to get to is Finca Magdalena. This is a cooperative of families that amongst other things runs a great little coffee farm.
After all of our adventures on Ometepe Island we had the most fun just exploring on our little scooter. It was a shame to have to return it and then to make our way back over to the mainland and continue on our travels. However, we were keen for the next step of our journey – into Costa Rica!