With waterfalls, volcanoes, beaches, and overnight stays like these colorful school buses (seriously!), you’re going to want to explore this hip island every weekend.
Turns out there are about a million cool things to do in Nicaragua, and most of them include volcanoes ... which makes any activity even cooler. One spot ILP volunteers have been loving is the volcanic island paradise known is Island Ometepe. It's crammed full of the best kind of weekend adventures, like paddle boarding on the lake, black sand beaches, and a little swimming spot that has crystal clear water. Plus, we think it has the cutest overnight places to stay. This place is an actual oasis and so easily done on a weekend.
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The volcanic island of Ometepe is floating in the giant Lake Nicaragua and once you learn a bit about what there is to do here, you won't believe that it's still a bit of a secret, known only to the cool backpackers who know how to travel around Central America. Here are the details to make your trip here a breeze:
A Bit About The Island
Everything You Should Check Out
A Few Notes On Moyogalpa
Places To Stay On The Island
Getting To Ometepe
A Bit About The Island
This lush tropical island is formed completely by two massive volcanoes. Ometepe sits on an enormous lake, giving you the chance to soak up the scenery on your ferry ride over. Be sure to peek out the windows and see the looming twin silhouettes of Maderas and Concepcion — the two volcanoes that build this island. So. Cool.
The island has been inhabited by native people for thousands of years (some scientists have found petroglyphs that date all the way back from 300 BC). Now, there are a couple of villages of people who live here and a burgeoning interest for tourists in the know. The two main ones are The Altagracia on the northeastern side and Moyogalpa which has the boat/ferry harbor and is found on the northwestern side of Ometepe. You'll want to know where things are to help you figure out where to stay and where everything is, so here's a map to help you out.
Everything You Should Check Out
Just a heads up, while this island is full of fun and memorable things to do, some of them may be closed or unavailable during the off season.
Slackline Over Crystal Pools
After an intense hike up ancient volcanoes, you are going to want to relax. We know just the place.
Tucked away in the north-eastern part of the island is Ojo De Agua — AKA, a naturally crystal clear lagoon, nestled in the lush green forests Nicaragua is famous for. It’s a magical little place where you can soak in the natural springs or slackline across the clear water. If you’re hungry, order some drinks and food, served poolside. Basically, this place is actual paradise. We did tell you you're going to want to visit here every weekend, right?
Cost: $3 entry fee
From Altagracia, you can take the bus to Playa Santa Domingo and tell the bus driver to stop off at the Ojo De Agua. According to this bus schedule, there’s a bus headed that way every hour or two starting at 4:30 AM and ending at 5:30 PM. A bus ride there should be between $0.50 USD and $1 USD.
Hike Some Volcanoes
Oh and if you’re wondering, you totally can climb both of the volcanoes which formed the island. If you climb Maderas, you’ll spend a good chunk of time in the lush slopes, so keep an eye out for howler monkeys and parrots (it’s a 6-8 hour hike). Concepcion is more intense and rocky at points but gets you higher up (it’s an 8-11 hour hike). Both are pretty grueling hikes but the sights from the top are unreal. For those who don't want to climb to the summit, they can hike until the lookout point of El Floral. This tour takes about 3 hours each way and also winds through the jungle.
How To Hike The Volcanos: Once you get to Ometepe, you can find guides to take you on these hikes (it’s mandatory). If your hostel can’t help you, pop into another hotel to help you arrange a guide. Prices from past tourists range from around $23 to $55 dollars (most include transportation). The trail are intense and unguided hikers have gotten lost, so be sure to go with an expert.
Make sure to bring lots of water (more than you think you would need) and hikers headed to Maderas will most likely be getting muddy. Both hikes require sturdy hiking shoes and some endurance.
Trekking To The San Ramon Waterfall
If you're not up to the intense challenge of a hike like that, San Ramon is exactly what you're looking for. The waterfall is one of the biggest attractions of the island, an almost-200 foot cascade that drips down a mossy cliff face, forming a little pool that you'll be dying to swim in. From the little town of San Ramon, it's a 3 kilometer trek through the jungle to reach the falls
. It's an easy path to follow but you may find some local guides hanging around if you'd like to be guided to the falls for a small fee. If you have the time to go early, that would be best: this place is pretty popular and it's best enjoyed without the crowds.
Here's more on the San Ramon Waterfall to help you plan your visit. Just so you know, some groups in the past said this hike was more intense than they had thought but it was totally worth it.
Visit This Butterfly Reserve
Near one of the ferry ports is the Charco Verde Park & Butterfly Aviary, a quiet sanctuary for several colorful species of butterflies, and other animals like howler monkeys and hummingbirds. The reserve area sits on a little lake (Charco Verde) that makes for a lovely walk if you'd like to take the 30-40 minutes to walk around the whole thing — there's a dark sand beach bordering the lake. There are also benches where you can sit and take in the view, but visitors love visiting the butterfly center, where you can get up close to a rainbow of different species.
Find it here: F9J7+4PG, Ometepe, San José del Sur, Nicaragua (it's a 25-minute walk from the San Jorge Ferry terminal).
Hours: 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM
Tan On Black Sand Beaches
Lake Nicaragua is so huge, it actually forms a freshwater sea, complete with black sand beaches on Ometepe island. At certain times of the year, there’s a sandy peninsula that’s exposed, letting you walk almost a whole mile down this split sea. And of course, the view can’t be beat. Punta Jesus Maria gives you the perfect view of both of the island’s volcanoes and is highly recommended if you talk to our volunteers!
How To Get There: Rent a bike! It’ll be $5-6 for the whole day, but you can easily get to Punta Jesus Maria via bike from Moyogalpa or Charco Verde. You'll find bike rentals at most hotels and hostels.
From Moyogalpa: it’s about 2.5 miles away, about 0.5 miles after the airport strip.
From Charco Verde /San José it's around 3 miles. There’s a billboard along the road that lets you know that the lake is down an alley; it’s about 1 mile from the entrance.
There’s usually an entry fee of $1 to get to the sea.
Kayak/Paddleboard The Coast
Feel free to do a little exploring while you’re here — the island is peppered with tiny fishing villages, complete with brightly colored buildings and quaint little restaurants and museums. You can kayak around the coast to get around (or a paddle board!), or hire a bike.
Kayaking tours are usually around $25, but will charge some transportation fees (usually $20); you’ll need a 4x4 to get to the really gorgeous and remote part of the island called Rio Istian. Find kayak rentals online or by heading to the coast and seeing if you can rent one there. This tour company is an option to look into.
If you’d rather connect with nature, you can hike all around the island as you try to spot local monkeys and parrots ... or go on horseback! Past groups have found someone on the beach to take them for a ride, but there are a couple of ILP volunteers who highly recommend going with Hari's Horses!
Here's what Ashley had to say:
A Few Notes On Moyogalpa
This is the gateway for Ometepe and likely where your ferry will drop you off! For visitors with a short amount of time on the island, Moyogalpa is a great starting point for exploring the rest of the island. In Moyogalpa, you can enjoy the comforts of a small town since it has hotels, restaurants, shops, and other services. Also, the entire island is cash only, so make sure you have enough for your entire visit (best to be prepared with small bills — many places are unwilling or unable to break a 500 note). There is a bank/ATM in Moyogalpa just up the road from the ferry.
You can also find tour operators here that can arrange volcano hikes, trips to the petroglyphs, beach excursions, and other attractions. Since Moyogalpa is on the western side of Ometepe, this is a great place for watching the sunset. You can also rent bicycles if you're wanting to explore the island with your group!
There are several local holidays that are celebrated here with parades and music. The most important of these is the festival of Moyogalpa's patron saint which is held from July 23-26.
Where To Stay On The Island
There are some groovy places to stay on the island. We'd recommend looking into hostels which are inexpensive and a fun place to stay, but have also had some great reviews from some hotels on the island.
In either case, pay attention to location. No matter where you stay, you will be able to get everywhere you want, but some will be closer to certain things than others. You may want to look into hostels that have bike rental or connections to help you get around the island.
We've broken this section into two categories because some of these places are too good to pass up if you're wanting some amazing pictures — we also have a whole list of other places past groups have stayed to break up your visit. We've had some ILP groups choose 2-3 places to stay just to move around the island and get a taste of a few different hostels. Hopefully this list helps you plan!
Our Tip-Top Picks
La Omaja — Pick your perks when it comes to La Omaja. Come for nice rooms (with A/C!) and a restaurant onsite, with included breakfast. We also cannot get enough of the infinity pool on the property which is officially one of the best places on Ometepe to watch the sunset. Book here.
Pst! Some also suggest you can get amazing sunset views at El Pital or Totoco Lodge, also at the Punta Jesus Maria viewpoint.
Emerald Rainbow Caravan Hostel — We are just going to let Ashley (an ILP Nicaragua volunteer) explain this dreamy place to stay : "This was one of the funnest places I've ever stayed!!
+ A Few Others
Here are a few more to look into, that past groups have stayed at:
- La Urraca Loca
- Hospedaje Soma (Groups loved a lot about this place, like the pool, the little restaurant (get the smoothies!), and the private rooms. There isn't AC, but past ILP volunteers mention that the fans kept them cool. There are bike rentals for $5, massages for $25, and freepurified water available for guests.)
- Hostel Life Is Good
- El Zipilote (Some past ILP alumni comment that this hostel was very rustic, with a 15-minute hike through the jungle to reach reception, and a trek to get to your rooms. Some loved the adventure but others stayed here one night then switched to another place to stay).
- Nathaly Hostel (They offer horseback rides to the beach for a good price).
El Pital Hostel (Free yoga classes, but it's quite rustic and not super well maintained, just so you're aware)
- Xalli Beach Hotel (Not a hostel, but a very fun and nice place to stay if you're wanting a bit more luxury in your Ometepe island trip. Some past ILP groups have loved it).
How To Get There From Granada (+Costs)
Granada is a nearby tourists spot that you'll likely visit or get very familiar with if you're spending any amount of time in Nicaragua. Here are the directions to Ometepe island from Granada, though if you’re coming from anywhere else, you just need to get yourself to Rivas first, then take a bus to San Jorge. Once you get to San Jorge, you can take a ferry over to the actual island. Here's more detail on each of those steps.
From Granada to Rivas
Take a Minibus. If you go to Calle La Cazada (the main street of restaurants in Granada), you can find travel agency or two to help you hire a mini bus that will take you directly to the ferry launch. Expect to pay $25-30 and only 1-2 buses leave per day.
Take a Chicken Bus. Head to the Granada Market Station (in front of the Shell Gas Station). Buses leave once they are full, but arrive at 6:30, 8:05, 9:30, 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 3:10, Sunday through Monday. Expect to pay around $1.50 or $2.00 (Way cheaper than a mini bus)
From Rivas To San Jorge
From Rivas, you’ll need to get yourself to the ferry launch (at the San Jorge dock). There’s a bus from Rivas to San Jorge, but it’s tricky to know when to get off (but you may be able to ask the bus driver to help you out). Expect to pay $0.65. The bus can be a bit tricky because there aren't clear stops to get on and off. Honestly, it's best to ask locals where to catch the bus because can be really unclear if you're not familiar with the area. Once on the bus make sure you tell the driver where you are going (Port Of San Jorge) so they know to stop where you need to.
You can also take a taxi to San Jorge ferry launch. You’ll need to negotiate, but if you bater well, you can pay around $1.
Then Take The Ferry Over
Once you get to San Jorge launch*, you’ll need to take a ferry over. You can check out the ferry schedule here.
Most ferries drop you off in Moyogalpa but you can also take a ferry that will drop you off in San Jose. Ferry rides are about 1 hour long, and cost $2. You can also take a Launcha boat for a bit less ($1.50); just know that they are a bumpier ride and don’t operate on Sundays.
*Some past groups recommend booking transportation for your day (and the next day) with the people at the San Jorge dock — "For $24 each, they drove us to our hostel from the dock, gave us a full day tour (waterfalls, hike, springs) the next day, and then drove us back to the dock on the last morning". Another group by chance met with a tour guide from Luxury Tours Ometepe who helped them set up a driver for their weekend, once they arrived at the San Jorge Dock " Our driver took us to wherever we wanted to go each day, would drop us off at our hostel and then would pick us up in the morning. We split the total cost making it about $15 a person for private transportation for the whole weekend!" You can reach them through WhatsApp: 505 8900 6613
Transportation to get around the island can be difficult, so getting this set up beforehand, or staying at a place with bike rentals is a good idea.
Ready for more Nicaragua?
Find out more about the ILP program in Central America here and see more pictures of what life is like in Nicaragua by clicking that green button: