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Ometepe

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Travel Guide Central America Nicaragua Ometepe

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Introduction

Isla de Ometepe - 19

Isla de Ometepe - 19

© All Rights Reserved dontrobus

Isla de Ometepe is located in the central southern part of the country and is an island in Lake Nicaragua. Actually they are twin volcanic islands and an ideal escape away from the larger cities and crowded areas of Nicaragua. The islands are relatively quiet (except for the growing number of tourists) and there are only a few small settlements on the island including some coffee plantations, and at the Finca Magdalena coffee plantation you can actually stay and take part in the coffee harvest, which is a great but basic experience. Other activities include hikes in the jungle to see monkeys and numerous birds and rather harder day hkes to the Volcanoes Maderas and Concepcion. Swimming, horse riding or renting a (motor)bike are all possible as well, and you will spend close to a week at least if you want to enjoy it in a not too rushed way.

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Cities

  • Moyogalpa - Harbor village and the main point of arrival of ferries around Volcano Concepcion.
  • Altagracia - Second biggest town on the eastern side of the island around Volcano Concepcion. Administrative capital of the Maderas side as well.
  • Merida - Southeastern coast of the island around Volcano Maderas.
  • Balgue -Southwestern coast of the island Around Volcano Maderas.

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Sights and Activities

There's an island museum in Altagracia with texts mostly in Spanish; good option to kill time waiting for the ferry if nothing else

Rent a bicycle and explore the island on your own (actually one of the fastest and most comfortable ways around the island as most things out of cities are not walkable for anybody but Marathon runners, and buses and taxis are slow and seldom to be found).

Hike the trails from the park entrance center on the road from Altagracia (just before you enter Santa Cruz).

Hire a kayak and explore the lake and one or two of the rivers. Be aware of the strong western wind (trade wind) and concomitant waves, which are likely to be encountered everywhere outside of the sheltered areas (such as the western side of Maderas, around Mérida, sheltered by the volcano's cone).

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Weather

Ometepe has a tropical climate with generally hot and humid conditions. Temperatures are around or just above 30 °C during the day most of the year and most areas are still above 20º at night. Nicaragua has two seasons regarding rainfall. A dry and slightly cooler November to April season and a wet season (but not raining all day) during May to October. Hurricanes occasionally hit the country from July/August onwards.

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Getting There

By Plane

A small airport has been opened in 2014 just outside of Moyogalpa, with flights to/from Managua San Juan del Norte and San Carlos twice a week.

By Boat

You can get to the islands main port (Moyogalpa), or a smaller new port at San Jose del Sur by boat or ferry from San Jorge near Rivas for about US$2-3. There are two ferries - one that carries cars, costs C$70 (Feb 2014), is quite comfortable and leaves on a set schedule, and another ferry that is smaller, cheaper, and appears to leave when full. There is also a tourist tax of C$10 to pay on departure. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants within walking distance of the ferry. Buses pick you up and drop you off at terminal. Taxis are also present.

On Monday and Thursday, a ferry leaves Granada around 2:00pm and arrives to the port of Altagracia (Puerto de Gracias) (4 hours) for C$104 (first class) second class (Nicaraguan nationals only): C$46. On Tuesday and Friday there is a ferry coming from San Carlos stopping in San Miguelito and Morrito to the Island (12-hour ride) for C$161(first class) second class (Nicaraguan nationals only): C$63. For more see the national port administration's website. Your bags will be searched and you have to present your passport to buy a ticket, so be at the port well before departure. If you arrive from San Carlos it will be after sundown and the port is about 2 kilometres out of town. Take a taxi or arrange transport with your hotel.

The crossing is not always smooth - the ferry can get thrown around quite a lot. If you sit indoors on the boat, be aware that water splashes in through the windows, even when they are closed so you may get a little wet if sitting by the window.

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Getting Around

By Car

Whichever mode of transportation you plan to use, it is helpful to understand the island's road configuration. As the island has the shape of a figure 8, so does its road network; it consists of the following main parts:

  • A loop around Volcán Concepción, connecting the island's main towns (Moyogalpa, San José del Sur, El Quinto, Altagracia, La Flor. It is known officially as National Highway 64; as of 2016, about 3/4 of it is paved, the unpaved section being in the north (Altagracia to La Flor).
  • A loop around Volcán Maderas, connecting Santa Cruz, Balgue, Tichana, San Ramon, and Merida. The only paved section is about 3 kilometres long, in the loop's NW part, from Santa Cruz to Balgue; the rest is a dirt road, much of it in very rough condition, with big stones here and there. This is known as provincial road N226.
  • The connector between the two loop, from El Quinto (on the Concepción loop, south of Altagracia), along Santo Domingo Beach, to Santa Cruz (on the Maderas loop). It is paved, and is officially part of N226.
  • Short connector roads, usually unpaved, from the Concepción loop to various lakeside villages and beaches.

The above means that by now most of the island's hotels and hostels are near a paved road, with the exception of those on the Maderas' west side (in Mérida and San Ramon). (The south-eastern half of Maderas, between Balgues and San Ramon, has no tourist accommodations, perhaps exactly due to the difficult road access).

The unpaved roads may have very short (20-50 metres) paved sections at the steepest grades.

By Bus

Very slow local buses run to most villages on the island. Service is relatively frequent between Moyogalpa and Altagracia (roughly every hour), less so to Balgue and Merida (three or four per day).

You can easily flag down a passing bus for a ride; however, the infrequent schedule might make this impractical.

By Bicycle

There are plenty of bicycle rental shops on the island that rent by the hour (C$20), day (US$5-7) or week. It is a good way to get to many of the beaches and places like Ojo de Agua, which are too far to walk to and impractical to reach (and get back from) by bus.

See the "Road Network" section above for the conditions of the roads. Most of the road around Volcan Maderas is in very rough shape. It's not recommended to try to cycle around it, although you could ride a motorcycle reasonably easily.

If you have your own bicycle, it is possible to bring it over on a ferry for a nominal fee. Since bicycles are commonly used as a means of transportation by the islanders (despite the awful quality of the roads in the Maderas half of the island!), small bicycle repair shops exist in several towns. Bicycle spare parts (tires, inner tubes, etc) are available in some general store in several towns as well.

By Foot

While it may seem like a great idea when looking at a map and the towns on the island are definitely walkable, outside of the towns almost everything is too far to walk for all but the most dedicated. That being said, if you can cope with the heat and the distances (bring plenty of water) you can walk some places.

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Eat

Outside of Moyogalpa and Altagracia, most of the island's villages only have tiny grocery stores (more like kiosks), often selling fairly strange assortments of things (e.g. shoes and bananas). While the locals grow all kinds of produce for their own needs, only a small fraction of it is offered for sale at shops and kiosks, as most families have their own produce and don't need to buy it for cash.

Two local products that you can enjoy with your picnic lunch are plantains (platanos; bigger and tastier than regular bananas; ripe when yellow) and passion fruit (which are more commonly known in Nicaragua as calala, rather than maracuya; great by themselves, or with ice cream). Platanos are also eaten deep fried while still green. In that case their taste is similar to fries. Some other fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and oranges, are also commonly available. Tasty mangoes are grown in the island too (e.g., Mérida's main street is lined with majestic mango trees; you can see residents obtaining some fruit by hurling stones at them), but are rarely sold; the same is the case with the star fruit (carambola). Small tasty lemons and tamarind fruits can often be found scattered under the trees on your hotel or campground property.

Grocery stores usually have fairly fresh bread of several kinds (apparently shipped by truck on a ferry from the mainland daily), cookies, as well as cheese (queso or cuajada), which resembles rather oversalted feta cheese. (While there is often a fridge in the store, most shoppers would not have a fridge at home, and salt serves as a preservative). Cheese that is more akin to North American or European variants is known as "queso amarillo" (yellow cheese) and surprisingly hard to get on the island.

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Drink

  • Little Morgan's, Santa Cruz (300 metres towards Balgue past Santa Cruz junction), ☎ +505 8611 7973. The only place around with a pool table and cable TV. Beautiful surroundings with fun atmosphere at night. Beer, wine and spirits available from US$2-$3.
  • Margarita's, Merida (About 3 minutes past Hacienda Merida on the main road as you walk out of town). A small bar with a similarly small drink list, Margarita's does have a TV and pool table, and fills the rum-vacuum that Hacienda Merida's restaurant fails to fill.

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Sleep

  • Finca Ecologica El Zopilote (In Santa Cruz, 2 kilometres before Balgue.). Check-out: 11:00. Finca El Zopilote is a farm/hostel run by an Italian family from Tuscany from 2002 located in Isla de Ometepe in Nicaragua. Finca el zopilote offers to the visitors different types of accommodation such as camping, hammocks, dormitory and private cabins, spread over a large garden. Located on a hillside, the site requires a fairly strenuous 200-300 meter walk up a rocky path to access. (If you have come by car, it can be parked for a nominal fee at a roadside business). A flashlight (available for purchase at the reception) is helpful to navigate the property after dark. Similar to other hostels in the arera, there is no kitchen access for the visitors, but a restaurant is available on site; it is also possible to buy freshly baked bread (C$50, i.e. around US$2) at the reception. Three nights a week pizza is cooked in a traditional wood oven. There are compost toilets, and greywater from the showers and the kitchen is cleaned through an onsite processing system. The land is completely planted with trees and plants of every kind, there is a nursery and a vegetable garden and are present many works to limit erosion and water harvesting earth work. Have been used and ferro-cement techniques for the construction of water tanks.There are working possibilities for people interested in permaculture and helping in running the farm/hostel. Is possible to visit the farm including the litthe leather /handycraft shop and observe the view from a look out tower. The hostel is a convenient starting point for a Volcan Maderas ascent (US$8 per person guided hike). As of 2016, the owners of El Zopilote are also running an adjacent property, La Brisa, on similar terms as the main El Zopilote site; accessing La Brisa requires an additional uphill walk from El Zopilote. Cabins US$12-16, dorm US$8, hammock US$.
  • Hacienda Merida. Created by a rich Nicaraguan family from the Esteli, on the grounds of a former coffee plantation owned by the Somoza family, Hacienda Merida provides some social programs for the local area, but definitely has a feel of keeping tourists away from the real Merida. Nicely landscaped grounds, a travel library, good (even if somewhat pricey) restaurant, kayak rental, and an interesting conversation with the opinionated owner. (He earned a national prize in 2009 for a public environmental education campaign; posters created by him can be seen all over the island, and Hacienda Merida, is, naturally, an epicenter of their concentration; he continues to carry out a number of environmental and educational programs, such as using plastic garbage as a construction material, and running the Ometepe Bilingual School on site).

A tiny "monkey island" off Point Congo (some 500 m away; 1 Monkey Island) can be visited by kayak. According the hacienda's owners, the monkeys had been taken from people elsewhere in Nicaragua who had been keeping them as "pets" (chained), and placed to the island by the hacienda's staff. As posters warn, the reatures can be vicious, and should not be approached. A number of smaller, locally owned hotels are located in the vicinity; they are typically cheaper than Hacienda Merida, but lack its publicity and somewhat unique atmosphere. Dorms for US$8, rooms from $25.

  • Little Morgan's, Santa Cruz (300 metres towards Balgue from Santa Cruz junction), ☎ +505 861107973. Beautiful accommodation, bar and restaurant. Owned by Morgan (the fun Irish guy) and run by a lovely Australian couple. All types of accommodation catered for with hammocks, dorms and private casitas. It is set amongst tropical tress feeling like a real paradise, and is on the lake, so is perfect for a swim and then relax by the bar or in a hammock. The bar has a pool table and is the most happening place at night. The dorms are far enough away though that you can sleep if you need to. Great food and great people. They offer everything from horseback riding to remedial massage. A wonderful pace to stay, see www.littlemorgans.com for pictures and more information. US$3-$30.
  • Hospedaje San Ferndando, Communidat San Fernando, ☎ +505 25694876. The nice hostal called Hospedaje San Fernando is found at the beach called Santo Domingo. Only 800 meters from the hotel Villa Paraiso. The place is very central to the most common activities (inside 4 kms) in Ometepe: swimming at 'Ojo de Agua', the beach with the white sand called Santo Domingo, the good old Finca Magdalena, the 'Humedal de Istian' and the forest 'Nebliselva' of the vulcano Maderas which to walk on is the major activity for visitors. The privileged position near the road between the two volcanoes allows you to get around by feed or by public transport. Rooms in several nice small private houses. Price range: US$4-12. Breakfast included. Internet included. Very fast for the island (~800 MBit). Access to the beach, Rancho, Hammocks.

View our map of accommodation in Ometepe

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes can be found in most larger cities and popular areas, but even in smaller towns you will usually be able to connect somewhere.
Wifi is generally free at most hotels, with the notable exception of larger chain hotels, which generally charge between US$3 and US$8 per day.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The international phone code of Nicaragua is 505. The general emergency number is 911, though you can contact police (118), fire (115) and ambulance (128) separately if you want.

Nicaragua's cell phone system utilizes GSM 1900 technology. So, if you have a GSM phone that supports the 1900 band you can either use your phone as is at international rates or if your cell phone is unlocked , you can purchase a SIM card for your phone and you will have a local cell number and be charged local cell rates. Both Claro and Movistar provide cell phone service in the country. Claro is run by the old national phone company (ENITEL) that has now been privatized.

Another option is to buy a cell phone locally. Disposable cell phones are quite inexpensive, usually costing about US$20.

You can also purchase local prepaid phone cards that can be used at pay phone across the country. The different pay phone systems each have their own phone cards, so pay attention to which type you purchase.

Post

Correos de Nicaragua provides postal services. It's fairly cheap but not extremely reliable or fast. Post offices are generally open Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 6:00 pm and Saturday from 8:00am to 1:00pm. Airmail postage for a standaard letter or postcard from Nicaragua to North America is US0.60 and US$1 to Europe. Mail takes on average between 7 and 10 days to get to the U.S. and Europe. Though it's fine for sending a postcard, you'd better use companies like TNT, DHL, UPS or FedEx to send parcels internationally.

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Accommodation in Ometepe

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Ometepe searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Ometepe and areas nearby.

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This is version 7. Last edited at 12:32 on Feb 9, 18 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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