Ometepe is one of my all-time favorite destinations in Nicaragua. It is an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua made up of two volcanoes; large and active Concepcion, + smaller & dormant Maderas. The island is less touristy than other Nicaragua backpacking locations and definitely more remote. Expect little to no wifi, run down bumpy roads, farms, hidden beaches, and friendly locals.
I planned to only stay there a couple nights and ended up staying for a week and a half. Why? Time seems to stand still on the beautiful Island of Ometepe, and there is loads to do whether you're the adventurous type or just looking to relax in paradise. All it takes is an hour long ferry ride from San Jorge to Mayogalpa which will cost 50 cordobas (about $1.60 USD) per person.
1 • Explore the Island by Motorbike
I wouldn't call Ometepe a "huge" island, but it's definitely not likely you'll be able to explore all you want on foot, and waiting for the buses can take a while. So I recommend either renting a bicycle or a motorbike to explore the island. A bicycle for the day will cost around $5 and a motorcycle will cost anywhere between $15-$30 USD (not including gas). You'll need a driver's license and a little bit of skill to maneuver the rocky roads. You can try and get away with not having a license, but I had a friend get pulled over by a local cop and he basically had to pay him off for not having a license. But drive at your own risk and you'll be able to see more of the island.
TIP • Find a friend a double up on the bike to cut the cost in half! It's cheaper but more difficult to manage the motorbike. My friend and I hit the ground pretty hard trying to ride over some rocky roads and almost had to pay the guy we rented from some extra cash for the bike scratches.
2 • Visit Ojo de Agua
This is a gorgeous natural spring located right between the two volcanoes. You'll have to pay between $2-$5 USD for entry and walk about 1km to get to the pools. The pool feels really nice to swim in and there is tons of lush vegetation and yummy available drinks surrounding the pools. Perfect for relaxing after a long day of hiking. Or arrive early to avoid the crowds.
3 • San Ramon Waterfall & Hike
This is a must do hike/destination on the southern slopes of the Maderas Volcano. This hike takes a good part of the day if you decide to hike the whole way (there is an option to drive part way up). But this 3 km long trail from the entrance of the San Ramon Biological Reserve Station is really beautiful and totally worth it. There is a $3 USD entrance fee to the trail, and be sure to bring water and a swimsuit! The hike itself is rather shady but definitely requires some good hiking shoes (not flip flops!). The end result is a stunning 50 m, 150 foot waterfall and a small knee deep pool you can take a dip in!
4 • Hike the Volcanos
Yes, there are volcanoes all over Central America, but those who are up for the challenge will really enjoy the hike up Maderas or Conception. We did the larger, volcano Conception, and it was honestly a very strenuous hike. But the end views were incredible. The hike to the crater takes about 9 hours and the guided hike will be around $50 USD. Maderas is a smaller volcano and more manageable hike.
5 • Meet the Locals
Whether you stumble across them at the San Roman Waterfall and have a dance party, hitch hike for a ride across the island, or play a game of soccer with them on the beach, talk to the locals! My experiences with them were all very positive and they are nice and hospitable people eager to learn about you and share their own culture.
6 • Petroglyph Trail
Ometepe actually has all these ancient petroglyphs around the island! They are pre-Colombian stone carvings that are found at Hotel Finca Porvenir and on Finca Magdalena, both on the slopes of the volcano Maderas or in the museum of La Ceiba. There is also a trail at the Albergue Ecologico El Porvenir with access past Santo Domingo and just past the Santa Cruz hostel. This trail takes about an hour and costs a little over $1 USD. The carvings are seriously beautiful though and some are really large!
7 • Monkey Island
Visit Monkey Island at your own risk! We bought bananas, rented kayaks from Hotel Monkey's Island, and were run off the island by angry monkeys when we ran out of bananas. But I have to say, this was honestly one of my favorite and exhilarating experiences in Nicaragua. Read more about the experience here.
8 • CHARCO VERDE LAGOON
This is a lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon and is only a short hike from the Hotel Charco Verde and the south side of the Conception Volcano. Take a dip. Watch the wildlife. Take it all in.