Getting to Ometepe
Of our four stops in Nicaragua (Leon, Granada, Ometepe, San Juan del Sur), we enjoyed Ometepe the most. This volcanic island is located smack dab in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. To get to Ometepe, you board a ferry for about an hour trip into the lake in which the twin volcanos of Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas come into focus as you approach the island. It’s a deceptively large island, which takes a few hours to drive around. We shared a taxi to base ourselves on a beautiful beach mid-island, known as Santa Domingo, in order to take advantage of the nearby recreation.
We found the island to be a very peaceful and relaxing natural retreat, after having just passed through a number of sometimes-hectic Central American cities. This was exactly what we needed. Although remote and out of the way, there was still plenty to do. Whether hiking up a volcano, horseback riding, touring coffee plantations, trekking to waterfalls, swimming in natural pools, kayaking, kite boarding, going for a nature walk, searching for petroglyphs, or simply relaxing on the beach, there is really something to do for whatever your interests may be.
Rio Istiam Kayaking Tour Ometepe
One day we popped over to Rio Istiam to partake in a kayaking tour. This wasn’t really at the top of our list of things to do but a few other guests at our little hotel were setting out to go one day, so we decided to join them. We were very glad we did. The put-in was along the lake at a beach and we had an hour or so paddle between the twin volcanoes before reaching the mouth of the shallow river.
Once heading up the slowly moving stream, birds seemingly began to appear everywhere. There were big ones, small ones, colorful birds, loud birds, and strange looking birds. We’re not much into birds or birding, but were thoroughly impressed by the avian display that took place as we paddled up the river.
And it wasn’t just birds; other wildlife was likewise very abundant. Paddling further we ran into a few Cayman crocodiles that allowed us to get very close to them before snapping and abruptly swimming away, making us jump a bit in our kayaks as he splashed us during his quick exit.
The sleeping howler monkeys were a bit more timid and far up in the trees. We paddled on. There are a number of horses that roam the island. They are not wild, as they are used for labor and farming, but they just seem to sort of wander around as they please. A few of these horses were cooling off in the river. As we approached, we perhaps startled them a bit too, so they just swam away. The kayaking in Ometepe is a great excursion we highly recommend.
Horseback Riding Ometepe
As luring as it appeared, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do one more volcano hike. After having been up a half dozen volcanoes in the past month or so, this was enough for us. We were in relax-mode here. So we bypassed a strenuous 12-hour trek, in favor to let a horse do some walking for us.
You can talk to one of the farmers, who can round up one of the wandering horses, but we chose instead to pay a few more bucks to ride on a strong and properly fed steed. It was a great horseback ride around this eastern side of the island. We took the horses for about an hour up the beach and got a nice glimpse of the local way of life in the process. We passed by locals washing their clothes in the lake water, beating their garments against washboards and rocks. Others were using the lake as their bathtub, lathering up and rinsing off with small buckets using the pleasantly warm water at the shallow shoreline. Meanwhile others were lying out their grain harvest on matts placed on the beach to dry.
We proceeded onward to Ojo de Agua, a natural fresh water spring which attracts both tourists and locals alike. We took a dip in the refreshing cool waters before drying off and hopping back on our horses for the return trip.
Having now bonded with our horses a bit, we tried to get them to go in the lake. They were hesitant at first, but eventually obliged to the point where we were almost swimming. We’d never ridden a horse in the water before other than river crossings, so this was a pretty neat experience for us.
Sendero Pena Incilta Trail Ometepe
There’s also a network of trails on the island that we enjoyed taking short hikes on. We took a hike on the Sendero Pena Incilta and spotted a snake, a number of monkeys, and there were also lots of big magpie jays.
If in Nicaragua, do not pass up Ometepe. Our four days there was a little piece of paradise found in this sometimes-rough country. It is such a great place to just unwind and enjoy some of Nicaragua’s natural beauty. Cheers!
If you Go to Ometepe Nicaragua
Go now! At the time of our visit (March 2014) they had just completed building an airport on the island which would be opening in a few months. The owner of our hotel also doubled as a real estate agent for the island and told us that developers were coming here interested in building resorts (currently there’s nothing like that). Get here now before development changes this raw and pristine paradise.
Also, we highly recommend the boutique hotel we stayed at, Xalli Ometepe Beach Hotel, not only for a great stay, but we found the onsite restaurant to likewise be outstanding.