Our guide to Ometepe Island
There's something special about island life. The sun guides the order of the day, and clocks and calendars seem irrelevant. Wardrobes are reduced to bathing suits and sarongs, and happy hour never seems to end. And while we wished we had enough time on our Nicaraguan visa to venture out to the remote Corn Islands, we still managed to find a slice of paradise on a volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.
Stepping foot on Ometepe Island, we felt like we'd entered a vacation within this grand vacation. We were whisked away to a place where chicken buses were greatly outnumbered by horses and scooters, our alarm clock was replaced by the sunrise hitting our skin, and our bedtime routine changed from Netflix to stargazing. Though the original prospect of camping in the Nicaraguan heat had us thinking we'd be back on the mainland in a few days, we found ourselves tearful to leave after a magical ten days. Wondering what made Ometepe Island so special? Here's our guide to this wonderful place.
Stay at El Zopilote
We often don't recommend places to stay as part of our things-to-do guides, but this permaculture farm and hostel is what made our time on Ometepe unforgettable. Located in Balgüe, El Zopilote is more of a friendly travelers community than a hostel, all situated on a beautiful property filled with fruit trees and monkeys. While other hostels cater to short and long-term travelers alike, El Zopilote seemed to be occupied by a sizeable number of perpetual wanderers. The social atmosphere cultivated there had us spending most of our time relaxing in nature with our new friends. Trivia nights, acrobatic play time, and twice-daily yoga were just some of the free activities that kept us busy. Plus every Tuesday and Saturday night is pizza night, when the delicious wood-fired pizzas and fire dancing performances attract people from surrounding hostels. If you stay here, be sure not to miss it.
Rent a scooter
Few places in Latin America are as suited to novice scooter riders as Ometepe, and there is no better way to explore the island than on two wheels. A (mostly) paved road creates a figure eight around the island, allowing you to take in beautiful views of the lake and the volcanoes. Pull off for a quick swim, grab a fresh juice or an ice cream, and explore the island at your own pace. There are only a few chicken buses that run around the island, and most of the time you'll have the open road to yourself with the exception of the occasional herd of cattle. Rentals go for about $20 USD a day, just make sure to rent from a trustworthy place as some travelers had experiences of being given scooters with broken parts that they were then held responsible for. We rented ours from El Zopilote and had no problems. We simply let the staff know that we wanted to rent a bike that morning, and they had it brought over within 30 minutes. We just had to fill up the gas tank before returning it that evening. And a word of warning: if renting a scooter instead of a full motorbike, do not try to drive on unpaved roads. We saw a couple of people who didn't heed that advice and ended up with gashes on their legs from crashes and falls.
Go horseback riding on the beach
It isn't uncommon to see horses roaming freely in town, across the road, or on the beach in Ometepe. For only $6-8 USD an hour, you can go horseback riding on the beach. For truly beautiful views, we recommend going at sunset.
One of the best ways to enjoy the lake is to spend the afternoon paddleboarding. El Pital, a hostel in Balgüe just a short walk from El Zopilote, rents boards for $8-10 USD an hour. We recommend heading out just before sunset for some pretty dramatic scenery, then following it up with a magic chocolate ball — a decadent, raw, vegan chocolate and ice cream concoction — at El Pital.
Cool off at Ojo de Agua
The clear, sparkling pools set in rock and surrounded by lush vegetation are a must when on Ometepe Island. For $5 USD, you can spend the day lounging by the pool, or if you're feeling adventurous, try the tarzan swing. Make sure not to miss the smaller, calmer, less crowded, and cleaner pool at the opposite end of the tarzan swing on the other side of the little walking bridge.
Admire the sky
Located in one of the largest lakes in the world away from the light pollution of any major settlements, Ometepe Island offers excellent stargazing opportunities. Equally stunning are the sunrises and sunsets that bathe the island's two volcanoes in soft golden and pink hues. El Zopilote has a couple of viewing towers where you can take in the vistas from above the palm trees and banana plants.
How to get to Ometepe Island
The first step to getting to Ometepe is to take a bus on the mainland to Rivas. From Rivas, you can catch a bus for C$10 ($0.33 USD) to the ferry dock in San Jorge (taxi drivers in Rivas will tell you there is no bus, but that isn't true). Ferries run throughout the day to Ometepe for about C$50 ($1.66 USD), usually to the town of Moyogalpa. Once in Moyogalpa, you can take a chicken bus to other towns around the island. If you are trying to make it to Balgüe the same day, make sure to arrive in Moyogalpa before 3 pm to catch the last bus.