In the lake of Nicaragua, called by the Spanish conquerors “the sea of fresh water” for its immensity, the island of Ometepe stands out whose name in Nahuatl means “two hills”. The 276 square kilometer island is home to two majestic volcanoes linked by a short isthmus, and is currently one of the natural destinations preferred by national and foreign tourists for its hospitable and passive environment, its beautiful landscapes, its two volcanoes, its archaeological wealth, its quiet beaches and its numerous natural reserves and forests where an important biodiversity can be appreciated.
The island has always represented a heavenly destination. In pre-Columbian times, according to stories obtained by historians, indigenous tribes moved from the north to Central America in search of a paradise glimpsed by their priests: a land formed by two hills, and they found it in their gait. Ometepe Island then became a sanctuary inhabited by a mixture of diverse tribes and cultures, which is revealed by the enormous number of petroglyphs, ceramics and statuary that can be seen throughout the area.
The island is inhabited by friendly and smiling people in love with its land, dedicated above all to fishing and the high-quality agricultural production provided by the fertile island soil. Currently, the ometepinos have begun to dedicate themselves to the attention of tourists and numerous service venues have been installed on the island, with the provision of welcoming visitors from all over the world who wish to visit this paradise.
See below the main tourist destinations of Ometepe:
Moyogalpa: access to paradise
The main gateway to the island is the port of the city of Moyogalpa (name of Nahuatl origin that means “place of mosquitoes”), which is connected to the port of San Jorge in Rivas by three boats and a ferry that transit the lake several times a day throughout the week.
When you arrive at the port, you can see the main street of Moyogalpa and in the background the active Concepción volcano with its perfect cone and its crown of clouds. The city is small and passive in life, but it has useful facilities for visitors such as hotels and comfortable lodgings; restaurants where you can taste local and international food and delicious natural soft drinks made of tropical fruits; car, motorcycle and bicycle rental shops; Specialized guides, bars with a good atmosphere, pharmacies, internet cafes and a well-equipped health center.
A cobblestone road connects Moyogalpa to the south with the city of Altagracia, located on the other side of Concepción. Following this road, you will find the streets and dirt road that lead to the other interesting sites. Detours are indicated by labels, so visitors should not fear getting lost when searching for their destinations.
Following this road, you can visit Punta Jesús María, located five kilometers from the city, from Moyogalpa. The tip is a thin dirt inlet to the lake, the beginning of which is 20 meters wide and 200 meters long, and is shaded by lush trees. But this entrance culminates in a strip of sand that in summer stretches for more than a kilometer inland; the waters bathe both sides of this thin point about 5 meters thick, and from it you can see beautiful sunsets. Some visitors choose to camp at Jesús María.
From Moyogalpa you can also visit the Concepción volcano (1610 meters high), climb its slopes and reach its forest where you can see white-faced monkeys, and a great multitude of birds and insects. The view, how can you imagine, is spectacular.
The Concepción is active and its last eruption was in 1957. The islanders express that the sporadic expulsion of gases or the earth movements caused by it are common, so they do not feel panic or alarm. In fact, according to some ometepinas organizations, there are some and well determined sites of real risk in the event of an eventual eruption.
In some towns south of Moyogalpa, its inhabitants have organized to provide the “Pueblo Hotel” service, which will allow visitors to live with the islanders and appreciate their routines and daily life. The service is not yet consolidated, but you can ask at the offices of the Entre Volcanes Foundation in Moyogalpa.
The region north of Moyogalpa is difficult to access, so it is not visited by tourists. Small rural towns are located here and there are very nice little frequented beaches.
For December 17, the Ometepe Tourist Festival takes place. Tourism authorities and businessmen, but also the entire population, participate in the event. There are dances, parties, bicycle competitions, freighter oxen and rowboats, in addition to other activities.
Charco Verde: splendid nature
Following the road to Altagracia, 11 kilometers from Moyogalpa, you reach the Charco Verde nature reserve. In it are located a hill, a lagoon separated from the lake by a few meters of land, a wide variety of fauna and flora and, somewhat interesting, fantastic myths that are known throughout Ometepe.
In Charco Verde you can get a room in one of the three comfortable venues located within the reserve itself, which vary in price and comfort, however, good service is guaranteed.
The Charco Verde forest is inhabited by three families of Congo monkeys, each consisting of up to 70 individuals. There you can also see migratory and local birds, insects and even boas of regular size.
A part of the calm lagoon is covered by mangroves, and its trees with submerged trunks provide exuberant shade on the waters and a mysterious environment. The rest of the edge of that lagoon is populated by abundant vegetation and huge fruit trees, like medlars that produce fruits as big as a melon. In winter, the lake grows at its level and its waters invade and mix with the lagoon.
In the eastern area of Charco Verde is the hill of the same name, and at its peak is the Mirador del Diablo. Even he can take walks and appreciate the scenic beauties of Ometepe.
In Charco Verde you can stroll around the lake or lagoon by kayak, take a horse or foot tour of the reserve, the hill or neighboring communities, or simply dive and then sunbathe on the long and quiet beach.
In Charco Verde and throughout the island you can ask details about the Chico Largo myth: former owner of Charco Verde who became a fantastic character for his alleged dealings with the devil. Or you can learn about Mama Bucha, Chico Largo’s mother, who every Holy Week returns from the afterlife and wanders looking with pumpkins to carry water, smelling the environment with a pure smell.
Altagracia: tradition and heritage
The second major city on the island is Altagracia, located northeast of Concepción. Its original name was Astagalpa (in Nahuatl “heron house”), but it was transformed with the entry of Spanish and Castilian culture.
Altagracia is also a small city with a quiet life. In its streets you will find well-equipped hotels and cheap and comfortable lodgings, as well as internet cafes, pharmacies and shops.
One of the biggest attractions of the city is the Pre-Columbian Museum, where various samples of the pre-Columbian moon pottery found on the island are exhibited, as well as pieces of statuary and petroglyphs.
Very close to the city is the Puerto de Gracia. There are boats that cross the lake from Granada to the Río San Juan (and vice versa), and call at this port. Traffic, however, is limited. If you want to travel to either of these two destinations, you must take into account that the ships arrive twice a week, only.
An important cultural event in the city is the patron saint festivities in honor of San Diego de Alcalá, which lasts from November 12 to 17. During this event, you will be able to appreciate the ways in which the population celebrates and the events that take place. For this year, for example, an ox race is also being organized
During the festivities, in the streets, the Sompopo Dances are performed: people cross the city in a procession, dancing to the rhythms of drums and holding up branches of green leaves with their hands. The dance is called this way because of the similarity of the image with that of the concretes that move pieces of leaves in crowded rows to their nest; These red concretes are known as Sompopos.
Santo Domingo: beaches and more
Two rural towns called Mérida and San Ramón are located southwest of the skirts of the Maderas volcano, both facing the lake.
San Ramón has about 3,000 inhabitants and is famous for its impressive waterfall. This waterfall is about four kilometers from the town and can be reached after a spectacular walk, with lots of nature and beautiful views along the way. More about an excursion to the San Ramón waterfall can be read in our Activity Guide.
The same path that is used to go to the waterfall can be used to reach the top of the Maderas. This is one of the main access routes to the summit. In addition, each year, at the end of April, San Ramón hosts a famous fishing tournament.
Another interesting aspect of San Ramón is the biological station that is located on the edge of this small town. Here, foreign students and scientists come to study the monkeys that live in this area, in cooperation with universities in the United States and other countries, the station offers summer courses from June to August and a winter one in January. This place is also open for tourists.
The other town is Mérida, a small one located on the slopes of the Maderas volcano, from where you can do various activities, including cycling, horseback riding and kayaking. There are two islands located in front of the town, known as the Mono islands. They were named after the monkeys that were released there.
From Mérida you can also kayak and reach the beautiful region of the Istián River. This area is home to hundreds of birds and other animals and is an hour away by kayak.
Island authorities and organized activists are very concerned about Ometepe’s environmental and cultural conservation. National and foreign visitors should take this into account and not carry out activities that harm nature, the cultural heritage and the tranquility of the islanders.
Until a few years ago, smuggling of archaeological pieces and precious woods was a serious problem on the island. Nowadays, with the support of the army and the national police, better controls are carried out and the problem is really minimal. It is illegal to remove archaeological pieces from the island.
Ometepe was and is a natural, scenic paradise and a pre-Columbian sanctuary that will astonish its visitors from all over the world, and that must be consciously conserved.
How to get there ?
The island can be reached by boat and ferry from the city of Granada or from the port of San Jorge, near the city of Rivas. Taking a boat from San Jorge is the fastest way and it takes about an hour to get to the main port in Moyogalpa. Ferries are bigger than other boats and can carry cars. The fee is U $ 2. See also the schedule shown below. The boat from Granada only leaves twice a week and they are not as available as the boats in San Jorge. These boats, from Granada, leave you in the northern part of the island in the city of Altagracia.
The construction of a new highway between the cities of Moyogalpa and Altagracia has reduced travel hours on the island. The distance is 25 kilometers and it takes about 30 or 40 minutes to travel from Moyogalpa to Altagracia and vice versa. The road to the Maderas Volcano is unpaved and requires more time and effort to get to that side of the island, however it is a place to be. You can rent a car on the island or bring your own car if you travel from San Jorge. For roads are pavement, we recommend a tall vehicle. There are also taxis and buses on the island. Taxis are more expensive than taxis on the mainland, but always at moderate prices, given the distances and road conditions. Buses and minibuses allow you to go to most places on the island, but keep in mind that public transportation is limited on Sundays.