Adventure Island – Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

We arrived on Ometepe Island like most travelers: pretty unaware of the range of eco, outdoor and food adventures that have been quietly developing on this spot in the middle of 3,000 square mile (8,264 square km) formerly bull-shark-infested Lake Nicaragua. Sure we were expecting the island, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, to have plenty of nature and island-y quirks. What we got was Adventure Island.

Lake Nicaragua (aka Lake Cocibolca) is the largest lake in Central America and home to Ometepe Island, whose name in the Nahuatl language means two hills. Those two hills are actually two volcanoes: the very active 5,100 foot (1,544 meter) Concepción Volcano and dormant 4,573 foot (1,394 meter) Maderas Volcano. Both can be climbed. Neither is easy.

two volcanos of Ometepe Island Nicaragua

Ometepe Island’s name translates to “two hills” for the pair of volcanoes that dominate its geography. That’s Concepción on the left and Maderas on the right.

Concepcion volcano  - Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

You can climb Concepción Volcano on Nicaragua’s Ometepe Island even though it’s still active.

Getting to Ometepe Island

While the rest of Nicaragua slowly gets its act together in terms of tourism and tourist activities things on Ometepe have been moving right along. They even have a brand new international airport, though no one seems able to say when it will open to flights–if ever. Welcome to Nicaragua.

New airport with Volcan Concepcion - Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Construction of the new airport on Ometepe Island (now complete but yet to be used) with Concepción Volcano in the background.

Never mind. You can still get to Ometepe Island the old-fashioned way: by ferry. Passenger ferries leave from a large dock in the town of San Jorge just a few miles from Rivas. A number of ferries travel between the dock and the island. We chose to travel on the newer, bigger Rey del Cocibolca ferry because it also takes vehicles (US$16 for one driver and the vehicle; US$3.50 per passenger).

The ferry was clean and only moderately crowded (though the vehicle deck can get packed so make a reservation by calling 8833-4773 or 86913669 if you have a vehicle with you). Our one hour crossing was pretty smooth, though locals will tell you that the lake can sometimes get whipped up to white caps due to high winds.

Lake Cocibolca Ferry to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Taking a ferry across Lake Cocibolco (aka Lake Nicaragua) to Ometepe Island. You can see our truck at the front of the line on the left on the cargo deck.

Getting around Ometepe Island

The roads on Ometepe were notoriously bad but a recent frenzy of repaving with interlocking pre-fab paving stones is slowly changing that. When we were on the island the road connecting the main port town of Moyogalpa and the village of Balgue was in perfect condition and crews and supplies were in place to continue extending the repaving.

The island is big–19 miles (31 kms) long and up to six miles (10 kms) wide–and the things you’re gonna want to do, see and eat are spread out. If you don’t have a vehicle you can use the public buses or rent a motorcycle from many shops and vendors in Moyogalpa. Check in with Gary and Laura, owners of the Cornerhouse B&B, Restaurant and Coffee Shop, for a recommendation about the most reputable renters and for the best eggs Benedict (and more) in Nicaragua. Cornerhouse also has four stylishly stark rooms for US$30 double.

Cornerhouse B&B Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Gary Long, co-owner of Cornerhouse B&B, Restaurant and Coffee House in the town of Moyogalpa, is your source for good travel advice about Ometepe and some of the best food on the island.

Moyogalpa with Volcan Concepcion - Ometepe, Nicaragua

You can almost always see at least one of the two huge volcanoes on Ometepe Island, even when you’re walking down the street in the town of Moyogalpa.

Eating and sleeping on Ometepe Island

As you enter Balgue look for the school bus on your right. This is El Zopilote, an artisenal shop selling handmade jewelry, bread, chocolate, soap, granola (you get the picture). That all happens in the bus. A short hike up the hill takes you to the El Zopilote Hostel, a lofty, free-form hangout where they also bake a mean pizza and offer yoga.

El Zopilote Hostal  Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Free bananas at the reception hut at El Zopilote Hostel on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua.

Finca Magdalena also has budget accommodation and one of the best cups of coffee we had in all of Nicaragua made with beans grown on their property on the slopes of Maderas Volcano above the village of Balgue.

Finca Magdalena Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Finca Magdalena, above the town of Balgue on Ometepe Island, is a working coffee farm with budget rooms, a simple restaurant and some of the best coffee we had in all of Nicaragua.

Concepcion volcano  - Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Sunset over Concepción Volcano on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

Your complete adventure guide to Ometepe Island

By the time our week on the island was up we were so excited about the place that we wrote a feature about Ometepe Island for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune focusing on the latest and greatest adventures on the island.

Check it out for even more about eating, sleeping and adventuring on Nicaragua’s adventure island, including Totoco Eco-lodge, the swishest digs on the island, nighttime kayaking, becoming a permaculture volunteer at Project Bona Fide, some of the best horseback riding in Nicaragua, a blissful swimming hole, a private museum full of artifacts you won’t see anywhere else in Nicaragua and Chef Ben Slow’s fabulous farm to fork food at Cafe Campestre.

Totoco Eco Lodge pool with Volcan Concepcion - Ometepe, Nicaragua

Concepción Volcano as seen from the pool at Totoco Eco Lodge on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua.

Project Bonafide sustainable farm Ometepe, Nicaragua

You can volunteer at Project Bona Fide, a permaculture farm and agro education operation on Ometepe Island.

Cafe Campestre - Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Yes, that’s home made pasta at Cafe Campestre, a shockingly stylish and gourmet restaurant in the town of Balgue on Ometepe Island.

Humus Cafe Campestre food - Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Home made humus with home-made bread at Cafe Campestre on Ometepe Island.

Playa Santo Domingo & Volcano Maderas - Ometepe, Nicaragua

Playa Santo Domingo with the Maderas Volcano in the distance.

Volcano evacuation route - Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Volcano emergency evacuation signs are no joke on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua.


Read more about travel in Nicaragua


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