Updated October 2017.
The sun filled the top of the ferryboat and clouds parted casting an awe-inspiring view. In front of us, two towering volcanoes, one on the left the other on the right, and in between, rich emerald green forests. All around, the lake waves sparkled around the enormous Isla Ometepe.
(Check out our video above arriving by ferry) We got off the boat, ushered by a friendly collectivo driver waving a sign with our name and made our way with other travelers across the island by Jeep. Along the way, children played in colorful school yards, horses trotted down the road alongside our ride, as our driver proudly pointed to the volcanoes and activities of interest along the way. It didn't take long for us feel rejuvenated and excited by this adventure playground. It felt like a completely new country from the mainland. We knew right away we would make Isla Ometepe our home for more than a few days.
Our visit turned into spending over two months here, over the last two years and here are is our list of the Ometepe Island things to do.
Our top things to do on Isla Ometepe
1) Climb and Hike the Volcanoes
Nicaragua volcanoes are incredible, especially the ones on Isla de Ometepe.
You may be limited for time, so you may ask yourself:
Should I climb Volcan Concepción or Volcan Maderas?
The volcanoes taunted us for weeks! We tried to find the perfect day to climb and filmed this video of our treks up both. Both climbs are difficult and require any traveler to be in decent physical condition. There is an option to hike to lower level look out points if you aren't up for the whole adventure.
They are both very different hikes, and their level of difficulty will be dependent on the weather conditions. Here is a summary of the hikes to help you decide which one to do.
VOLCANO CONCEPCIÓN (watch video below)
Level of difficulty: It is steep, long and a strenuous hike, you need to be in good physical condition
Cost: Approx. $25 per person (hiring a guide is mandatory) + $1 Trail fee
How to get there: Requires either taxi or bus transport to the bottom of the trail to meet your guide
What to bring: Good hiking shoes, hat, backpack with sunscreen, bug repellant, water, raincoat, sleeved shirt for the top.
Maderas is a non-active volcano, and it is usually a muddy hike up with less elevation, yet the trail is completely engulfed by green tropical forest, then changes to cloud forest. Once reaching the top, we crisscrossed down a steep makeshift path to walk down into the crater. It's possible to swim in the crater lakes too.
The Maderas Trail lookout point on the way down is one of the most incredible views of the island looking directly across to Volcano Concepción.
Duration: 7 - 9hrs
Level of Difficulty: It is a strenuous hike up, and you are working against a lot of rock and mud. It is slippery on the way up and down due to the mud. We found it hard on the knees and toes coming down as you will be challenged to balance and gain your footing
Cost: Approx. $25USD per person (less for more people in a group)
How to get there: Maderas is in the Balgüe area, you can take a taxi or bus there to meet your guide (it is walking distance to places where we stayed at La Via Verde B&B)
What to bring: Good fitting hiking shoes, hat, backpack with sunscreen, bug repellant, water, raincoat, sleeved shirt for the top. Bring lunch to eat at the top and snacks. Recommend wearing pants as there are plenty of bugs, trees, rocks and very muddy areas. Be prepared to get very muddy at any time of the year.
2) Zip lining on Isla de Ometepe
Ziplining Nicaragua was a huge highlight for us, especially on Ometepe.
Head to the Chico Large Adventures Canopy tour. This is located near San Jose del Sur. They are open from 8:30-4:30 each day. The day starts with a 30-45-minute hike up a steep hill. There are 17 platforms, many with a fantastic view across the island. The staff are fun and clearly love what they are doing.
Cost: $25 USD per person
3) Take a dip in the natural pools and have lunch at Ojo de Agua Ometepe
Ojo de Agua Ometepe is a popular spot with locals and travelers, this is a natural spring pools in a lovely, natural jungle setting. The water source is an underground river originating at volcano Maderas. There you can relax in the pool (perfect after hiking), get some rays on a sun chair or buy some juices or souvenirs at one of the many merchant stalls. There is a high-quality restaurant there as well as a few hiking trails.
Cost: $3-5 entrance fee (depending on what you want to do)
How to get there: It is about 5kms from Altagracia. And 2kms from Santa Domingo. There are two different entrances.
Hours: Open from 8am-6pm every day. We recommend going during the week for less crowds.
4) Hike up to the San Ramón Waterfalls
This hike requires a ride to Merida side of the island. The falls are a 170feet high with a small pool at the bottom. It is a lovely setting, and a wonderful morning or afternoon hike. It is a moderate hike and results in a pay-off view at the end, every time. You can hike the whole trail or ride a motorbike, car or horse up to the parking lot, and then hike the rest of the way in (approx. 30-45minutes).
Level of difficulty: Relatively easy hike, last 30 minutes is much steeper and requires some climbing around steep areas.,
What to bring: Wear good hiking shoes, bathing suit and towel
Cost: The entrance fee is $3USD (if you have a parked vehicle)
5) Tour by motorbike around the Isla Ometepe
The freedom we felt motor biking this island was phenomenal. The roads aren't busy and you can take the open road without feeling your life is at risk like other congested, questionable motorway rules in other countries. We recommend renting a 150cc motorbike if you can, as the roads around Maderas are very rocky and bumpy.
Motorbike, Quad or Scooter Rentals:
The costs at the time of this post (per day returning at 5pm): Motorbikes: $25-35, Scooter $30-40, 4-wheeler/quad $80 per day.
6) Find a swimming cove or head to the beach
During our entire time on Ometepe Island we saw few people on Santa Domingo Beach. It is certainly worth taking a dip on the east side of the island, don't be deterred by the grey soft sandy beach, after all, it's a volcanic island.
We enjoyed two small swimming coves completely to ourselves. There is a great one in Merida just south of Finca Mystica and another in Santa Cruz directly across Via Verde Organic Farm. It's an entrance of a closed restaurant, however, it's a perfect spot for a dip.
7) Watch the sunset behind Concepción Volcano
There are quiet nights on the island and finding a spot on the water in Santa Cruz or Santa Domingo, you will find a beautiful sunset shot illuminating behind Concepción.
8) Kayaking to the Rio Istiam
A scenic estuary through the wetlands of the island, where you will find all kinds of water and land creatures to admire. Unfortunately, we spent most of our trip with unusually dry conditions, creating low water levels on the river. (often the water is too low to kayak during March-June)
Cost: $25USD (per person if 2 per group) less if you have more
Best to do this afternoon to enjoy a sunset paddle. Located in Merida, your guesthouse, hotel or hostal can make arrangements for you.
9) Hiking and View Ancient Pre-Columbian Artifacts
There are ample places to walk and hike around the island if volcano climbing isn’t for you. Here are a few notable spots:
Petroglyphs- Near Santa Cruz you can walk up to see the ancient pre-Columbian rock carvings (El Porvenir Petroglyphs) as well as stunning views of the Island and Concepcion volcano, you can also take the route down from Maderas volcano hike to this area.
Finca Magdalena- In Balgüe is another place to see the Petroglyphs, tour the cooperative coffee farm, and enjoy non-guided hikes in the forests.
10) Charco Verde Nature Reserve
This is a natural reserve enclosed with a forest, lagoon and one of the best beaches on Ometepe. There are walking trails as well as a small hotel and restaurant against a waterfront setting.
We'd be happy to help with any other information or comments. Please let us know.