Updated post October 2017
Ometepe Island or Isla Ometepe is our favorite place in Nicaragua. We felt like we were in a different country than mainland Nicaragua, and it’s no wonder that most travelers find it difficult to leave and it is one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua because it's the gem of the Nicaragua islands. Our love affair with Ometepe resulted in visiting three different times for almost 3 months total and our latest visit was in October 2017. There are many things to do on Ometepe Island, including hiking the best of the Nicaraguan volcanoes.
We had lots of unanswered questions before our trip and discovered some valuable details that we wanted to improve your visit to the island so we help you with
Ometepe Island is a lush tropical island formed from two towering volcanoes Volcano Concepción and Volcano Maderas, jutting out from the massive Lake Nicaragua. It offers tropical forests, waterfalls, hiking, swimming, motorbiking, and kayaking in a peaceful, tranquil setting. Ometepe encompasses a number of villages with a local, community feel and maintains an incredibly friendly vibe. It's not a surprise to walk on the main highway and get waves and hellos wherever you go. Friendly people, understated beauty, and lots of natural activities; the perfect reasons to go to Ometepe in our view. Of course it is a Spanish speaking area, so practicing your Spanish to connect with locals goes a long way.
All roads lead to Rivas to get to Ometepe Island. Rivas is a city and main hub and bus station to get around in South Western Nicaragua to all the Pacific surfing beaches like San Juan Del Sur, to Ometepe Island and Rio San Carlos.
Rivas is busy, confusing, and sadly, there are taxis there that take advantage of tourists. Here are a few important tips will ensure you don't get scammed.
First you need to get to Rivas
Some the travel agencies on the Calle La Cazada (main plaza of restaurants) in Granada organize mini buses to go directly to the ferry launch. You will have to pay full price (Avg.$25-30+USD), and there is only one bus or 2 buses per day. This option is a shorter and costly option to get to Ometepe. We feel you are missing out on the people watching, interactions, and it's more than 10x the price! However, we share this here as an option if you are not up for trying the local public bus experience. You can bypass #2 by taking this option.
This is the most economical, flexible and cultural way. The local bus system is a decent form of transport; it's classic school bus "Chicken bus" often decorated and modified to carry people and goods in Latin America. It's a fun trip to people watch and discover interesting snacks to try from the food hawkers that enter the bus throughout the journey.
Where: Catch the bus at the Granada Market Station which is in front of the Shell Gas Station (this is a different station to Managua which is 20m south of Central Park)
Schedule: Buses schedule Monday-Sunday is 6:30, 8:05, 9:30, 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 3:10. The bus will leave once it's full, it doesn't mean it leaves on time!
Costs: Rates are posted in the bus, so it's the same for everyone! HOWEVER: you will be charged an extra seat for your bag, whether you are a local or visitor. One of the bus attendants take on and off the bags and often your bag takes up another seat (or it is carried at the top of the bus) 20 Cordoba/per person + Large Bag 20 Cordoba total: 40 Cordobas ($1.31USD)
Duration: 60-75 minutes depending on number of stops to drop off passengers
You have two options:
- Rivas is ONLY a short 10-minute drive to the dock at San Jorge.
- There is a bus that goes from Rivas to San Jorge, but it's not obvious where to get off, and where you get off.
-Cost: 20 Cordobas (0.65 USD)
-Ask the bus driver, for accurate details. Cab drivers may come on the bus, and tell you the bus to the ferry already left! We missed the stop here, so we didn't take it. Instead, we negotiated to take a taxi. (Option 2 below)
The other option is taking a Taxi to the Ometepe Ferry. This is where you need to negotiate. The best price we have negotiated is 30 Cordobas per person (0.98USD) slightly higher than the bus.
The taxi will stop right at the main gates to the ferry, and you can walk in directly.
You have two options for Ferry stops – Moyogalpa (main city on the island) or San Jose. Moyogalpa is the main port where you will likely schedule your transportation around the island. Also, more ferries stop at this location.
Schedule: The Ometepe Ferry Schedule is available here. If you are time strapped, plan ahead as sometimes the boats are down for maintenance so make extra time to get onto the next ferry.
Duration: 17km boat trip. Approximately 1-1.20hours depending on weather and winds
Cost: Rates are posted in the boat and they are the same for locals and travelers. Rate will depend on which bus you go to
Lancha boat: 45 Cordobas ($1.47 USD)
Ferry boat: 60 Cordobas ($1.97USD)
The island is much bigger than you think, and distances are too far to walk! It’s 276km2 and 31km across the island. Once you get onto Ometepe, taxi transportation turns into more expensive venture than anywhere in Nicaragua, now everything is quoted in USD.
There are limited vehicles (taxis, vans, owned vehicles in general), and gas is more expensive than the mainland. Cordoba’s from the mainland now turn into USD that vastly increases the price.
Road conditions: The roads have very little traffic, and most of the island road is interlocking brick, except for the southeast end of Balgüe and Merida, which is rocky dirt roads.
1. Pre-book a “Collectivo”- A shared taxi on the mainland side of the ferry.Before you leave the San Jorge dock, there will be some official tourist guys, pre-booking transportation to your hotel/guesthouse on the island. This ride on the island is your cheaper option for transportation, as they attempt to combine rides for travelers to spread out the cost.
However, you need to negotiate a lower price. It may seem like a scam, but we traveled to and from the island, and this option was our best rates. Prices will depend on what part of the island you are staying.
– We’ve negotiated rates (shared rate) to the far part of the island (from Moyogalpa to Merida) for $7 USD each while others paid $15-30USD each
2. Organize a taxi pickup in advance with your guesthouse/hotel – We paid $40USD from Moyogalpa to Santa Cruz (near Maderas volcano). If you travel as far as Mérida you are looking at another $5-10USD more.
Distances to excursions, restaurants, and hotels are often very far; you need transportation, and you will be challenged to minimize the cost.
This is a very comfortable, cheap and local option. There is a regular Ometepe bus schedule in more populated areas of Moyogalpa/Altagracia and Santa Domingo and a less frequent bus to the southeast areas of Santa Cruz, Merida, and Balgüe. You may need to stop at El Quino (transfer bus stop) in order to transfer instead of a direct bus to Moyogalpa or to Merida and Balgüe.
Cost: Our trips cost between 17 Cordobas (.55USD) to 30 Cordoba ($.98USD)
Schedule: Local Ometepe bus schedule
The Cost is $5-6USD for the day Good option, but a lot more challenging if you are biking between Merida and Balgüe as this area is a bumpy gravel and dirt road.
First – Motorbiking on the island is great, but you should have some experience. Even though most of the island is paved with interlocking brick, there is loose gravel, and it is rough travel between Balgüe and Merida (it is not paved at all so we recommend a Quad or a 150cc motorbike if you are traveling here) There is hardly any traffic and it’s a joy to travel!
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.
A great way to see the island is between $7-12/hour. Your guesthouse/hostal can arrange this for you.
To do a full day trip around parts of the island it could cost around $60 (for up to 6 people) for the day
Your guesthouse can arrange transport for you, or you can find bike or motorbike rental stalls around the island.
We stayed in multiple different locations and spoke to many travelers on recommendations during our time on the island. The challenge with the island is the number of limited, good,well-priced accommodation options. Most of the great places have few rooms making it difficult to find a stay especially if it is high season. We recommend to book in advance. If you decide to stay longer, you may run into problems with finding rooms (depending on the time of year). We recommend you spend at least 3-4 days here.
Expect to pay approximately $15-$80 double room depending on the location. Accommodation costs on Ometepe, are higher than the mainland due to the supply of fewer good rooms and the success of tourism.
-For more peace and relaxation and nature (less tourist areas) – We recommend Santa Cruz, Merida and Balgüe. We love this area the most, and have stayed here during most of our visits.
-If you want closer Beach Access – Santa Domingo is your best choice.
-If you want to be close to town for lots of amenities – Moyogalpa or Altagracia would be your choice. Moyogalpa and Altagracia are closest to the summit Concepción volcano although these treks can be booked anywhere on the island.
First you need to pick what area you want to stay. We recommend the areas closer to Maderas Volcano and the Beach Areas.
Guesthouses here are closest to the largest beach area and more options for hotels and guesthouses.
Xalli’s – Caters to families, vacationers. This place is right on the beach in Santa Domingo. Modern, western style rooms. Great reviews from patrons. $50-80/night, great coffee and restaurant, views and access to the lake. Find latest room rates here
Area of the island near Maderas volcano, far from the big towns, but a balance between nature and amenities of restaurants, B&B’s and hostels.
**Top Pick La Via Verde Organic Farm/B&B: Our favorite stay on the island, and it is no surprise because it is highly rated on Trip Advisor and Booking.com It is an organic farm owned by the lovely couple Eileen and Darrin. Bed and Breakfast overlooking Concepción volcano nestled within an Organic Farm. Delicious, hearty and healthy breakfasts with organic ingredients and freshly roasted coffee. La via Verde Ometepe has two stylish, modern double guest rooms and a long-term rental cabin. We rented the cabin on this property for three weeks. The B&B is close to restaurants and a quiet, sandy swimming cove on the lake. Find the latest room rates posted here.
There are plenty of Ometepe Island Hostels, here are our top picks:
Lazy Crab Hostel: Caters to younger, low budget travelers. Friendly and responsible owner local named Ryder, offers clean private rooms or dorms. It’s a safe, non-party hostel as they don’t allow drinks and quiet time starts after 10 pm. One of the best hostels we have ever stayed even though the clientele is more catered to 20’s age group. Latest room rates are posted here.
These are spots we either visited, ate at, but all received good reviews by other friends.
Finca El Zopilote – Is another hostel Ometepe. We didn’t stay here, although many friends have, it’s a lower budget dorm/private room, on the hill top. It doesn’t allow reservations, so timing is everything. They have an incredible Pizzeria night with an outdoor wood-fired oven on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 6:30 pm. Great night for beer and pizza under the stars. Latest room rates are posted here.
Finca Magdalena – Local cooperative organic farm with several local families – Includes dorm and cabins. We enjoyed their breakfast and freshly roasted coffee, didn’t see the rooms, but worth a look. Latest room rates
Café Campestre– Restaurant has delicious international dishes, our favorite on the island. They also rent out a few rooms to guests. They sell fresh bread, honey, peanut butter all made by the restaurant weekly.
The most remote part of the island with the most local village feel. On the opposite side of Maderas volcano versus Santa Cruz-Balgüe. If you want to kick back and relax, this is the place. You will feel away from it all, however, it is relatively close to the San Ramón Waterfall and kayaking the Rio Istiam.
Finca Mystica – One of our favorite spots to stay. Caters to a clientele of people looking for quality and value, often longer-term travelers, couples, and families (This is best suited for our kind of travel). We loved it here from the friendly staff and owners, quaint, comfortable, and traditionally made cabins and yoga pavilion. The restaurant serves delicious well-priced meals. We met some of the most interesting, like-minded people staying there. Latest room rates here
La Omaja – Offers a step above guesthouse/cabin in Merida. A good choice for business/short term vacation traveler looking for A/C, western style cabins, amenities, pool and comfortable with paying a little more. High on a hill offers great views of Costa Rica across the lake. Latest room rates here.
4) Other key planning tips:
A) Water – Drink the water on the Island! The island is blessed with a natural spring, so it’s the only place in the country where the water is safe to drink. We drank it most of the time we were there. However, it’s best to ask if the water is direct from the spring (drinkable) or a reserve tank (not drinkable)
B) ATM’s – There are very few ATMs on the island. There are now two in Santa Domingo one in front of Xalli’s hotel otherwise, it’s a long trip (and expensive cab) to Altagracia or Moyogalpa to the ATM. ATM’s are not always reliable, so plan to bring extra cash onto the island. Few businesses take credit card, it is usually only cash. Note: we had problems with the ATM at Xalli’s, our account showed we got cash out, but the cash machine said it was out of service. Use this machine at your own risk.
Not only is the island growing and evolving with tourism, but the controversial new canal connecting the Pacific to the Atlantic and cutting across Lake Nicaragua two years later is still barely underway. This is a massive multi-year venture at a massive scale and planned to be longer and deeper than the Panama Canal. It’s unclear what the future will hold with this project, as setbacks, financing, and environmental concerns have delayed it.
To fully appreciate a meaningful travel experience we recommend you try local, public transportation. It’s the best way to see and connect with the people that live on the island. In return, you witness how friendly Nicaraguans are, and how willing they are to help visitors. As a bonus, you get the opportunity to pat yourself on the back for navigating yourself effectively to your destination!
WAIT!! What do you want to do when you get to Ometepe? Here is our top picks to help you decide.
For more information about Ometepe or if you have information to contribute from your visit we would love to include it in this post. Let us know here.
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Dorene is a marketing consultant and freelance writer. She quit her 20-year career in marketing to redesign her career and lifestyle on her own terms by living location independent. Now with her husband Troy, she helps people who want to redefine their midlife and make conscious changes at TravelLifeX. She also trains & coaches travel and hospitality clients to improve their marketing at TravelLifeMedia.com