I have had not one, not two, but three run-ins with the Isla de Ometepe of Nicaragua and it was admittedly this last (third) time that finally made the island click for me. People have been waxing poetic about the island since my first time to Nicaragua some five years ago, but try as I might, I just had not been able to discern what all the fuss was about.
It was not that I didn’t like it, nothing bad happened, it was just enough small things (or maybe a lack of them?) and probably a lack of research on my part (my travel hallmark) that lead to an absence of feeling the glowing praise I heard rolling off the lips of nearly every other traveler to head that way.
After enough chats about Ometepe with other people who’ve lived in Nicaragua, spent time on the island, and gone back more than once, I finally determined the problem: the island is best enjoyed with wheels. It doesn’t matter which kind of wheels – car, moto, even ATV (heck, a bicycle in a pinch) – but some way to move around is essential.
Not only is the public transportation on the island expensive and sparse, but it’s limited to the main roads that sort of ring around and cut through the island, but don’t enter into the spaces a visitor might be more inclined to go. And you guessed it, the first two times I had visited the island, I had not included renting a vehicle in the budget and had not been able to get the most out of the experience.
Conveniently for me, in a roundabout way, one of my friends who (sniffle) has just left on her journey back to Canada, was up for a weekend trip out to the island with her brother, so she invited Sebas and I to join and we made it a despedida of sorts!
We grabbed the bus from Huembes in Managua (64 cordobas for the expreso) and arrived in Rivas almost exactly two hours later.
An easy and fun trip – largely based on the fact that we had packed rum road pops and entertained ourselves with copious amounts of snapchat. Our friends picked us up at the gas station and we made our way to the ferry terminal (which is just a ways down the road).
The next ferry was already full with vehicles so while we waited the hour and a half for the next sailing, we did what any self-respecting weekend road-trippers would do: we found the nearest beer access, chilled out with an amazing view, and caught up.
A couple hours later we were rolling through the island as the sun set and let me tell you…it’s a pretty stunning place to be. Rather than staying in the little town of Moyogalpa where most tourists might find themselves, we were off to the base of Maderas volcano in search of the Finca Magdalena.
In order to get there we effectively cut through the middle of the island, driving past beautiful little towns and through an amazing stretch of road where we were flanked by both of the islands’ volcanoes, one on each side. Majestic is a word I won’t often throw around, but it suits here.
We arrived to the finca after dark and opted to eat and head to bed early, knowing we’d be in store for a looooong day climbing the volcano the next day. The finca is located right at the base of the volcano so it’s the perfect starting point. The great scenery and reasonably priced food help too, if the rooms tend towards small and hot or over-priced (the cabanas). Not a bad place to spend a night or two though, but consider stringing up a hammock and mosquito net to cut down on costs and enjoy the night breeze.
Saturday, we climbed. And climbed. And climbed. You guys, I can honestly admit that I have never pushed my body so hard before. It didn’t help that the path is largely muddy, pictured below on the way up, and made so much worse on the way down by some rain. Mud puddles galore.
Owing to my general exhaustion and the difficulty of the muddy trail, my legs would not bend to my will on the way down and I was like a drunk person stumbling and sliding all the way down a mountain (a freaking volcano, you guys!) while whimpering any number of little things to myself as though I thought it would help.
But we did it! And it was pretty glorious. A few small bouts of crying (purely mine) notwithstanding 😉 My friends were amazingly supportive though, I have to tell you. Huge props to encouraging me the whole way and being patient when I needed a few extra breathers. You guys are the best!
We climbed to the summit and then we actually had to climb down and into the crater. Honestly, it was neat to be inside the crater, but the views were (in my humble opinion) much better from above.
We spent a bit of time relaxing there by the little lagoon before making our way out and back down. All told the hike took us just over 8 hours and I can honestly say my poor friends lost a solid hour waiting on me to get my act together at various stages 😉
But this is not an easy hike, be warned. If you’re relatively fit and definitely interested, you can do it. But if you haven’t walked more than across the street in a while and you can’t remember what a sore muscle feels like, I’d highly suggest getting yourself in slightly better form first.
The next day we rewarded ourselves (and our tired, tired muscles) with a couple of hours at the island’s Ojo de Agua, a natural spring-fed pool with refreshingly cool mineral water.
It also happens to be done up quite nicely, with an onsite restaurant, sun chairs, and even a rope to swing from into the crystal clear pool. A really great place to relax with a book and quickly becoming a post-volcano ritual among travelers of all ilks.
We went and grabbed some pizza in town and headed out on the 3 o’clock ferry just as a storm was rolling in over the island, sending us off quite beautifully, actually.
All told, if you can manage to rent some form of transportation or come with your own OR are a little more industrious and willing to walk/hitchhike/etc a fair bit, the rustic Ometepe island is not to be missed.
And let’s be real, climb that damn volcano so you too can brag to all your friends that you did it!
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