Ometepe Island in Nicaragua should brace itself for a tourism influx… Yes, some 24 tourist per week will now be flocking to the island, thanks to the long-awaited opening of the Island’s $12 million La Paloma Airport last week.
Yes, that’s right. And whopping 24 extra tourists! Every week!
But that’s the nature of this funky, yet sleepy island. Ometepe is a secluded environmentally-pristine paradise by nature. So, it’s probably just as well that the island’s new airstrip is only serving two flights each week from Managua.
A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this enchanting island is rich in wildlife and archeological importance. It is home to a plethora of pre-Columbian archaeological ruins, petroglyphs, statues and ceramics that demonstrate the antiquity of human settlement on its soil. The waters that surround the island are home to numerous species, such as sawfish and freshwater sharks.
Biosphere Reserves are sites recognized under the UNESCO's MAB Program, which innovates and demonstrates approaches to conservation and sustainable development. These reserves are under national sovereign jurisdiction, and they share their experience and ideas internationally within the World Network of Biosphere Reserves
Located in Lake Nicaragua – the largest lake in Central America – Ometepe is composed of two volcanoes –, Concepción and Maderas – which are connected by a narrow isthmus.
Visitors to Ometepe can easily spend a day or more enjoying a variety of activities, from exploring the island’s natural reserves and relaxing on its beaches, to fishing, bird watching, horse-back riding and learning about its pre-Columbian past.
Double Trouble: Volcanoes
Hikers can attempt to climb both volcanoes – one which is dormant one which is active – but it is highly recommended that you go with an experienced guide.
Concepción, the larger of Ometepe’s two volcanoes, forms an almost perfect conical shape at its peak and is the second tallest in Nicaragua, at1610 metres. An active volcano since 1880, Concepción has erupted sporadically, but with no major damage. The hike up Concepción is rigorous, requiring 10 hours or more, but it’s highly rewarding.
The trail takes you through farmland and tropical forests, where howler monkeys line the treetops, then over rocks and volcanic debris at the higher altitudes. The summit of Concepción becomes steep, but the payoff is a panoramic 360-degree view all the way to the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua to the west, and to its Caribbean Coast in the east.
At 1,400 metres, Maderas Volcano is not as high as Concepción and it is dormant. It is covered in cloud forest that features thick tropical vegetation alive with birds and monkeys. Hikers can climb Maderas in eight hours if the weather is clear. The payoff of the hike is a swimmable lagoon in the volcano’s crater. The water can be chilly, but a swim in its clear waters offers plenty of revitalization after the trek.
Ometepe has a few small towns where ancient traditions have been kept alive. The town of Altagracia offers numerous examples of local pre-Columbian ceramics, statues and petroglyphs, which are on display at the Museum of Ometepe. Alternatively, Altagracia also has a central park with a historic church and a wooden bell tower.
The Great (But Gentle) Outdoors
If you’re interested in exploring the nature of Ometepe without all the strenuous hiking, you can head to the island’s Charco Verde Reserve, an area that has avoided development and remains relatively wild. There you can enjoy kayaking, horseback riding, or a day at the beach by the green lagoon. Small cabanas for lodging cost only $US 20-30 a night.
Beaches, Birds & Boats
On the narrow isthmus that connects the volcanoes is Playa Santo Domingo. The stretch of beach is just over three kilometres long and is perfect for swimming. From the beach, you can hike along the forest trail of Peña Inculta to see birds and monkeys.
It’s all very peaceful and laid back. And if you don’t want to deal with all the hustle and bustle of Ometepe’s airport (only joking), you can jump on a ferry at San Jorge near Rivas. The ferry runs several times a day and costs just $US 2 – 3. A ferry also runs from Granada, but only on Mondays and Thursdays, once a day.