Isla de Ometepe: Nicaragua’s tranquil lake island that’s brimming with adventure

Things to do on Ometepe Island | Nicaragua travel moyogalpa

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Welcome to the place of crazy sunsets and sublime tranquility, with a dash of adventure for those who seek it. This guide is going to tell you all you need to know about visiting Ometepe Island, including things to do on Ometepe, where to eat, how to hire transportation and the best Ometepe hostels.

I’ll also go through how to get from San Juan del Sur, León, Popoyo and Granada to Ometepe Island, including the times for the buses and ferry. Ometepe is a pain to get around, but I’ll do my best to clear up transport options for you.

Despite being a solid part of the backpacking trail in Nicaragua, lots of the island still feels very remote. Cows and chickens wander the dusty roads, locals head out at dawn to cast their fishing nets, and as night falls over the island so does a blanket of thick, dark silence. (Lol, jk, so many cicadas).

Granada to Ometepe Island

After this post on things to do on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, you may also want to have a gander of:

For me, Ometepe Island was an escape from the buzz and excitement of Granada and León, and a chance to clear my mind during my first week sola after Andy and I went our separate ways. Parting with my new travel buddy Asha who went off to party in León, getting from Granada to Ometepe was my first travel experience truly alone – though I made friends with a German and then a Nicaraguan on the way before bumping into a Dutch guy I knew previously, so is travel ever really solo?!

Things to do on Ometepe Island | Nicaragua travel sunset punta jesus maria

Anyway, what was meant to be a time to sit in a hammock and think about which direction I wanted my life to go quickly turned into 6 days of new adventures as I realised the pensive life was never really for me. There are so many things to do on Ometepe Island that I was never stuck for a distraction, and never short of people to make friends with as Ometepe hostels tend to be quite small and isolated – perfect for getting to know fellow guests.

The interesting thing about Ometepe is that it’s essentially just made of 2 volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. The larger of the two – Volcán Concepción – is still active, and last properly erupted in 2007. There’s just a small bar of land between them that stops this being two separate islands. The smaller volcano is dormant and actually contains a lagoon in its crater; this one is called Volcán Maderas.

I’d say Ometepe isn’t somewhere to pop to just for a couple of days; due to the effort of getting around and the amount of things to do, I would say you need at the very least 4 nights to experience it properly. Let me tell you how in what aims to be the most comprehensive guide to Ometepe Island on the internet.

P.s. did you know, the logo of Toña beer actually depicts the view of Volcán Concepción from the airstrip on Ometepe Island. Legendary!

Are there ATMs on Ometepe Island?

The only ATMs you’ll find on the whole of Ometepe Island are in the town of Moyogalpa. However, sometimes these do not work, so it’s best to stock up before you make your journey from San Juan del Sur or Granada to Ometepe. Check my list to see the ATMs that gave me free cash withdrawals in Nicaragua.

Are there ATMs on Ometepe Island Nicaragua?

Getting around Ometepe Island

Ometepe is a lot larger than I expected, bearing in mind it’s an island in a lake, not in the sea, and looking at a map I sort of imagined I could leisurely cycle round it, but that’s not the case. By far the biggest bane of travel on Ometepe Island is getting around with terrible infrastructure and super-sporadic bus times (I’ve written out the bus timetables for you at the very end of this guide).

Private taxis are expensive for tourists, so unless you’re really successful at hitch-hiking your safest bet is usually to rent a scooter or ATV (as long as you’re comfortable riding with your backpacks on, of course).

Ometepe hostels will all have connections with vehicle rental companies, and for the most part they will all offer them at the same price unless they’re having to drive it out way into the sticks for you – Moyogalpa tends to have the cheapest deals for this reason. Here’s a rough guide to rental prices:

Bicycles: $5 USD per day

Scooters: $15-20 (there are cheaper ones available for as little as $10 but I was warned that they’ll find other ways to charge you)

Motorbikes: $20-35

ATVs: $60+

Remember to insist on getting a helmet, and take photos of every angle of the vehicle before you set off!

Things to do on Ometepe Island | Nicaragua travel hire moped scooter atv bike

13 worthwhile things to do on Ometepe Island

When I first arrived, I wasn’t convinced there were going to be that many things to do on Ometepe, but Christ on a badly-maintained rental bike was I wrong. There’s everything on offer from serious hikes to adrenaline rushes to peaceful relaxation, so take your pick!

1. Hike to the lake crater in Volcán Maderas

This is the smaller of the two volcanos; the one on the east of Ometepe Island. It’s not active, and it’s not as steep. The hike is still worth writing home about though, so don’t go in unprepared just because it’s the lesser of two evils. There can be a lot of mud on the route which makes it slippery, so wear your sturdiest shoes and grab yourself a support stick on the way up.

A guide is mandatory as the trail markings are not the best, and the day starts early so you’ll need to book it by at least the afternoon before. Those who make it to the very top are rewarded with a lookout over the lake that has made its home within the crater of Volcán Maderas, as well as views of the rest of the island. Another 30 minute hike will take you down to the lagoon, which you can swim in if feeling brave.

This hike can be started from El Porvenir, Balgue or Mérida, depending on where you’re staying, and takes up to 9 hours to complete. Price will depend on the size of your group and starting point, but should be no more than $30 USD.

2. Challenge yourself with the Volcán Concepción hike

The big-boy volcano. This one is still active, which I guess adds to the excitement that if the hike miraculously doesn’t kill you, the volcano still might. Luckily, there are two versions to this hike, one that goes just half-way up to El Floral lookout point, and one that goes 600m further all the way up to the crater.

On this longer hike (which is said to be the most difficult hike in Nicaragua) please be aware that a lot of the ground at the top is loose ash, which means it’s particularly difficult for those with weak knees, and you’re likely to have some slips coming down.

On a clear day, the views from the summit are said to be unbelievable, but on a cloudy day you’re probably going to hate yourself for thinking this 5 hours of uphill slog was a good idea. Fingers crossed for you!

ometepe hostels nicaragua

The longer hike leaves at around 4am (though this may vary depending on where your accommodation is), and you’re going to need to take plenty of snacks and as much water as you can carry. Lots of the Ometepe hostels will offer to arrange a packed lunch for you.

There is a 100 Córdobas entry fee to the volcano which you’ll need to bring in cash. The hikes must be guided; you can expect a cost of up to $40 USD, but banding together a group of hikers will bring this price down significantly.

3. Chill for sunset at Punta Jesus Maria

So good, I went twice! The geography of this peninsula is stunning in itself, but at sunset it’s really something else. Sat on the black sand, with an active volcano behind you, watching pink skies develop as you sip on an ice-cold Toña beer is the perfect way to end your day. It’s totally free to visit Punta Jesus Maria, but you’ll want to have a think about how you’re going to get there and back (as with everything on Ometepe Island!).

Things to do on Ometepe Island | Nicaragua travel sunset punta jesus maria

The turning to Punta Jesus Maria is on the main road a few kilometres south of Moyogalpa, marked by a big sign on the right that you can’t miss. There’s 750m or so of dirt track to get down before you reach the beach huts of the peninsula, which is fine on the way there but can be tricky when it gets too dark, so lots of people leave just before the sunset is over.

I made the mistake of going on a bicycle the first time which made for a horrible ride back with no lights, but the second time I was smart enough to hire a tuktuk driver for $5 USD from Moyogalpa. You have to arrange a tuktuk from the town, there aren’t any waiting to find new customers up at Punta Jesus Maria.

4. Watch the end of the day from Moyogalpa port

If you’re staying in Moyogalpa but don’t want to trek all the way to Punta Jesus Maria, just take a stroll down to the port in Moyogalpa to catch one of the blindingly beautiful sunsets that this side of the island has to offer. You’ll see the fishermen and workers of the last ferry Ometepe runs finally ending their day as the sun comes down over the silky smooth water of the lake. Might even catch sight of some terrapins! Head to the left of the port and past the food stalls to sit on the wall for the best views.

Things to do on Ometepe Island | Nicaragua travel moyogalpa port sunset

5. Loop round Charco Verde

Charco Verde is the lake within the island within the lake, and while not absolutely fascinating, it is a nice place to have a walk around under the shadow of Volcán Maderas. We saw plenty of wildlife including terrapins and herons, and at the entrance to the park there is a butterfly farm to explore too.

Halfway round the boardwalk loop, you’ll come to a black-sanded beach, Playa Bancon, where you can swim in the outer lake (you’re not allowed to swim in Charco Verde itself), but somehow the tides were in (please explain?!) and there wasn’t much sand left to be had.

Entry to the Charco Verde park loop cost 165 Córdobas, and we spent about an hour and a half wandering round and chilling on some benches.

To get there, my friend and I decided to cycle from Moyogalpa – our hostel told us it would take 45 minutes, but on shit bikes it took us 90. In hindsight, we should have just caught the bus to San José del Sur.

6. Traverse the ziplines

Right next to Charco Verde, you can find Mirador del Diablo, a small company that offers 11 ziplines and 17 platforms with impressive views of the island and lake. Their online presence is pretty lacking, but your accommodation should be able to hook you up with a contact to make a booking.

7. Get in the holiday mood at Ojo de Agua

Ojo de Agua was kind of a weird excursion for me, because by the description people on the island gave me I expected it to be a very natural-looking thermal spring in the middle of the forest, with not much else around. In reality, though the water may be natural it’s very much a manmade affair, and just looks like the type of pool complex you’d find in a holiday home park, with the exception that the bottom of the pool is rocks, not tiles. Nevertheless, it’s a chilled place to hang out.

There are a few seat swings in the water as well as a rope swing, you’ll be able to grab a deck chair as long as it’s not too busy, and the resort is well-catered by an on-site restaurant.

Entry costs 100 Córdobas, and you’d only want to spend an hour or two there, not a full day. You could get the bus to drop you off by the entrance to the side road and walk the rest of the way, but it would be best to drive a scooter or ATV there.

Things to do on Ometepe Island | Nicaragua travel ojo de agua

8. Get sandy on the beach

Though there are little bays of sand to be found here and there on Ometepe Island, it’s widely accepted that the best beaches are around Santo Domingo. Here, you’ll find yellow sand rather than the black volcanic ash on the rest of the island, and a few small business built along the road to cater to beach-bums. Obviously there are no waves to surf on, but this makes it the perfect spot for a paddleboard.

Santo Domingo is only a little way down the road from Ojo de Agua, so lots of people combine it into one relaxing day trip.

9. Kayak through the mangroves

In the centre of the island, a lot of the terrain becomes mangroves, with the Istián River leading in from the lake through the forest. Starting from either Altagracia or Playa el Perú (near Mérida), you can take a guided tour down the river and into the lake for 2 hours of paddley fun. This costs $20 USD and can be reserved through most Ometepe hostels.

10. Taste the chocolate of El Pital

El Pital, the self-proclaimed Chocolate Paradise, is built on a chocolate farm that produces the magical brown stuff from cacao tree to bar. You can see how this process is done by partaking in one of their chocolate factory tours. There are 2 hour tour options for $15USD (book in advance here ), or 3-day courses for $1200.

Apparently the whole experience is maaaajorly hippie, so if that makes you queasy perhaps give it a miss. Their website literally says ‘we sing to our cacao’ and I really don’t know whether or not to take it seriously.

11. Attend Pizza Night at El Zopilote

Pizza night at El Zopilote is pretty legendary on the central part of the island. Hidden about 100 steps up from the main road in Santa Cruz, this bar is a hubbub of activity on a Tuesday. It’s no quiet affair, with around 50 people crammed around shared tables being made fresh pizzas and calzones while they drink wine and dance to whatever techno shite is blaring out of the speakers. The food is GOOD, and starts from $5USD with vegan options available.

It does attract some of the hippie folk who volunteer down at El Pital; my highlight of the night was watching a man in a loincloth decide that was a little too burdensome for him and thus stripping down to his underpants to dance like he’d finally reached Nirvana. Free entertainment at its finest!

Arrange for a taxi or hire private transport to get back from El Zopilote if you can, as it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We walked to and from Balgue, and with all the unchained guard dogs on the unlit roads it was a fairly unnerving journey. Luckily, we were in a group of 4 so could look big enough to keep the dogs at bay, but one of our party had a dog phobia which resulted in a panic attack. Funsies.

El Zopilote is just a few shades above pitch black so here’s the best picture I could take of the kitchen on the night:

pizza el zopilote Things to do on Ometepe hostels | Nicaragua travel

12. Sink some beers at Little Morgan’s

Tucked away just outside Santa Cruz, Little Morgan’s is a bar that’s become popular as a place for backpackers to drink the night away. It’s a pretty unique-looking hut with a lively bar and access to the lakefront, and offers plenty of spots to chill and make friends. If you end up getting carried away and drinking more than the limit, there are hostel rooms too.

13. Climb up to San Ramon Waterfall

The San Ramon Waterfall is a sight to behold, but in true natural wonder form it’s an arse-ache to get to. It’s located on the south-eastern side of the island, on the slopes of the smaller volcano, Volcán Maderas. At 40m+ in height, San Ramon waterfall is well worth the slightly arduous journey. Wear proper shoes and pack lots of water for this one!

Things to do on Ometepe Island | Nicaragua travel cascada San Ramon waterfall

– How to get to San Ramon Waterfall

To get to San Ramon waterfall, you can take a bus to San Ramon town to the start of the hike, which leaves Moyogalpa at 9:30am daily – bear in mind that the bus back from San Ramon to Altagracia and Moyogalpa leaves at 3pm. Tell the driver you want to get off at Cascada San Ramon. There are no buses directly from Balgue.

Alternatively, hire a scooter/ATV and drive yourself there if you want to go more flexibly. It’s about an hour’s drive on a scooter from Moyogalpa. The last 15 minutes or so to the entrance of the park is a really difficult ride though, which potholes everywhere and crumbled slabs of concrete sticking up. Not ideal for unexperienced riders.

– The hike to San Ramon Waterfall

Once you get to the entrance, you can park outside and leave your helmets in the office by the gate. You’ll be asked to pay 100 Córdobas cash for entry, then you can begin your hike. Go past the small collection of buildings at the top of the park’s driveway (which is apparently where you can eat and use the loo but when we went everything was closed and the public toilets had no locks or running water), then veer left up the track.

Things to do on Ometepe Island | Nicaragua travel hike cascada San Ramon waterfall

The hike is moderately difficult, with steep hills the whole way and a few rocky ascents at the end. People with previous knee injuries will probably struggle. If you have an ATV or motorbike with a large engine, you can pay an extra $2 USD to actually drive up the first third of the way, but a scooter wouldn’t make the hills.

The hike is just under 4km, and is said to take 90 minutes for most people, but of course it took me 2 hours with a lot of stops. Keep your eyes peeled for subtle arrows painted onto rocks that signal you need to cross the river to the right. Missing this junction will cost you.

From there, it’s only 15 minutes or so of upwards trekking to the waterfall, which opens out onto a clearing in all its cascading glory. There’s a small pool to swim in below, so pack your speedos and enjoy a spot of relaxation before heading back down. The park closes at 5:30pm, so make sure you make it out before they lock the gates.

Rocky trail on the hike to san ramon waterfall isla de ometepe nicaragua

Ometepe Hostels for Budget Travellers

In my view, there are two hostel options to be considered, and if you have time I’d actually advise staying in both to get the two different views of the island. When I first got to Ometepe Island, I figured I should stay in the town centre to be able to get around – the remoteness of some of the Ometepe hostels was intimidating.

And while it’s true that this is the best place to stay on Ometepe Island if using buses, the lack of frequency for most routes on the bus timetable will soon have you renting your own transport anyway, so this is kind of a moot point. I stayed in one place in Moyogalpa but really don’t feel it’s worth a mention here. Instead, take a look at these low-cost Ometepe hostels:

La Urraca Loca Hostel

For tranquility on a budget, La Urraca Loca has all you need. This Ometepe hostel is located on the Volcán Maderas side of the island, in Balgue. It’s small, quiet and clean, with 2 private doubles and a dorm. The place is run by a really chill Spanish girl who speaks perfect English and is super helpful with anything and everything. It’s a basic place tucked away up a dirt track, but that only adds to its charm. Also, two dogs that are adorable. Winner winner chicken dinner.

To get to this Ometepe hostel, there are two direct buses from Moyogalpa to Balgue a day, at 10:15am and 3:45pm (35 Córdobas). Otherwise, you’ll need to get the bus to Altagracia at 12pm and then pick up the 1:30pm to Balgue (20 + 20 Córdobas), or if later head to El Quino at 6pm and then connect with the 7:10pm. There are no Balgue buses on a Sunday.

Private taxis can be arranged for $18 USD.

Hostel Life is Good

Now, this is not one of the most luxurious of Ometepe hostels, but I’m recommending Hostel Life is Good simply because it’s a hub for solo travellers. Facilities are pretty basic, but for those who want to socialise and find someone to share an ATV with, it’s a great place to mingle with like-minded backpackers.

It is a little outside of Moyogalpa, but the hostel offers a tuktuk service from the port; ask around when you get off the ferry. Ometepe Island has a pretty friendly community who will be happy to help!

Ometepe Hotels & Lodges

There’s more to Ometepe than hostels. While there are no large Ometepe hotels, it is home to some smaller establishments if you have a more healthy budget. There are two that I’m going to recommend based on the views of happy guests.

La Bambouseraie

I mean, wow! This small cluster of lodges on a permaculture farm is a serene place to rest your head. Enjoy a smidgeon of luxury with nothing but the sounds of cicadas in your stilted bamboo cabin, and in the morning munch on a made-to-order breakfast from their well-rated kitchen.

Xalli Beach Hotel

Probably the most modern establishment on the island, staying at Xalli Beach Hotel is like stepping into a home design magazine. Located on the north/central side of the island, you’ll enjoy easy access to one of Ometepe Island’s best beaches at Playa San Fernando.

How to get to Ometepe Island

Here’s where things get funky. Don’t miss out on my survival guide to chicken buses – this was written for Belize but is very relevant for Nicaragua, too!

Granada to Ometepe Island

Unless you can afford to fork out $60 USD for a 1.5 hour private taxi, the journey from Granada to Ometepe starts with a chicken bus to Rivas. Check with your hostel for directions to the correct bus terminal as there are several in the city. The one you want is Terminal de Buses Rivas, which sits over the bridge on Calle Palmira with Calle Boca Negra.

These chicken buses leave 7 times per day, from 5:50am to 3:10pm. Costs of the journey from Granada to Rivas vary depending on who you ask (one of the things noted in my Nicaragua backpacking tips), but on my particular day I was charged 50 Córdobas for the seat and an extra 30 for storing my backpack on the top of the bus.

When you get to Rivas, you’re going to need a thick skin. Scamming starts within a 2 mile radius of the town, as taxi drivers hop on early to lie to foreigners about how the last bus to San Jorge – where you get the Ometepe ferry – has already gone, or that you’ll have to wait hours for the next one. They’ll throw in all sorts of ‘good prices’ to get you off that bus before it gets to the terminal and into their car.

You need to do your best to ignore them, then once you get there exit the bus terminal by the main entrance behind you, take a right and stand on the street opposite a shop called ‘Distribuidora Israel’.

The minibus to San Jorge will pick you up from there for 20 Córdobas. Rivas is a bit of an attack on the senses, but it’s an interesting place to pass through. Not sure I’d be 100% keen on staying there, though it did make me appreciate the lack of chaos on Ometepe Island ever the more!

rivas to granada to ometepe

The minibus from Rivas will drop you right at the gates of the San Jorge port for the ferry. Ometepe touts will immediately try and grab your attention, but just take your time, read the board of timetables and go to the office of the cheapest company that departs next. There isn’t a whole lot of choice, but you may be put onto a ferry to Ometepe that leaves later because it costs more. Trust me.

The ferry ride will cost between 35 and 50 Córdobas. Here is the ferry timetable from San Jorge to Moyogalpa as of 2020:

Departure timeCompanyPrice
7:00Ferry Che Guevara50
7:45Ferry Ometepe 150
8:30Ferry Ometepe 350
9:00Ferry Cacique Nicarao50
10:30Ferry Ometepe 150
11:00Lancha Señora del Lago45
12:00Ferry Ometepe 350
12:30Lancha Santa Martha35
13:30Ferry Cacique Nicarao50
14:30Ferry Ometepe 150
15:30Lancha Señora del Lago45
16:00Ferry Che Guevara50
16:30Ferry Ometepe 350
17:00Lancha Santa Martha35
17:45Ferry Ometepe 150

You can also land at San José del Sur on Ometepe Island, which your accommodation may advise you to do instead of Moyogalpa. In that case, the ferry timetable from San Jorge is:

Departure timeCompanyPrice
09:30Ferry Gran Sultana50
14:00Lancha Mozorola35
17:00Ferry Gran Sultana50

There’s a 35 Córdobas port tax to pay at the gates to the port in cash. If you’re feeling peckish, there are a few food stalls outside the gates, so grab something before you go in because there’s nothing on the boat and no one to come round selling snacks. The ferries themselves aren’t hugely comfortable, but the ride is smooth, at least.

When you’re sat on the ferry, Ometepe doesn’t look that far, but it actually takes an hour to arrive in Moyogalpa’s port.

Once there, it’s a case of either taking a bus from outside the petrol station next to the port to your next destination on Ometepe Island, or hiring a tuktuk from the road. Remember to negotiate down as they will likely hit you with a heavy tourist rate knowing you’re straight off the boat.

ferry ometepe island nicaragua

Popoyo to Ometepe Island

There is a bus leaving from nearby Las Salinas to Rivas which costs 50 Córdobas plus an extra 50 for putting your backpack on top, but bearing in mind you’ll have to get a taxi from any beach accommodation to the town to get to the Las Salinas bus terminal anyway, the easiest way to get to Ometepe Island from here is to take a taxi to Rivas, and then get the ferry.

Ometepe is a fairly popular destination from Popoyo, so you should be able to find others in your hostel wanting to share the route.

The 90-minute taxi will cost a minimum of $20 USD, but might take some negotiating. Then, follow the instructions for the ferry outlined in the above section for Granada to Ometepe.

San Juan del Sur to Ometepe Island

As with going from Granada to Ometepe, when departing from San Juan del Sur you first need to get to Rivas. This is easy enough, with frequent departures from 5am to 5pm. It takes 45 minutes and should cost 30 Córdobas, with whatever they fancy charging you that day to store your backpack on board. Again, once you get to Rivas, the Granada to Ometepe section will tell you all you need to know from here.

san juan del sur granada to ometepe ferry bus rivas

León to Ometepe Island

If you want to skip over Granada and head straight from León to Ometepe Island, you’re going to need to get a taxi to León bus terminal, hop into a minibus to Managua for 50 Córdobas, connect with the chicken bus to Granada, and then continue on the journey listed above in the Granada to Ometepe section via Rivas and San Jorge.

This is going to be a LONG day and you really don’t want to be stuck in Rivas overnight if you miss the last ferry Ometepe receives, so leave as early as you can muster. Seriously though, why are you missing out Granada?!

Bus timetables for Ometepe

Time to get down and dirty in the numbers. These are accurate as of 2020, but seem fairly unlikely to change given locals know these times lovingly all off by heart.

Buses from Moyogalpa to Altagracia leave every hour or so, apart from on Sundays:

Moyogalpa to AltagraciaAltagracia to Moyogalpa

Buses with more interesting routes than just Moyogalpa to Altagracia look like this:

MoyogalpaSan JoséAltagraciaSanto DomingoBalgueMéridaSan Ramon

And back the other way…

San RamonMéridaBalgueSanto DomingoAltagraciaSan JoséMoyogalpa


How long to appreciate all the things to do on Ometepe Island? 5-6 days


Now that you’ve finished this post on things to do on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, you may also want to have a gander of:


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Last Updated on 23 December 2022 by Cuppa to Copa Travels

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