Welcome to Ometepe, Nicaragua, a captivating island nestled in the heart of the country’s largest lake. With its pristine natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and unique landscapes, Ometepe has become a hidden gem for adventurous travelers seeking an off-the-beaten-path destination.
This enchanting island in Lake Nicaragua is formed by two majestic volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas. In fact, Ometepe’s name comes from the Nahuatl words ome, meaning “two,” and tepetl, which translates to “mountain.” The twin volcanoes rise dramatically from the shimmering waters, creating a surreal backdrop left me in awe. From lush rainforests teeming with exotic wildlife to pristine beaches, Ometepe offers a captivating and immersive travel experience.
Steeped in history and mythology, Ometepe holds a special place in the hearts of the locals. The island is home to ancient petroglyphs, archaeological sites, and a vibrant community that embraces its indigenous roots. As you explore the island, you’ll encounter friendly locals proud to share their customs, traditions, and folklore.
I visited Ometepe in the spring of 2022 with my friend and guide Carlos. Together, we explored the island’s vibrant food and culture and marveled at its natural beauty. It’s a true hidden gem in the heart of Central America and was somewhat of a peaceful respite in the middle of a grueling trip. Here’s everything you need to know about Ometepe, Nicaragua!
The first thing you’ll want to do is travel to the lakeside town of Rivas. Just six kilometers from Rivas is Puerto San Jorge, the town where the Ometepe Ferry departs. The ferry runs roughly every thirty minutes during the day, so you should have no issues catching one no matter what time you arrive.
If you’re hungry and aren’t in a rush to get to the island, there are numerous restaurants and food vendors in the area. I recommend El Jarolito, a traditional bar and restaurant at the port. It’s a great place to have some delicious gallo pinto, eggs, and cheese, which will only set you back $8 USD.
Elsewhere, you can also find vendors selling fresh fruit, quesillos, snow cones, nacatamales, and a rich seafood and cabbage stew called levanta muerto! Levanta muerto literally translates to “raise the dead” and is touted as a hangover cure. I recommend enjoying the broth, cabbage, and meaty chunks of lobster with a fresh tortilla.
After you’ve filled your belly, head over to the port to catch the ferry to Ometepe. To get around the island, you’ll want to take your car. The permit to do so costs 82.50 Cordobas ($2.25 USD). It costs 700 Cordobas ($19.10 USD) to transport the car across the lake, and an additional 50 Cordobas ($1.36 USD) per passenger. In total, the ferry ride only cost us 882.50 Cordobas, or roughly $24.08 USD.
There are two main towns on the Ometepe. These towns, Moyogalpa and Altagracia, lie on opposite sides of Volcán Concepción on the northern part of the island.
Both are small—Moyogalpa’s population is less than 3,000, while Altagracia tops out at just over 4,000. But despite their small size, there’s plenty to do on Ometepe.
I recommend staying at Hotel Restaurant Ometepetl. The hotel boasts 14 rooms and is just minutes from the port. The rooms are tidy and comfortable, and the staff is wonderful. They greeted me with fresh starfruit juice
The first town I visited in Ometepe, Nicaragua was Moyogalpa. Located on the northwestern side of the island, Moyogalpa is a small, charming destination that still feels quite authentic despite Ometepe’s growing tourism.
The streets are lined with colorful homes and buildings, and lots of street food shops and vendors. Some serve fresh tortillas with cheese and salsa, while others offer crunchy chicken empanadas and a corn and cacao drink called tiste.
One of my favorites was the hot and crispy fried chicken at Nic en Pollo. It’s perfectly golden brown and cooked to perfection without being greasy. I highly recommend it!
Ometepe is the largest island in Lake Nicaragua and offers plenty of natural wonders to explore. On my way to La Punta de Jesus Maria, Carlos and I came across an abandoned airstrip with a stunning view of Volcán Concepción looming over the island.
As for La Punta de Jesus Maria itself, it’s paradise. This peninsula that sticks out into the lake boasts beautiful black sand beaches. It’s a great place to swim and enjoy the warm weather. And if you head out to the peninsula’s tip, you can see both Volcán Concepción and Volcán Maderas on opposite sides of the island!
Around the island, you’ll also come across lots of local craft vendors. Not far from the peninsula, I met one named Roger Martinez, who turns bronze and silver wires into jewelry! Most of his work contains wires twisted into spiral designs, which he says symbolizes the volcanoes. He makes everything from necklaces to bracelets, so have some cash on hand to buy some unique souvenirs!
One of the top recreational areas in Ometepe, Nicaragua is a location called Ojo de Agua. Meaning “eye of water,” Ojo de Agua is a beautiful natural spring on the northeast side of the island that’s fed by an underground river. There, you can beat the heat and swim and dive at your leisure. They even have a Tarzan swing that you can do high jumps and flips off of!
When you get thirsty, you can buy fresh pineapple juice and other drinks from the vendors. There are also changing rooms, so you don’t need to arrive or leave in your bathing suit. It’s one of my favorite spots on the island!
If you head to Merida on the island’s southwestern coast, you’ll find Bar y Restaurante El Guia. Here, we met a restaurant worker named Simon, who also keeps bees. He’s also up for a hike and will take you up Volcán Maderas if you want.
While I didn’t have the time necessary for a hike, I was curious about his beekeeping. The bees in his hives produce an enormous amount of honey—enough to fill several large buckets! The honey is fresh and flowery, with a unique flavor I’d never had before.
While you’re there, try some handmade coconut ice cream. The restaurant workers make it by combining frozen coconut and condensed milk until it has the icy texture of a sorbet. Having some is a flavorful way to beat the harsh Nicaraguan sun!
When you’re ready to have a full, sit-down meal in Ometepe, Nicaragua, head over to Caballito de Mar restaurant. This rustic beach eatery stands along the shores of the lake in the Merida area, just five minutes from Bar y Restaurante El Guia.
I highly recommend their meaty and grilled tilapia, as well as their buttery steamed tilapia. Both come with various vegetables, including juicy tomatoes and smoky onions and green peppers. The grilled tilapia had a crispy skin that contrasted nicely with the softer, flakier meat. Try them with some plantains for a sweet and savory bite!
Arguably the most serene moment from my time in Ometepe, Nicaragua, happened at Playaita Peru. This gorgeous beach lies on Ometepe’s southwestern shore, not far from Santa Maria. It offers a perfect view of Volcán Concepción across the water.
The views here are spectacular, but the sunsets are otherworldly. I was lucky enough to witness the day melt into night, the volcano backlit against fiery streaks of orange and gold in the sky. If you want, you can even take a kayak out onto the water and enjoy views of both volcanoes! It’s a must when visiting Ometepe!
Nicaragua may not be very high on many peoples’ travel bucket lists, but so much awaits curious travelers when they visit. Ometepe is an oasis at the country’s heart, brimming with authentic food and culture and memorable experiences.
It was a major highlight of my trip across Nicaragua, and I can’t recommend it enough. Go to Nicaragua. Meet its incredible people. Try the food. I think you’ll have an amazing time. Book a trip to Ometepe, Nicaragua today to experience it for yourself!