Ometepe, literally meaning “two hills” in the native Náhuatl language, has become one of Nicaragua’s main tourist attractions. It’s setting is something that Disney would have created; An island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua made up of two volcanoes, Volcano Concepcion rising 1,600 meters (5,280 feet, or one mile) which is an almost perfect symmetrical cone, and Volcano Madera at 1,394 meters (4,570 feet) which has a swimmable crater lake at the peak. You really can’t make this stuff up.
After about a month and a half in Granada without taking a trip, I decided to take a short weekend away to visit the island of Ometepe. Looking to just get away from technology and the city for a bit, I took my tent, sleeping bag, and a few changes of clothes.
The actual way to get to Ometepe from Granada is not that complicated, but the bus/boat schedules don’t seem to line of well (or at least not in the time that I went). The cheapest route is taking a bus from Granada to Rivas, a taxi from Rivas to San Jorge (about 10 minutes), and a boat from San Jorge to Moyogalpa (Ometepe’s main port). I arrived to the bus station in Granada at 9:45am, thinking the next bus would leave within a half hour, an hour tops. At 11:20am the bus finally left. Arriving in Rivas at 12:45pm, I took the taxi to San Jorge. From there, I jumped on an old wooden, rickety boat.
The moment I stepped on the boat, I knew this was going to be bad news. I have a history of getting sea sick, especially going to main tourist attractions. Not sure what it is, but it’s almost a guarantee. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Lake Titicaca in Peru, and the Drake Passage coming back from Antarctica. As soon as the boat took off from the port in San Jorge, I started feeling it. Within 5 minutes, I was ready to run out to the front of the boat to vomit. The problem with sea sickness is that there seems to be no end. One you start vomiting, it doesn’t stop. All you can think about is the movements of the boat as the waves push it up and down. And boats are rarely fast enough where this doesn’t last long.
So 5 minutes into the hour long boat ride, I was in trouble. At this moment, a miracle happened. Well, maybe not a miracle; it might make sense. Sweating profusely and figuring out where to head outside when the time comes, I leaned back and closed my eyes. I immediately felt 10x better. My stomach calmed and I eventually fell asleep. When the worker came around to collect money, I felt very sick again as I scrambled for my 35 cordobas. But after that, back to resting with my eyes closed. Waking up surprised, we had arrived! My first ever avoidance of sea sickness after I had already felt a bit of the sickness!
After arriving in Moyogalpa, I waited for about 45 minutes for the next bus to take my near my hostel, called La Posada Chico Largo. Including all traveling and waiting time, it took me about 6.5 hours to get to my final destination from Granada. Actual traveling time was only about 3 hours. Obviously I need to do better planning next time!
Arriving at my hostel, I had just enough time to set up my tent and then walk 100 feet down to the beach to watch the sunset. It was one of those surreal moments. Straight ahead of me, probably 5 miles away, was the slightly mountainous mainland Nicaragua and the city of Rivas with its 50 or so wind turbines. To me left was Volcano Maderas rising up out of the island. To my right was the sun setting over the island, lighting the partly cloudy sky with colors of yellow and orange. Directly behind me, not within sight because my close proximity to trees, was the towering Volcano Concepcion. It’s tough to top this complete environment while taking in the sunset.
Within even trying to meet anyone, I started talking to a Nicaraguan family who was staying at the same hostel. Celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, the couple brought a daughter, her husband, and their baby or 4 months old. They invited me to have a beer while we were talking, so of course I couldn’t say no to a chat with a Nicaraguan family. Sitting out on the hammocks and the rocking chairs, we hung out for a few hours, drinking a few beers, and the father telling me a bit about Nicaragua’s history. Honestly, I never realized how involved the US had been in Nicaragua’s history, and so recently. Just in the 80s, the US was funding one side of the rebellion while the Soviet Union was helping the other side. The US, trying to avoid a communist takeover, was putting many resources to help the Contras overturn the Sandinista rule. This is something that I have just skimmed the surface of, and I plan to do more research on this recent history. As of right now, it’s tough to give an opinion on the subject.
Back to Ometepe: the next morning I decided to rent a bicycle to explore the island. For $4, I rented a mediocre bicycle and started riding. With more hills than I had imagined, it turned into a pretty good bike ride. It had been about 3 months since I had ridden a bicycle, and I had forgotten how extremely satisfying the downhill stretches are after a tough climb!
I stopped in at a place called the Ojo del Agua (Eye of the Water). I hesitantly paid the $3 entrance fee, as the entrance fees automatically makes the place very touristy and usually pretty lame. I walked down about 200 feet and found a large, man-made pool surrounded by trees and full of “medicinal” water. A very relaxing environment. Being the awkward person there alone, I swam around for a bit trying to make small talk with people around. I met a Nicaraguan woman and her niece, who both live in Costa Rica but were traveling through Nicaragua for the weekend. We had a nice conversation and hung out in the pool for a good hour and a half. I was heading the way of their hotel, so we headed out together. In typical Nicaragua fashion, they had one bike between the two of them. The aunt sat on the bar behind the handlebars as the niece controlled the bike and pedaled. Flying down hills in this fashion, it’s nothing abnormal here in Nicaragua! I felt insecure enough trusting just one person on this old bicycle.
We finally reached Playa Santo Domingo, a long stretching beach on the isthmus connecting the two volcanoes. With incredible views of the close-by Volcano Maderas, it’s a great place to swim in the small waves caused by the winds on the lake. We ate lunch at a local spot overlooking the beach and the lake, and then we walked down the beach to see what else there was.
There are many moments that just feel like they should happen in Nicaragua but would be extremely rare in many other countries. Walking down the street, we had to jump out of the way because 20 galloping horses came by like a herd. Riding my bike, I was dodging people, cows, dogs, and even chickens. As I ate breakfast at a local restaurant my last morning there, a rooster came very close to me and gave a “good morning” cock-a-doodle-doo before moving on. These are moments that force you to stop and think where you are.
My last evening, I met a Swiss family who take summer trips together. A mother, father, and their three kids ages 3-10 years old, have traveled to Southeast Asia, Australia, and now Central America. You don’t meet many people who do this, so it was refreshing to see that it can be done. The parents are school teachers, so their free summers give them a lot of freedom. The kids were all fluent in French, pretty good in English and were also learning Spanish. It was great to meet them and see the kind of lifestyle they live!
After just 2 days and 2 nights, I made my way back to Granada. I am glad that I made the trip, but it was a lot of travel time for just a few nights. I plan to head back again and spend more time there. I know that I will be hiking at least one of the volcanoes in my time here, so that plan will be in the works. Until next time, Ometepe!