I read in guidebooks that Isla Ometepe is a very nice island in Lake Cocibolca. However I was not too interested in visiting the island. A discussion with an American family in Granada changed my mind. The family came from Chicago in United States. Last year the wife and their children had visited Isla Ometepe. She thought that Isla Ompete was so beautiful so the whole family decided to go to Nicaragua for a second time. I decided I should visit Isla Ometepe as well at least for a couple of days.
There are four possible routes to the island: Boat from Granada to Altagarcia on the eastern side of Isla Ometepe, the second one is boat from San Jorge to Moyogalpa the main municipal Centre on the west side of the island, the third one is boat from San Jorge to San José del Sur on the west side of the Island about ten kilometers south west from Moyogalpa, the last one is boat from San Carlos to Altagarcia. The boat from Granada departed two times a week Monday and Thursday leaving at two a clock in the afternoon. Travel time is four hours to Altagarcia. If the boat can´t dock in Alta Garcia due to bad weather it will continue to San Carlos on the other side of Lake Cocibolca. This can happened if strong winds occurs which is quite likely. This is a clear disadvantage since the journey down to San Carlos on the south east side of Lake Cocibolca is ten hours travel time more. Arriving in San Carlos in the middle of the night was not a risk I was prepared to take.(I have received comments that the boat arrives San Carlos in the early morning). I decided to go to Moyogalpa.
The route form Granada is about two hour by chicken bus to Rivas. In Rivas one can take another chicken bus or a taxi to San Jorge for the one hour boat journey to Moyogalpa. The first chicken bus out from Granada in the morning to Rivas leaves at 07:45 from the bus terminal in the south of Granada. Walk Calle Altravesada south until a petrol station appears on the right hand side of the road. Turn left just after the petrol station walk fifty meters to the southern bus terminal. The chicken bus is a cheap and safe way to travel to Rivas. However do arrive early at the bus terminal since the chicken bus will fill up completely, it´s not nice to stand for two hour in a chicken bus.
In Rivas there is two options another chicken bus or a taxi to San Jorge. I did take the taxi but taxi journeys are dangerous in Nicaragua so take care. I did check my driver’s license for the taxi, that the man in front of me was the man in the license papers. Inspect the car it should have red registration plates and a taxi sign, if not it´s an illegal taxi. Do not on any circumstances let your taxi driver pick up any local people. Negotiate the price before departure. The best way to travel with taxi in Nicaragua is asking trustworthy local people for example at the hotel to order the taxi for you. It will be both cheaper and safer.
At the dock in San Jorge the pier is closed with a fence and gate. Normally one needs to pay a small entrance fee to enter the pier in San Jorge. The community decided they should earn some money from all tourists to Isla Ometepe. This fee does not exist on Isla Ometepe. If the guard charges the fee pay it, he might as well let you in without charging you. It is very important to have a lot of small Cordobas handy for entrance fees and boat tickets. After passing the gate walk all the way down to the end of the pier immediately and try to find the boat going to Moyogalpa. There are places looking like box offices, but they do not exist, you pay for the boat journey on the boat or ferry. It pays off to be early so you can choose there to sit on these small boats. If you easily get seasick it might be better to take the ferry. These small boats are surprisingly unstable and rock a lot even in almost calm weather. After a one hour nice journey with wonderful views of volcano Conceptión on the right hand side of the boat it´s time to dock in Moyogalpa.
I decided to stay at The American Café in Moyogalpa I paid 25 US Dollar per night for a room with air condition. The front towards the street doesn´t look too promising but the rooms are indeed very nice. The owners Robert and Simone are a retired American couple. They had earlier run an Italian Pizzeria on the islands of Turks and Caicos. For most people these islands are a dream destination in the Caribbean, with world famous beaches, people pay top dollar to visit Turks and Caicos. However for Robert and Simone it was a nightmarish time. They were robbed eight times before deciding to leave the so called Caribbean paradise on earth. Which is the safest place there we can live without fear of terror every day? After some investigation they found out that Isla Ometepe in Nicaragua was such a place. Isla Ometepe had it all, friendly people, no criminality, fantastic nature, an eco-tourism heaven.
Moyogalpa is a nice place to stay for about two to three day. First thing is renting a bike and take the four kilometer ride to the amazing Punta Jesus Maria. Follow the main tarred road towards Altagarcia (there are two roads to Altagarcia). After about three kilometers you will pass an airfield used for domestic flights to Managua and San Carlos. Take the first dirt road turning to the right about five hundred meters to a kilometer after the airfield. Follow this very nice dirt road avenue all the way down to the Punta. There is a small café selling coffee and still drinks at the end of the dirt road. Park your cycle and lock it up, walk all the way out on the narrow Punta for a wonderful view of Volcanos Conceptión on the right and Maderas to the left. This is the only place there one can see the volcanos in one view at the same time on Isla Ometepe.
The narrow Punta is unbelievable; waves from Lake Cocibolca breaks from two different directions at the Punta in the end waves are smashing into each other but one can still walk very far out into the water on a narrow edge. One should visit Punta Jesus Maria several times and at different times of the day, it´s particularly rewarding to visit to see the sunset. There are many birds in this area Herons and kingfishers are common.
For the second day in Moyogalpa rent another bike for the ten kilometer ride to reserve Charco Verde. Travel in the same direction as Punta Jesus Maria. At the dirt road junction continue for another six to seven kilometers on the main road towards Altagarcia. When the main road starts to climb up on Volcano Conceptión and turn to the left look for the dirt road to the right down to Charco Verde. This reserve has monkeys, birds and wonderful views of Isla Ometepe. Next to the reserve is a butterfly farm.
For the third day you can climb the active volcano Concepción 1610 meter high. However this can be a dangerous task so hire a guide for this journey. There are several people killed on both volcanos on Isla Ometepe so do not underestimate this adventure. Dress properly Volcano Conceptión can be very cold and rainy. The last leg to the top has nasty boulders so protect your knees and shanks you may have to move on all four hands and feet.
After a couple of days in Moyogalpa it´s time to reallocate to Playa Santo Domingo. There are two possibilities the cheap chicken buses or the very expensive taxis. The chicken bus costs only sixteen Cordoba about fifty to sixty cents while the taxi costs at least twenty US dollar. If you choose to go by chicken bus sit on the right hand side of the bus so you can see the road junction coming up on the right hand side two kilometers outside Altagarcia. This twenty kilometer journey will take at least an hour. The road sign will be Santa Cruz or Mérida but there is only one tarred road junction from the main road between Moyogalpa and Altagarcia! Jump off the chicken bus and wait for another chicken bus to Mérida or Balgüa, or walk the steep three kilometer downhill to Oja de Agua junction and continue for another three kilometer flat road to Playa Santo Domingo.
In Playa Santo Domingo I stayed at hotel Xalli. The hotel is located on the road towards Santa Cruz just outside of Playa Santo Domingo. Xalli is probably one of the best hotels in the whole Nicaragua. This will cost some money but it´s very well spent money, great value for money. The restaurant serves only two different dishes but the food is maybe the best in Nicaragua and very affordable. The breakfast is excellent and included in the price of the room. The TV in the room had more channels than I have ever seen in any hotel anywhere of the world. I am not used to see a Wallander film produced in Sweden in another country but it was possible at hotel Xalli.
Main points of interests around Playa Santo Domingo are Ojo de Agua swim in clean volcano water, Playa Santo Domingo beach, River Istian and the Maderas Volcano. Ojo de Agua is a huge artificial swimming pool in the middle of the jungle. Although this is a human made swimming pool the water has amazing colors and is incredibly nice to jump into on a sweltering hot humid day. Since most people visits during the middle of the day I recommend visiting in the late afternoon. Start walking the four kilometers from Playa Santo Doming at about three a clock in the afternoon. Stay in Ojo de Agua until sunset and the closing time for the day. Walk back to Playa Santo Domingo in the cobolt blue hour when the temperature and humidity drops for a nice cool stroll in the early evening light.
Seven kilometers from Playa Santo Domingo are one of Isla Ometepes most beautiful places Playa Istian and Istian River. I did the walk other people might prefer a bike for the journey, it´s difficult to tell how to do it? This depends on your abilities on the bike! The first part of the road is tarred and in good shape, but the latter section is a completely different story, maybe best to walk with the bike to avoid a serious accident for some distances of the road.
Walk from Playa Santo Domingo towards Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz take the right hand fork in the road signed Mérida. After a couple of kilometers you are in a far more remote part of Isla Ometepe, local people are not used to meet foreigners. If you buy anything in a local farm shop, prices drops considerably compared to Playa Santo Domingo and Moyogalpa. Follow the dirt road until a sign Kayaks for rent. Turn right at the sign, after about one hundred meter you will be met by barking dogs, just go past them and continue on the path down to Playa Istian. At the shore you can rent kayaks to paddle up the Istian River. Beware it´s a long way to Istian River and not a journey for the unfit tourists. If you go you will be rewarded with crocodiles, birds and an unusually beautiful landscape.
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