Getting onto the island of Ometepe
Upon making the decision to walk over the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua, there was one place that fellow travelers raved about: Ometepe. The Island is 19 km long with just under 30,000 people. To get to the island there are several means of transportation. The conversion rate is roughly 27 Córdobas per every 1USD. On the way there we chose a Ferry which was 50 cords from the port town of Rivas to Moyogalpa. The ride over is about two hours long with a view of large active volcano, Conception (typically cloud capped) and the smaller dormant volcano, Maderas as you get closer. The amount of backpackers on the Ferry in what was considered the offseason in the month of July was surprising.
Moyogalpa, the city that has everything and nothing to do
Once we were on the small island, few backpackers could be found without seeking them out directly. We had scheduled an Airbnb online, thinking it would be better to guarantee a place to stay or a better deal… turns out word of mouth is the best way to find a place to rest your head, on this little island. Back inside the village of Moyogalpa there were many choices of food, and ranging prices. Being an island, the food was a bit more expensive than you find in the mainland. There were a lot of locals living on the island though, so looking around we found a little café that the locals were at with cheap burgers, cold drinks and… Wi- Fi! Although at Hefziba B&B the beds were private, the Wi-Fi wasn’t bogged down, and free purified water was provided, there were little to no signs of life. We utilized the time that we had already paid for, enjoying our complementary breakfast of eggs and gallo pinto and papaya. We then rented bicycles for the day and made our way to Charco Verde Beach.
Biking to Charco Verde beach
Riding out of town we had to cross the only runway on the island, guarded by two guys packing AK47’s. It couldn’t have been more than 4 miles to get there but the single gear bike along with the blistering heat, endless hills and funny looks from people on carriages made the trip feel like we were riding all the way around the island. Scattered around the edge of the property were giant trees easily a couple hundred years old. Swimming proved to be more wading in a meter of fish muck in very shallow water, but did make us feel a lot more comfortable. On the ferry over, other travelers mentioned that there were Bull sharks in the lake, and sure enough when we googled it just to be sure, there were confirmed sightings of them in Lake Nicaragua. The beaches were beautiful black lava (not so great on the feat unless you’re looking for a pedicure, but beautiful nonetheless).
Heading to the other side of the island
The next day we decided to get up very early and rent motorbikes for the day. There are stations all around the island, especially in Moyogalpa. Caution is needed though, look around at a few stations before you make a decision, everything is with in walking or tuk-tuk (little motorbikes with carriages attached) distance. We rented motorbikes for roughly 25USD for a day because my brother preferred the quality, but we found them for as low as 15USD a day. The mission of the day was San Ramón waterfall, which is on the Maderas side of the island. The trip was an hour and a half ride with stunning scenery and a slight sprinkle inciting the giggles of all of us. The entrance is a little hole in the wall but with almost any map of the island you can find your way seeing as the roads are very minimal. Our first time we passed the entrance, we were unsure and kept going. When we finally recognized that we were just going deeper into the village, we circled around. And that’s when the dreaded happened.
Disaster Strikes (or what became known as a common klutziness)
My girlfriend whom was riding the second motorbike crashed by hitting a boulder in the middle of the road, toppling over the front of the handle bars and then the bike over her. She was scraped up pretty badly, and the bike took most of the brunt, breaking the ignition shaft and leaving us to call the man we had rented from. My brother continued on to the waterfall and later described the entrance fee and fee he paid to be able to ride the motorbike up halfway. The waterfall had a small wading pool that allowed you to go all the way underneath the stream flowing. Back in town we were struggling with the owner of the bikes who had presented a very high price for fixing the bike. We ultimately could not bargain him down at all and had to pay to get our passports back. We later learned that they cannot legally keep your passports but to be careful about calling police because there is a lot of loyalty between the locals and policia. That night we checked into a very colorful hostel that allowed us to hang our hammocks, use their Wi-Fi and shower for 95 Cords (roughly 3.5USD). We bandaged up my girlfriend and much to our amusement it became an icebreaker for the rest of the trip.
The Maderas side of the island
We asked around and found that buses ran from Moyogalpa to the other side of the island in Santa Cruz boarding down at the port. A couple was looking to go in the same direction as us and wanted to take a shuttle, which was much quicker and a lot more comfortable for 5USD a piece. By chance there were backpackers sitting by the side of the road where we were dropped off. The group told us there was a place down the road that would let us hang our hammocks. After about an hour of walking with a couple liters of water and no real idea of where we were going up and down the hills, we found a sign: El Zopilote.
Finding the permaculture farm El Zopilote
We were greeted into the permaculture farm by an old painted bus and a hippie vibe like no other. The bus, we came to find out, had handmade jewelry, a book swap, and homemade chocolates. We hung our hammocks under a private bungalow and explored the property with the map provided. Seriously this place is vast. There is a petroglyph from the ancient pre-Columbian era and gardens with lookout tours rising above. Every day in the early morning and afternoon yoga was offered for free. Everything you could order or buy was produced by the farm in the most ecofriendly way. They offer Spanish lessons from 3USD an hour and lessons on honey production and farming. The farm also provided free filtered water from the volcano run off. Do beware though, travelers diarrhea can be acquired from the water seeing as it is only filtered and not purified.
Trekking 9.5 hours for no view
We signed up to take a hike through the farm’s guide, up Maderas 1,400m to the top, inside the crater and back down. A cool aspect is being able to say you walked your way into the clouds. It was one of the muddiest, wettest hikes I have been able to imagine even today, making round trip about 9.5 hours. We swam in the crater, and unlike most hikes of its type, we had no view greater than 15m out. Another uniqueness about this place was its pizza nights. With fire poi, clay baked in front of your face, handmade pizzas, music and drinks, you wont find a better flow of vibes on the island.
Ferry vs. ‘lancha’
The next morning, getting off the island to see more of what Nicaragua has to offer seemed necessary. To our surprise the 5:30 am ‘lancha’ is just that, a rickety wooden canoe. Safe travels! And trust me, just take the Ferry.