Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
Remote. Rural. Lush. Ometepe Island, formed from two volcanoes, sits in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, one of the world’s largest natural lakes. We debated all week what claim this lake should make, so I had to look it up. According to Wikipedia, its the 19th largest freshwater lake in the world (and the largest in the Americas.) Ometepe was our 2nd stop in Nicaragua. The first was San Juan del Sur; read about that adventure in Part 1 of the “Where’s the Paper” series.
From the small port town of San Jorge, we boarded a ferry for Ometepe. You can also take a boat, but we were told, in broken English and emphatic mime that the boats were tiny and rocked a lot on what can be windy/rough waters. So we took the ferry, along with dozens of other tourists (international and Nicaraguan.)
The Ferry itself is unimpressive. Worn looking. Old. I did see life vests but didn’t bother assessing how many there were. The timing of our trip was days after the horrific ferry boat sinking in South Korea. For better or worse, we had been cut off from all news and didn’t learn of that tragedy until we returned home. I never felt unsafe on our ferry — except for the allergic reaction that our food allergic son had shortly after we departed. Luckily, the ride was just over an hour and provided stunning views of the volcanoes on Ometepe!
Most ferries to Ometepe arrive in Moyogalpa — the largest town on the island. Getting transportation in Moyogalpa is easy when you arrive by ferry — taxis are lined up and eager for business. We had to wait for the truckload of bananas to move onto the ferry before we could leave, ironically, the only glimpse of that fruit we would have for the 3 1/2 days on the island! Our rental property was an easy 10 minute drive away, and our driver luckily knew how to find it!
Nestled in a quiet town called Los Angeles, our farm is called Finca Macedonia. A beautifully lush farm, filled with mango trees, lime trees, avocado trees and more. A flock of roosters wandered around, beautiful birds abound and a few horses rounded out the wildlife we experienced. I found the rental on VRBO, and it was amply large and modern, especially compared to other available lodging. On Ometepe, you can stay in an upscale eco-lodge, or in a hostel. There tourist infrastructure is very limited on the island, and this was the ONLY house we could find to rent. It was important to us to have access to a kitchen to be able to manage our son’s food allergies, and so we were very pleased to find the farm house!
The farm keeper and his family live on the property, and saw to our needs during the stay. My boys loved playing with his girls, and while Emerson’s English was limited, it far surpassed our Spanish, and he made sure that we found the path to the lake, and he arranged for fresh fish for us, which his wife prepared in a traditional grill with rice and beans and plantains! We picked many mangoes and limes, and Emerson gave us each a large avocado, which unfortunately didn’t ripen before our trip concluded and we had to forfeit our fruit.
In general, our time on Ometepe was sleepy and hot. Our fans in each bedroom did the trick, but as in San Juan del Sur, nights were loud with cicadas, birds, roosters and dogs.
The day after we arrived, we ventured onto a local bus, and ended up sitting next to a couple from New Zealand, an American and a Croatian. All of them young, and adventurous — not knowing where they were staying the night, and taking each day as it came. They reminded us of our younger selves, and also made it clear how different travel is when you have three children and an older parent with you! These travelers helped us navigate to our destination, and we exited the bus to find the Charco Verde Eco Reserve.
We had a slick brochure from the tourist office that made the Eco Reserve a top destination on Ometepe Island. But we were a tad disappointed. The nature walk was nice — we saw monkeys and some beautiful plants and birds. But we didn’t see anything inside the reserve that we hadn’t seen on our farm or in San Juan del Sur. It being located adjacent to an upscale hotel and restaurant was a fortuitous coincidence for us, as we enjoyed delicious Nica snacks, drinks and their beach. The boys rented a paddle boat, and enjoyed cooling off in the lake. We were so wiped out by the heat and all the walking that we had the hotel call us a private car to go back to the farm. Private transportation in Nicaragua is expensive, but we were too tired to walk the 1/2 mile back to the main road and wait for the bus.
Our sense of remote isolation was amplified on Sunday, as we understood that public buses are not running. So we made the day a lazy one and enjoyed the farm and a nice hike/swim with Emerson and his daughter. We made our 3rd trip to the local store — literally inside someone’s home — to replenish our soda supply (which, ah hem, we needed to polish off the rum that was purchased on day 1.) It turns out that the town only gets fresh veggies/fruit delivered on Monday or Tuesday — and we left on Monday morning. We ate simply those few days, chicken, canned veggies, rice and beans… cooking in the house was our plan, and proved harder than we would have expected. It was HOT on Ometepe, and our home had no air conditioning, so cooking made us feel like we were in an oven. Luckily, we had ample space outside to sit and try and catch a breeze.
As we packed up to leave Ometepe on Monday morning, the grown ups were more cheerful about leaving the island — for various reasons. We wanted fresh fruit and veggies, I wanted to be closer to transportation and feel like we could access modern medicine should there be an issue, and we craved air conditioning. I realized how soft I had become in how much the heat bothered me. The kids never complained. Even my mom was more comfortable on the farm than my husband and I (she had grown up spending summers on her grandfather’s farm in Canada.)
Our ferry ride back to San Jorge was quick and uncrowded. The Easter crowds had dispersed, and things felt less hectic on the return. Our prearranged transportation was waiting for us as we walked off the ferry! I loved how easy it was to arrange transportation with Iskra Travel! We lucked out and Mike, our first driver from the night we arrived, picked us up and took us on the 1 1/2 drive to Granada.
The Bottom Line
My husband and I are city people. There, I said it.
Ometepe Island is great for hikers or adventurous travelers who need little modern comfort. In hindsight, I don’t think we prepared enough for our visit, or knew what to expect. If I were to go again, especially with kids in tow, I would either arrange to have a private car/driver meet us daily or else rent a car. The island is large, and we would have had a better experience had we seen more, but once we were at the farm, the “schlep” to make transportation work was greater than our desire. As a mom of three kids (11, 9 and 5) and one of them having serious food allergies, I was nervous about being so remote “just in case” something were to happen. There are medical facilities in Moyogolpa, the main town where the ferry comes into, but I would have been at a total loss as to how to get there if we had needed it!
“Where’s the Paper?”
That’s what I heard when the first rooster loudly cried out — I must admit that not everyone in our group heard that, but once I heard it, I couldn’t not hear it. I will probably forever more hear “where’s the paper?” when others hear “cock-a-doodle-doo.”