This week, we took a 3-day, 2-night holiday to Isla Ometepe.
Though most people get onto and around Ometepe without a car, we rented a little car from our host in Granada. On the island, taxi fares can be $25 or $30 to get from the ferry dock to accommodation. We could have made the trip for a little lower cost using buses and taxis, but looked forward to the freedom that a car offered us, both on the island and getting to and from the ferry.
The trip from Granada to San Jorge was fun, with loads of fruit stands lining the highway, each dripping with platanos (plantains) or walled around with several varieties of sandias (watermelons). Frequently accompanying us were carts drawn by oxen or horses.
Ometepe is a large island in the expansive Lake Nicaragua (aka Lago Cocibolca). The island is shaped like a number 8 with a volcano at the center of each circle. Between the two circles, one larger than the other, is an isthmus with a river/wetlands running most of the way through it.
Ferry to Ometepe
To get to Ometepe, you take a ferry or passenger boat from San Jorge. We had reserved on a 12:00 pm ferry (well, our Ometepe hotel reserved for us as we could not get through to do it ourselves). We thought we knew what to do once we got there, following information from a very detailed 2-year-old blog post, but found things have changed. When you arrive at the ferry dock, you will see a gate across the road. If you look unsure about what you are doing, an employee of the port will likely come up and help you, as someone did for us. He directed us to park our little blue car off to the side and then to go to one of the windows in the building to the left of the gate to purchase our tickets. There are at least 3 companies operating ferries from here, and each has a different window.
You can only buy your tickets about 30 minutes before your sailing, so we had to wait for about a half hour until they were ready to process us. No baños in the ticket building or at the little drink bar across the street, but there are baños at the restaurant to the right of the ticket building (10 córdoba to use the bathroom if you don’t order anything).
When it was time, we purchased our tickets for the ferry (50 NIO each, 360 for our car, based on its size). Then we were guided to a second window where we paid for the impuesta (tax, 81 NIO). Armed with all of our tickets, we were ready to drive our car to the gate. Someone inspected our tickets and let us through. (Save everything, though. Someone else will come and take your port tax copy before you get onto the ferry, and a third person will take your passenger tickets during the crossing.)
We were one of only 3 cars to be backed onto the ferry, followed by a motorcycle and then a school bus. The cars are packed in like sardines–I had to get out before Ken could finish the nail-biting process of parking since they leave only a couple of inches between cars (if they are feeling generous).
Most of the passengers on our boat were backpackers and their large backpacks were piled high at the front of the cabin. The crossing takes about an hour. We had read that it could be quite windy and choppy, and often ferries are cancelled, but it ended up not being too bad at all.
We stood on the deck to watch the docking. We heard a splash and looked out to see one of the crew members in the lake, dragging a rope over to a buoy. His clothes were piled up on the deck, but we hadn’t noticed him disrobing. The rope acts as a pivot point and allows the ferry to pull around and back into the dock. Once the swimmer’s tasks were complete, he swam to shore and, presumably, returned to the boat to get dressed.
Once we arrived in Moyogalpa on Ometepe, we had time to take a leisurely and scenic drive to our accommodation, which was about an hour or so away.
We stopped at The Cornerhouse for a light lunch, just a couple of blocks up the street from the ferry dock. We shared a chicken salad sandwich on thick homemade bread accompanied by a salad, and a Jamaica (pronounced ha-my-icka), a ruby red, tart drink made from hibiscus flowers ($10.50USD including tip).
Ojo de Agua
We stopped at Ojo de Agua, pools that are supposed to have healing properties, but for us were just a nice way to cool off in a pretty setting ($3 USD/person). Pay at the stand, park, and take a short walk down to the pools. There are lots of chairs, thatched roof shady spots, and beer service. Simple shower/change stalls are free to use. Bathrooms are at the restaurant near the parking area. The area is filled with the sounds of a variety of birdlife and one howler monkey kept watch from the trees overhead.
It was quite convenient for getting to where we planned a kayak excursion, and we had read very good things about the place, the people, and the food. The property has a walking trail (which we enjoyed), and is a good starting point to hike to the San Ramon waterfall (which we didn’t do).
Since we weren’t cooking on this trip, we relied on the food provided by the hotel, and the food at Finca Mystica did not disappoint. Breakfasts are $4-5, lunches $5-7, dinners $7-8. Breakfast includes items like banana flax pancakes and fruit (yum!). There are generally two dinner offerings with protein variations. We enjoyed chicken or beef kabobs one night, pesto pasta with chicken or tortilla soup the next (and there was always a vegetarian option). If you are heading off on a hike, you can order a lunch to go. Our total bill for 2 breakfasts, several really good cups of coffee ($1 each), 2 dinners, one dessert, a nice bottle of red wine, 1 smoothie, 1 soda, 4 beers, 2 cookies for the road, and tip was about $90.
Kayaking Rio Istian
I think the thing we were looking forward to most on Ometepe was a kayak outing on Rio Istian, the isthmus between the two volcanoes. Many people go for the all-day, very difficult hikes up the volcanoes, but we are quite happy paddling about, ogling the volcanoes from below.
Cabellita’s Mar tour leaves from Márida. Normally you paddle from there up the lakeshore to the mouth of the river. While we were having lunch at the lakeside cafe at Cabellita’s, another couple came in and signed up before we did. The proprietors recommended to them that, due to the wind, they pay the extra to have the kayaks motored up to the river and back to avoid the long, against-the-wind paddle. They agreed. We had expected to pay $25 USD per person for the two of us plus a guide. Sharing a guide with the other couple, the cost went down to $20 per person, and our half of the boat was $10. So, we ended up paying the same as we expected to ($50) while having the luxury of a motor up and back, and lots more time to putter about in the marshland.
Punta Jésus Maria
On our way to the ferry on the last morning we stopped at Punta Jésus. It looks like there were great plans at one point for a tourist boom as there are many restaurants and other buildings set up, all empty and most closed while we were there. One person sits at the entrance collecting the $1 per person entrance fee. We paid and walked passed the buildings and out onto the black sandbar for another perspective of the volcanoes and mainland.
From Punta Jésus we headed for the ferry in Moyogalpa, crossing the airstrip that seems to go stretch from the lakeshore to the volcano.
We enjoyed another light lunch at The Cornerhouse and then parked down by the ferry dock to try to find the ticket booth on this side. Based on the boat we were booked on (the Arcia), we were directed to walk in behind a gate and over to a green building. Once there, we found there was space on the ferry before ours, leaving in 45 minutes. Again, we had to wait to pay until 30 minutes before departure, but we were able to bring our car through and park it ready to be directed onto the ferry, which was on its way.
Another hair-raising car load (including a sudden switch to park on the opposite side of the boat when Ken was almost done being squeezed into his spot) and we were on our way, having had a very enjoyable visit to this beautiful island.
We did have quite a bit of heavy traffic to contend with along the highway back to Granada, though.
- Ferry schedule with telephone numbers and other useful info (try to reserve if you are taking a car).
- Recently, a gate was installed and you purchase tickets (at two windows in the same building) before going through the gate with your car or around the end for walk-ons. This is different from the otherwise good info we found here about taking a car onto the ferry.
- Most of the roads are quite good on the Volcán Concepción side of the island. Once you cross the isthmus to the Volcán Maderas side, the paving disappears and roads are rough and, in early March, dusty. We managed with our little car, driving slowly and carefully.