DANCING PANDAS

Journaling The Journey

Affordable Paradise on Ometepe

Affordable Paradise on Ometepe

Are you dreaming of the hot sun beaming down on you?  Perhaps the scent of pineapples, bananas and coffee plantations growing steps away from a jungle hiking trail?  The sound and sights of colorful birds and monkeys frolicking beside you? Or swimming in and under pristine waterfalls and lagoons?  Yes, all these things and so much more are waiting for you in the affordable, remote paradise of Ometepe on Lake Nicaragua. 

This is an island formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua.  Ometepe is a quiet bucolic affordable paradise on a warm lake about 3 hours south from the international airport of Managua.

Getting to Ometepe

Horses - affordable paradise on Ometepe

From the airport, Ometepe is a 2 hour car ride ($65) to San Jorge.  Trip Nic Tours did a good job of transporting us either privately or with their shuttle service.  The shuttle service takes about 2.5 hours and is $30/person.

Once in San Jorge, the shuttle or car service brings you to the ferry.  The ferry runs very frequently and typically takes 1 hour to get to the capital of Ometepe – Moyogalpa.  Less frequently the ferry does runs to San Jose, the eastern coast of the island.  The cost varies between $1 – $2 per person one way.  From San Jorge one must pay for the tickets together with a special tourist tax ($1.5/person).  It is made  at the booth entrance to the ferry dock.  On the way back you do not need to pay the tax.  Tickets are paid for on the boat.

Getting Around Ometepe

Local Map - affordable paradise on Ometepe
Local Map of Ometepe - zoom to see the attractions and roads

The island has one main road which creates a figure 8 around it and it’s 2 prominent volcanoes.   At times the road is well groomed with interlocking bricks, but much of it is dirt.  There are steep hills here.  The dirt road portion has many pot holes and there are constant speed bumps to watch out for.

Bus fares range from $0.25 to $1.50, depending on how far you’re going. Direct services from Moyogalpa to Altagracia, Santo Domingo, Balgüe, Mérida and San Ramón, with fewer services on Sunday are available. There is no public transport along the southeastern part of the island, between Balgüe and San Ramón.  Even though there is only one road around the island, bus routes are very specific.  Therefore ensure, prior to boarding that you are on the correct bus.  Check the bus schedule here.

Motorcycle

Getting around affordable paradise on Ometepe
Riding on Ometepe, Volcan Concepcion and the tiny airport strip in the background

You can rent a scooter, motorcycle or ATV in Moyogalpa or around Playa Santo Domingo, Balgüe and Mérida.  The cost of scooters is about $15/day.  Motorcycles are much more powerful (200 cc) and are $20 – $25/day.  ATV’s are expensive at $60-75/day.

We highly recommend Dinarte’s Rentals Ometepe in Moyogalpa.  This family run business has very high ratings because they have great bikes and truly take care of their customers.  We were picked up from the ferry.  Dinarte’s folks made sure that Rob was comfortable with the motorcycle before leaving.   They even helped us strap on our back packs onto the bike.  This shop provides deep discounts for multi-week and monthly rentals.

Where to Stay

Xalli Resort - Affordable Paradise on Ometepe
Xalli Beach Hotel - Mid Range Room

Although quite small, Ometepe’s regions are distinct and unique.  Do you want to see the sunset every night, or do you prefer to be in a yoga community drinking vegan organic home grown hot chocolate?  Or perhaps you are more interested in staying at a coffee plantation?  Would  you prefer a bit of luxury and sleep in an air conditioned modern room with the lake at your doorstep? 

There are so many distinct and fabulous options here.  The biggest issue is deciding where to stay. Lets face it, ranging from $9/person to $66/ night (for the most posh place) all of these options can be considered budget accommodations.  We could have easily spent months on Ometepe in this affordable paradise.

Budget Accomodations

There are so many amazing affordable accommodations on this paradise called Ometepe!  Each is unique in what they offer.  

El Pital - The Chocolate Paradise

Grocery Store outside of El Pital Cholcolate Paradise - Affordable Paradise on Ometepe
Grocery Store outside of El Pital Chocolate Paradise

Located deep in the jungle on the north east side of the island this spot blew our mind!  This resort feel hostel provides free yoga classes twice per day to anyone who wants to visit.  They cook home grown organic fresh vegan food in their cafe.  And most deliciously El Pital produces vegan chocolate that they grow themselves.  Talk about a sweet place!  The vibe here is super chill.  Even if you choose not to stay here, do visit for the Chocolate Tour.  You need to book a few days in advance – 2 hours is $15.  

On our walk back to the road we encountered both Capuchin and Howler monkeys just hanging out in the trees overhanging the trail and the lake.  Pure magic.

Budget to Mid Range Accommodations

Finca Mystica

Locals on the Beach - Affordable Paradise on Ometepe
Locals on the Beach

Located on the south western edge of Ometepe, this lovely hostel/hotel has much to offer.  Although not on the lake (10 min. walk), the views are stunning.  There are dorm style cabins starting at $9/person.  Hand sculpted earthen private cabins range from $30-$40/night.  Check them out here.

There is an onsite pavilion for yoga and a 1.6 km trail through their private reserve.  The kitchen offers fantastic food and the sunsets are to die for.  What else do you need?

Mid Range - Luxury Accommodations

Xalli Beach Hotel

The Beach at Xalli - Affordable Paradise on Ometepe
The Beach at Xalli Hotel

This place was our hidden paradise for many weeks.  Located on the beach just south of Santa Domingo, Xalli is a quiet modern paradise (compared to other accommodations on the island).

On the cheaper side, 2 private rooms (with A/C) share a bathroom for $27/room.  Mid range rooms with flat screen TV’s and A/C and private bathrooms ($55/night).  Pro tip- choose room #1 (mid range) as it has good wifi streaming in from the restaurant.

There are 2 luxury large rooms (room #8 and #9) with A/C, flat screen satelite tv’s, dependable wifi  and porches with seating overlooking the lake for $66/night.  These are amazing!

Xalli has a great kitchen offering organic freshly cooked meals at very reasonable prices.  They also offer purified volcanic spring water to all their guests for free.

Most mornings we would wake up early and walk the beach watching the sun rise and the horses frolic in the water.  After breakfast (included in the price) I would do yoga on the deck overlooking the beach.  I can still feel the warm breeze from the lake and the sweet smell of flowers all around me. 

Top Things to Do on Ometepe

Hiking

Hiking in Affordable Paradise on Ometepe

Wow, there are so many trails on this island.  Most need a guide.  Yet it is very easy and inexpensive to arrange for one. As availability fluctuates, we would recommend arranging a guide through your accommodation.  Otherwise, contact Dinarte’s Rental at What’s App:+505 8366 0588.  This is a family that we absolutely trust and they had recommended and arranged for amazing guides for us.  The ones we met all speak English and have a good grasp of the flora and fauna of the island.  Costs vary from $15/person (with a minimum of 2 people) to $45/7 people for 2 guides.

Volcano Conception

Volcano Conception - Affordable Paradise on Ometepe
Volcano Conception

This is the active volcano on the island, reaching a height of 1610 meters..  The first part of the climb is through humid jungle which after a few hours turns into a muddy path.  Ultimately the trail becomes exposed sandy rock.  The hike takes 8-10 hours return trip.  No one is allowed to enter the trail past noon and you must have a guide.

Pro Tips: Take at least 4 liters of water with you along with some food and electrolytes.  The top is quite windy and you will be sweaty.  Therefore a dry shirt and windbreaker is suggested to change into.

This is a difficult hike with quickly rising elevation.  

Volcano Maderas

Beach view of Volcano Maderas - affordable paradise on Ometepe
Beach view of Volcano Maderas

This is the dormant volcano on the island rising to a prominent 1394 meters.  The hike takes around 8 hours (on average).  Therefore, leave early to be back around late afternoon. The trail will take you through  Finca Magdalena (more later about this amazing plantation).  Past petroglyphs, through rain forest and through the tropical forest.   Finally you will emerge at the crater lagoon on top of the volcano. 

You will need a guide for this hike as well.  Make sure to bring enough water, food and electrolytes for an 8 hour hike.  Remember, this hike is through hot and humid jungle with a lot of elevation.  Prepare accordingly.

San Ramon Waterfall

Trails - Affordable Paradise on Ometepe
Trails leading to San Ramon Waterfalls

The San Ramon Waterfall trail head is just north of San Ramon and is located here.

The hike takes around 3-4 hours round-trip from the trail head off the main road.  Motorcycles or ATVs can take you up to a higher car-park and cut the hiking time down to around 1.5 hours in total.

The cost is $3/person and a guide is not necessary.  The trail is beautiful any time of the year.  Yet the waterfall is most full at the end of the rainy season (September – November).  There is no place to swim, although on a hot day you can take a dip underneath the falls.

Local Hikes

Hiking with Capuchin Monkeys - Affordable Paradise on Ometepe
Hiking with Capuchin Monkeys

There are many other hikes throughout the island.  Each accommodation seems to have their own.  Therefore, you will find many places to explore.  Most of these trails (unless part of the hostel/hotel) cost $3/person to enter.

Our favorite was in Santa Domingo.  Just across from Hotel Paraiso.  The unmarked trail starts immediately to the right of the bus stop.   It is a short out and back (1 hour) which shows off so much wild life of the island.  Monkeys, parrots and other colorful birds abound on this trail. 

Sunsets

Sunset - Affordable Paradise on Ometepe
Sunrise over Volcano Conception

Our evening ritual was to ride the motorcycle to various spots on the south west side of the island to watch the sunset.  There was something magical about riding on the quiet road and watching the peaceful life of the locals.  Ultimately we were always rewarded with the stunning colors marking the culmination of yet another splendid day. 

Kayak Tours Ometepe is located at the end of the main road leading to the lake.  It is a great place to rent a kayak and paddle the western part of the lake.  It was also our favorite spot to watch the sunset.

Finca Magdalena

Finca Magdalena - Affordable Paradise on Ometepe
Finca Magdalena views of the Volcano Conception and it's Orchards

The walk or ride up to this coffee plantation is a treat in itself.  Finca Magdalena is located along the foothills and up the slopes of Volcán Maderas.   This 350-hectare organic farm is run by a collective of 24 families.  The farm produces organic coffee, plantains, milk, corn, beans, rice and vegetables.  It’s main purpose is to protect the surrounding natural environment.

The Finca produces some of the most divine organic dark roast coffee in the world.  I usually do not drink coffee at all, yet this magnificent bean I could drink black.  Yes black – it is that good. 

Various accommodations are available.  From camping spots to dorm rooms and even 4 person cabins.  There is an organic restaurant and a cafe.  In addition, guided tours up Maderas Volcano run from here as well.

Coffee plantation and farm tours are also offered.  Ultimately, the views of the lake and the island from up here are worth the trip alone.

Ojo de Agua

Ojo de Agua - Affordable Paradise on Ometepe
Ojo de Agua Pools

Ometepe can get quite hot and humid mid day.  Therefore finding some relief from the heat is lovely.  Ojo de Agua is a natural cool spring pool and is a perfect mid day watering hole.  It is filled with crystal clear water from an underground river that comes from volcano Maderas.  The swimming area is split into two separate areas.   The water gets renewed constantly by the spring that emerges from the bottom of the upper pool.  It is a delicious respite from the warmth of the day.

The area is a natural reserve and has a couple of short hikes taking you through banana plantations and lush jungle paths.

There is parking, rest rooms, change areas and lockers.  A restaurant and bar provides exotic drinks and food (we did not imbibe so cannot comment on it’s quality).

The cost for entry is $3/person.

Wrap Up

Horses - affordable paradise on Ometepe
Horses on Trails

Ometepe is a bucolic, affordable and exotic paradise found on a peaceful remote lake.  You will not find luxury here.  However, you will enjoy the freshest organic fruits and vegetables for a fraction of the price back home.  You will live among colorful and exotic birds, monkeys and other rare animals.  Hiking volcanoes and other jungle trails will be a daily opportunity.  As will watching stunning sunsets as horses frolic in the warm water of the lake beside you.  Close your eyes.  Can you feel the warmth and smell the pineapples ripening beside you?

It has only been a couple of weeks, but we already miss the warmth and the affordable paradise on Ometepe.  In many ways it reminds us of our time on Abaiang in Kiribati.

Have you been to Ometepe or would like to go?  Share your stories with us! 

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