Just where is La Isla Ometepe, you might ask? I myself had never heard of it until I began planning a trip to Nicaragua in mid 2011, with my boyfriend Keith. After setting up a home exchange in Granada, our exchange host there, Peta, strongly suggested we consider a visit to Ometepe.
La Isla Ometepe is an island in Lake Nicaragua dating from the pre-Columbian period, made up entirely of two active volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas. The name Ometepe, in fact, literally means “two hills” in Nahuatl, the original indigenous language.
Ometepe is really special and uniquely Nicaraguan,” Peta enthused. “It has its own special feel and is very slow paced. Ometepe is a MUST for a few days at least.”
And Peta wasn’t the only one who gushed about Ometepe; pretty much everyone we talked to who knew Nicaragua mentioned it as a top place to visit. So it was settled – to this rustic, volcanic island floating in massive Lake Nicaragua we would go. The search was then on for a place to stay on La Isla Ometepe.
The finca is very popular on the island; finca means farm in Spanish, and because Ometepe is largely rural and agricultural, the fincas abound. Many of them have evolved into small homestays, guest houses and even working farms on which you can volunteer and stay. The fincas run the range between very basic and fairly luxurious, and eventually we hit upon what I feel is the best of them: Finca San Juan de la Isla.
Finca San Juan is a 100-year-old tropical fruit plantation and homestead, where complete renovations began four years ago to turn it into a small guest inn. Cesar Correa Oquel and his two Spanish partners lovingly restored the century-old colonial hacienda to its original splendor, a process that took two years. The original home now serves as the main communal area of the hotel; the original chicken coop and other buildings were also restored into four guest rooms, and two free-standing casitas were built. All in all, Finca San Juan currently offers six rooms, and Cesar would like to build a few more casitas.
As Keith and I drove up on the motorcycle we rented in Moyogalpa, the main town where the ferry arrives to Ometepe, we were astounded by Finca San Juan’s location.
Right on the shoreline of Lake Nicaragua, the waves crashed into the island with that reassuring ocean wave sound; from this side of the lake you cannot even see the opposite shore, giving much more of an ocean feeling to the coastline. The property is overflowing with brightly colored tropical flowers, lush plants, coconut trees and a multitude of birds and butterflies. There is even a pond filled with lily pads bearing lavender flowers and graceful wading water birds.
The property and buildings themselves were less rustic than I had imagined; as Cesar showed us around, I was very impressed with the quality of the materials, restoration, and high-level finish-out that was used. The woods are beautiful and varied, from cedar and bamboo to coconut wood; much of the furniture was crafted using wood from the original house, and Cesar utilized the art and crafts from local artisans.
But…nothing but beautiful silence. The nights were marred by nothing more than the sound of the waves hitting the shore, and I slept well.
As far as La Isla Ometepe itself goes – Peta was right on the money. This was our favorite place in Nicaragua. The island is beautiful, authentic, full of adventure and utterly devoid of tourist pretensions. We visited Finca Magdalena, a 24-family coffee cooperative; hiked the base of Maderas Volcano and its ancient petroglyphs; took a dip at the Ojo de Agua natural springs; kayaked Rio Istian for some amazing bird watching while gliding through peaceful waters; hiked through Charco Verde Reserve and observed dozens of monkeys in the wild, mere feet above our head – every day was an adventure, and we loved our four days on La Isla Ometepe.
I am officially a convert – I would highly recommend Ometepe, and Finca San Juan de la Isla, to anyone visiting Nicaragua.
Getting to Ometepe: From Rivas, take a taxi to the ferry town of San Jorge. Rivas is about an hour or so from Granada or San Juan del Sur by bus or taxi. At San Jorge, you can take one of several ferries that leave throughout the day to Moyagalpa, Ometepe.
Tips: Once on Ometepe, getting around the island is difficult. The main sections of the road are paved, but much of the island roads are bumpy, rocky thoroughfares that barely count as a road. Gasoline is expensive as it must be imported, and therefore all taxis and other transport for hire is also very expensive. There are public buses but they are infrequent and often late. Arrange for tours or private transportation well in advance or you will find yourself spending much of your time sitting and waiting. Better yet, do as we did and rent a motorbike for around $30 per day; you will have much more freedom and flexibility to make your way around the island!