Isla Ometepe: A land of surreal surprises

Plunk. That word was as close as I ever thought I would get to the sound a 2 metre boa snake makes when it falls from the top of a 60 metre waterfall. Well, we saw that and the sound is much more dramatic then that word. We also swam in a freezing cold lake shrouded in mysterious fog at the top of a volcano. Then went to an electronic dance music festival with the biggest lake in Central America as an inky mirror to reflect the stunning nights sky and the laser light show. Ometepe was one big psychedelic lucid dream.

Two volcanoes bursting forth from Cocibolca, the great lake of Nicuragua, provide just as much enchantment as one might expect. Joined by a flat thin piece of land they form an hourglass shaped island, covered in green cloud forest ripe for exploring. Hiking, mountain biking, waterfalls and volcanos, and the best place we had been so far to easily hire scooters we were set to cover the entire place.

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Lumbering along on an iron ferry we were slowly but surely getting closer to the island. Steve and I moved to the bow where one of the ships crew was swabbing the deck, and watched as the silhouette of the perfectly symmetrical Volcán Concepción became clearer through dark rain clouds. The air was already thick with the stench of magic.

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As we disembarked in Moyogalpa we were bombarded by all kinds of sellers flogging hostels, tours and offers for motorbikes. We wanted to get to Santa Cruz which would be our base in-between the two volcanoes. The big old yellow ex-school bus was only 33 cordobas ($1.50aus) but had just left and the next one wasn’t for another couple of hours. So we negotiated a taxi for 350 cords ($15) between the four of us, and set off with a nice old man in a run down old banger of a car which he used a screwdriver to start. The scenery on the island is a bright green cocktail of dense green trees and lush farmland so the 45 minute drive around to the other side of the island was intoxicating. About halfway we pulled over to the side of the road as it appeared we had a flat. So we all piled out and the boys helped fix it within minutes.

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Shayna’s on the job

We were surprised by how few shops, restaurants and hostels there were for such a “backpacker hotspot” but our driver dropped us at a place called Santa Cruz Hotel and we were happy. That afternoon we sat at the outdoor hotel restaurant as the rain poured down around us and made plans for our 2 full days on Ometepe.

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Dusk after the rain

The next day we were up at the crack of dawn ready to hire bikes and get into our waterfall hike! There are many places that hire bikes for $5 per person per day but some of them are a bit dodgy so make sure you check the brakes. The road to the start of the trail is unpaved and pretty rocky, it takes about an hour and although it’s stunning it’s moderately hilly, so can be tough in parts.

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Biker gang

The hike itself was an uphill meander through beautiful lush foliage. It’s quite steep but once you arrive at the falls it’s worth the effort. This is where we saw a young family having their photo taken, happily posing in the pool at the bottom, when BAM! That 2 metre boa plummets from the top and lands with a slap in the pool below. Talk about your awkward family photos. We later found out that it wasn’t venomous, it’s the plain black ones or the red, yellow and black ones you need to watch out for.

The hike back down was much less painful and we stopped at a little local place for a beer by the lake on the way home which was well received.

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The view of Maderas with the swarms of bugs at sunrise from Santa Cruz Hotel

The next day we were to conquer Maderas, we’d booked our guide through Janet’s Hospedaje in Santa Cruz. For $10usd each we had a local guide who was born and bred in Ometepe (Maria’s son in fact) and we set off at 7am. The first 2 hours of our trek took us from the hostel up the base of Maderas and all we could hear was the spooky roar of howler monkeys in the distance. Their call is so other worldly it’s been used as the dragon call on Game of Thrones. These guttural dragon calls beckoned us from the dark depths of the misty forest. The scene feels prehistoric, like something out of Jurassic Park.

 

The menacing clouds were beginning to crowd the magnificent view from the 1st lookout back towards Concepción, but we still felt floored by the view of this perfectly formed volcano floating in the middle of a rippling, shimmering body of water. The fact that we were observing it from another volcano floating next to it was something else. It took us just over an hour to get to this point, and another 3 through mud, mud, and more mud to get to the top. The reward? A giant lake shrouded in thick fog set deep in the crater of the volcano. The temperature of the water caused our skin to pucker into tight goosebumps, but we braved it and allowed it to suck our feet into its slurpy bottom as we waded into the mist.

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At the summit of Maderas before our swim into the misty unknown

The way back down was quicker as we practically slid down the muddy trail, all thoughts of preserving our sneakers gone. As soon as we got back to that 1st lookout point the heavens opened up and it rained the fattest raindrops I have ever seen. 8 hours it took us in total, and by the end I was grateful for the transformation of the trails into streams as the cool water seeped into my shoes to soothe my aching toes. When we reached the hostel our guide Mario asked “Vale la pena?” which means “Worth the pain?”. “Absolutamente!”.

We’d noticed an influx in a new bread of messy tourist who were converging on the island for a music festival called Magmafest. Because we just happened to be in Ometepe at the same time, and it was almost my Birthday, we figured it was some kind of omen. We shifted base back to Mayogalpa where it was half the price to hire a scooter. That way we could pay $20 each to take a bike for 24 hours, check out Jesus Point for a rip snorting sunset, then have our own transport to and from the festival. The music festival itself unraveled like a psychedelic electrical storm, filled with ear tingling EDM and coloured lasers bouncing off the lake. A boat filled with strange socialites bumped into the shore and disembarked, confusing the guests who were all busy thrashing around and morphing into creatures of other worlds. Afterwards we were able to avoid the reality of the rising sun and overpriced taxis (almost 5 times the normal price) by jumping on our scooters and zooming out into the new day.

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Sunset at Punto Jesus is truely spectacular

To get to Ometepe we travelled from Rivas to San Jorge, which is one of the main places in Nicaragua for taxi scams. Luckily we knew not to pay more than 20 cordobas (90c aud) per person, or you can just wait for the 7 cord bus (30c aud). If you get caught out by the drivers you may end up paying $5usd. From San Jorge there are loads of ferries and it only costs 50 cordobas each way ($2.50aud) which was great for an hour long boat ride! To get away we caught the ferry back then paid a total of $15usd between the 4 of us for a taxi to San Juan Del Sur which is 45 minutes away on the Pacific coast.

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