Ometepe Island

Ometepe Travel Blog

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Our third and final destination in Nicaragua was the island of Ometepe on Lake Nicaragua, which is the largest fresh water island in the world. The island is made from two large volcanoes - Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas - and the small area of land between the two. Concepcion is the tallest and more perfectly shaped of the two volcanoes, and Maderas has a big crater at the top with a lake in it.

We took a rickety public bus from Granada further up the shore of Lake Nicaragua to the ferry port. On the bus was a tour group from the travel company Gap who we had also seen a couple of times in Granada. The ferry across to Ometepe took about an hour. We sat on the roof in decent seats with the Gap group and I talked to a girl from Belgium and a guy from South Africa along the way. The view out to Ometepe looked like a great sight, but unfortunately the tops of the volcanoes were blocked out by thick cloud.

When we got to the port we still had another hour van ride to the hotel on the other side of the island. It was interesting to see how everything on the island was at some point brought across from the mainland by boat. At the hotel we were fairly isolated so my exploring consisted of going the 20 metres down to the shore and walking back. We had lunch at the hotel restaurant and had the afternoon to decide on what we wanted to do for the next day. I was keen for a big hike and had been wanting to climb Volcan Concepcion for some time. Todd inquired but was told that I wouldn't be able to get to the top of Concepcion so I settled on a guided hike up Volcan Maderas instead. I had the choice between doing it with three unknown Americans or just with a guide for a bit higher price. As I was deciding I heard a table of obnoxious Americans talking loudly and just generally being incredibly irritating. I decided on doing the hike with just the guide.

The next morning I got up early for my hike up Volcan Maderas. The hotel gave me a packed breakfast and soon enough my lift to the start of the hike arrived. He was quite a big guy, which made it interesting when I found out that the lift was on the back of his motorbike. It was a funny ride as I could barely fit on the motorbike and we were going along some very dodgy dirt roads.

At the end of the lift I was met by my guide who was a guy about my age. I ate my packed breakfast of two sandwiches, got some water, and we were off. By this time it was about 9am and already it was getting hot and humid. The start of the walk was only a very slight uphill so it was easy enough to talk to the guide as I was going along. After about an hour of walking we got to a look out point but there was thick cloud at our height and we couldn't see much past about 50 metres. We waited for about 20 minutes before it cleared out and we got a decent view down on to a lot of the island.

When we were done with the lookout point we did not have any more views out into the open until we came back down. We headed into the rainforest on the mountain and the slope started getting a lot steeper. I was working up a sweat but was managing to keep up a fair pace. The forest was quite thick and after about half an hour into it we could hear some howler monkeys screaming very loudly nearby. At one point we got close enough to them on the trail that we could see some high in the trees above us.

We kept walking up for maybe a couple of hours before we took a rest near some small coffee plants on the side of the mountain. After that the trail became a lot tougher as the steep slope continued but now it was getting thick with mud. A lot of the trail was simply walking up small narrow streams that had cut into the ground. By the time we were getting close to the top the mud was nearly ankle deep so I was getting quite dirty, but thankfully my waterproof boots were keeping my feet dry.

Close to the top we came across a strange sign with a picture of what looked like a gremlin. My guide told me that there was a local legend that the thing lived in the forest up Maderas. When we got to the top of the trail it was a bit of an anti-climax. The point is still shrouded thick by the forest and only has a small marker. The real end of the trail was down into the crater.

We kept going along the trail into the crater of the volcano. It didn't really feel like I was going into a crater because it was as overgrown with forest as the rest of the mountain, although it was much steeper. At times we had to very slowly climb some precarious spots. It was about 20 minutes down to the bottom where we came out of the forest into the base of the crater.

The crater of Maderas was a very cool sight. The lake took up most of the area, and there was thick fog in the air, and with very little noise it made it feel very eerie and calm. Being in the middle of a foggy volcano crater in the middle of a lake in the middle of Nicaragua I really felt like I was about as far removed from home as I was ever going to get.

We walked around a little bit to where a sign congratulates you on reaching the end of the Maderas trail. We sat down there and ate our lunch. It was much colder now that we had stopped walking so we had to put our jackets on to stay warm. As we were eating another guide and a woman hiker turned up, but they didn't seem interested at all in talking to us so they went off the other way and then left back up the side of the crater not long after.

After we had lunch we headed back up the trail again. We had made a fast enough pace that we could go back down Maderas a different longer way and come out at a big coffee plantation at the bottom. The walk down was quite tough, like it was going up, but this time mainly around trying to keep my footing on the very slippery muddy ground. I did slip a few times but I managed to catch myself on my hands each time. By the time we were about half way down I had walked through so much mud and water that my boots were now waterlogged from it soaking through my socks.

The guide was obviously more experienced at going down steep muddy trails so he was forging ahead a lot and then waiting back for me periodically. I liked it because it meant I could be hiking down the mountain side on my own for half an hour at a time. About two thirds down we came to a clearing where we had a fantastic view out over the island and across to Volcan Concepcion on the other side. There was still some cloud around the top of it but I could still get some decent photos.

Down the bottom we walked through the coffee plantation and came out to a few buildings of the place. Tara from my tour group was there as she had just finished a plantation tour. I washed myself of most of my mud and we took a van to go back. On the way the guide told me that Tara and another couple in the van were going to get dropped off at some natural springs near the hotel, so I decided to do that as well.

The natural springs were not hot ones but they were still really nice to swim in after about 7 hours of steep hiking. When we were done we walked back to the hotel as it was getting dark. There were lots of tiny insects in the grass on the side of the road that would do very short flashes of light I assume to attract attention. At the hotel I had a deserved shower and then we all had a big dinner at the hotel restaurant.

The next day we left Ometepe to go to San Jose in Costa Rica. We got an early boat to go across Lake Nicaragua but after about 15 minutes it had some kind of problem and had to turn back. We waited back around at the Ometepe port for the next ferry and then made it successfully across. At the other side we waited around for about an hour for the bus to San Jose. It was a long way so thankfully it was a nice bus.

The border crossing into Costa Rica was very interesting. No, wait, that other thing - tedious. We basically had to sit around for 3 hours for no real reason and then we were back off again into Costa Rica towards San Jose.
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photo by: hoofinnit