The twin peaks of Ometepe

The island of Ometepe is comprised of two volcanoes in a fresh water lake and the lake is patrolled by sharks. This description alone would deter even intrepid explorers like Indiana Jones but Malene and I piled onto the ramshackled ferry to make the hour and a half crossing to Ometepe. Safety was high on the crew’s mind after another small ferry had a disaster on the east coast of Nicaragua so the authorities were clamping down. Life-jackets, cashews and pastries were on offer, I settled for the pineapple pasty which I could have used as a raft to sail all the way to India before it would dissolve, so I was ok, Malene went for the weigh-me-down life-jacket.

Ometepe in the distance
Ometepe in the distance
Sitting it out
Sitting it out

Ometepe is somewhere in the middle of lake Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in Latin America with an area of 8,250 square km, it has waves and storms as we and many of the other ferry passengers can testify, it has an archipelago of islands but would not be complete if it wasn’t home to a few sharks, so yes it has aggressive bull sharks patrolling its waters.






The island is made up of two volcanoes, one active called Conception and another called Maderas that hasn’t done much since it blew its top about two thousand years ago. Much of Maderas is UNESCO protected because of the exotic fauna and flora living in its cloud forest. Atop there’s a lake and among the creatures living there are Howler and Capuchin monkeys, a variety of birds, butterflies, orchids and ferns.First glimps of the local inhabitants Getting to the top of Maderas is a different story, it’s a steep and muddy 4.5 km trek one way and it’s an eight hour round trip. On the descent it’s the knees that take the full brunt, not for anyone who values their joints. We pondered hard the idea of going up one of the two then saw the young guy next door with ice packs on his knees and the athletic looking girl with a newly acquired walking stick and thought better of it. As for Conception we were told that was an even harder climb.

Malene stumbles into a wonderland
Malene stumbles into a wonderland

The island is a tropical green jungle in the wet season from May to November but we arrived in the dry so the normally lush vegetation was turning golden brown. Gusts of wind were stirring up dust that mixed well with the swarms of midges, together they played havoc with the eyes when riding a motorcycle.DSCN6510

Encountered numerous obstacles during our ride

We made our base in Moyogalpa, which is the largest town/village on the island, at a small guest house a 15 minute walk to the main street and rather than wear out our joints we hired a motorbike to visit the various sites around the coast. The island measures 30 km in length, as the crow flies, but by road it’s at least double the distance, then add the return leg and you could approach the 100-120 km mark, so the bike was a good idea.


Our first stop was a quick swim at El Ojo de Aqua a natural spring pool fed by an underground river that comes from volcano Maderas.

El Ojo de Aqua

The water is pleasant, not hot which am guessing is a good sign as to the state of the volcano. If it starts to heat up it’s time to take your chances with the bull sharks and swim to the mainland. It was a great spot and could have spent all day chatting and sharing stories with other visitors.

An oasis
An oasis

We followed that with a swim at Santo Domingo which is the longest sandy stretch on the island though we weren’t going to venture too far out in fear of getting bitten. The water is shallow and warm from the sun so rather than a swim it was nice to sit in the water and take in the surroundings.

The beach lies between the two volcanoes which rise up on either side, like bookends, leaving you no doubt that if they both decide to put on a show there is nowhere to run. As we sat a band of horses galloped down for a drink and a cool down, they were followed by some cows and the tourists.

Bookends Maderas on the left and Conception on the right

We were told there was an unusually large presence of foreign travelers/ athletes on the island who were taking part in an up and down the volcanoes endurance competition on the weekend so we kept an eye out for the buffed bodies and torso-immaculatos but no such luck.

A pretty part of the route, then later waiting to see the runners as the wind picked up

We saw them come in at the finish line after their 24 hour grueling ordeal of the 100 km run and three volcano ascents and none had Aussie or Greek god bods. They looked like average mums and dads who’d been through hell and back covered in mud and in need of a good sit down and a cup of tea. I guess endurance is more than skin deep.

Approaching the end
Approaching the end

We did a small clamber through the jungle not far form the beach in the hope we would spot some of the exotic birds and monkeys. On a previous walk which was through a designated park we saw nothing other than scurrying lizards and this was shaping up to be the same but then we heard monkey noises and grunts coming from high in the canopy and there they were – nose to tail walking along a branch just like a monkey carving.

Howling monkey
Howling monkey

As for the birds we had to wait until we were in the nearby cafe before they made an appearance to ask Malene for some of her watermelon.

Cheeky good looking White Throated Magpie Jay

The whole island had a nice feel, one of being lost in time and much to explore, we found our treasure where it’s marked on the map in the form of the best BLT sandwich we’ve had in a year.

Best BLT and English traveler, cute church and moody volcano

The voyage back to the mainland lived up to it’s reputation. First we were turned away from the ferry because it was overfull and were told there was no other that day, persistence paid off and we were let on along with the rest of the crowd so now the boat was brimming and the lake kept its part of the deal.

When the high seas and big waves lapped the boat, bags and travelers were soaked to the bone, shivering we were all pleased to be back on dry land.




  1. Anne Swanson says:

    Fascinating indeed. So much for boat safety – obviously overloading is not considered a risk then??
    To comment on the runners, be assured they have ‘road hard’ bodies with 90% of that endurance in their pips.
    What are the local people like? I presume they live hand to mouth with perhaps all ambition knocked out of them just through circumstance. Crime….specifically drug trafficking?

    • Nick and Malene says:

      Hi Anne
      You know we had no idea that Nicaragua is home to so may volcanoes before coming, in fact knew absolutely nothing about the place until we arrived but also not until we started to move around did we get a feel of the place and people. Our first stop Managua didn’t really tell us much, the same with San Juan del Sur, great spot but the surfies outnumbered the locals and of them most were just opportunists. But on Ometepe the locals were friendly and nice people, very rural and hard working. In fact one of the activities the endurance participants took part in was to run around replicating local daily work activities, like harvesting bananas and carrying them for a while, lugging water, building stuff etc which we were told was really one of the hardest events. In fact this year was the first time a female managed to complete that and she was local. What are “pips”? anyway the participants must have been super fit but not necessarily Adonises, haha which took me by surprise after seeing events like the cold-cost iron man etc.
      Here in Nicaragua and Mexico the locals are friendly and unlike north america where the influx of europeans made the indigenous the minority in the Yucatan in Mexico and here that doesn’t seem the case and most people have the same features as the Mayan carvings etc.
      Crime in Nicaragua is relatively low compared to Honduras and El Salvatore where gangs exist, Managua the capital of Nicaragua has security issues so there one needs to be cautious. Having said that you can be robbed anywhere but on Ometepe petty crime was low and no drug issues. Mexico has issues in areas on the west coast but the Yucatan on the east seems pretty safe and more money is made from tourism than drugs. All that said these are lovely places but Mexico for me comes in at No1 because it’s so cheap, big and has awesome beaches, music, lazy dogs, colour, nice food and lots more, oh and long siesta times. Think you would like it too. xxxxx ohoh and lots of “Ferreterias” = Hardware Shops where you can find anything.
      PS. People are so friendly but at the same time quite lax, for example no guns in Nicaragua but you can walk about town with a 50cm machete in your hand, you must wear your seat belt in the front seat of your car but you can pile as many people as possible in the back tray of your ute, Streets are neat, pretty and clean but they have utility access holes on the sidewalks that can swallow you whole. It’s just a different way I guess, health and safety has not hit these parts with the gusto as it has us and changed our lives, but some of their attempts are sometimes quite funny but that is a long story in itself. xxxxxxx Better end or have something else before they kick us out of this cafe, just kidding. keep well Nick

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