When I heard about Isla de Ometepe, I was so excited to get there! Two volcanos coming together to form a sort of infinity shaped island full of tropical plants in the middle of Lake Nicaragua—it sounded magical! After doing some research, I found InanItah, an intentional living center on Volcano Maderas. It was a community nestled in the jungle that would give us the opportunity to live cheaply, eat healthily, participate in yoga and meditation daily, and truly experience the environment. What more could we ask for?
Even though we found this amazing community to check out, we still had plans to explore the rest of the island as well. From the moment we arrived, I felt the serenity of a small town community.
From our apartment in Playa Santana, we walked the fifteen minutes to the bus stop where we’d be catching a chicken bus to Rivas. Rivas was our main transportation portal during our time exploring Southern Nicaragua. It’s the place to stock up on food or other necessities before heading to the smaller beach towns, too. The bus cost us about a dollar each and was comfortable enough.
Once we arrived in Rivas, we looked for a taxi to get to the port town of San Jorge, which was only about an 8 minute drive away. There is apparently a bus but from what I heard from other travelers, it was infinitely more worth it to grab the taxi. From what I read, it seemed appropriate to be charged a couple dollars for the drive. We wanted to make a stop at a grocery store and an ATM, so our driver charged us $5 for the both of us. Still probably a little much but with the stops, it seemed close enough to being fair.
We got dropped off right by the ticket office, purchased our ferry tickets for $1 each and waited with a cold soda until our ferry left. There were plenty of boats going back and forth throughout the day, check the schedule here when planning your trip. The ferry was actually a colorful wooden boat and had more character than it did speed. It took us one hour to go the 17km to the port town of Moyogalpa.
Where to rest your head
Off the boat we go into a small but bustling port town, through the wall of taxi drivers, and onwards to our hostel which was located about a 15 minute walk outside of town. For our first night, we chose Hostel Life is Good. For $5 each, we had a dorm bed in a 6-bed dorm with the option of dining or drinking at the hostel restaurant and plenty of space to relax. They even had a simple tower extending above the property from which you could watch the sunset at night.
The owners of Hostel Life is Good were my absolute favorite! They were a beautiful couple that hosted us all so very well. Frequenting the common area to share a drink or story; or busy in the kitchen helping to prepare meals made with ingredients from their garden. Even though it’s a bit out of town, I highly recommend them as a base to exploring the island.
Yogi Hostel, was our choice during our second trip to Moyogalpa. This one was located in town, close to the port and had better deals on private rooms. After getting worked over a bit by camping in the jungle, a private room with a shower was definitely called for. We paid $18 for the two of us. It was simple but accommodating and the location was perfect. Close to everything but still a couple blocks off the main road making for quiet nights.
Right next to Yogi Hostel was incredibly cheap local food. It had no sign, no menus, and no one who spoke English. When she told us what they had, I didn’t understand exactly what the meat was, so she brought some out for me to taste before we ordered. If that isn’t service, I don’t know what is.
InanItah, is at the top of my recommendations. This intentional living community is nestled into the jungle on the smaller of the volcanos, Maderas. It’s off the grid and very rustic; however, the detail put into the naturally built structures, the placement of the outside showers, the simplicity of the pool overlooking Volcano Concepción, and the love put into every meal makes it feel luxurious at times.
Check out this extensive guide that I recently posted, InanItah: Overview of an Intentional Living Center.
El Zopilote is near InanItah and is more ideal if you are stopping through for only a couple days. During our time staying at InanItah, we would venture here occasionally to buy fresh baked bread or to attend their pizza nights on Saturday’s. Being both a hostel and a permaculture project, there was a lot of opportunity to attend workshops or learn something here as well. Definitely more of a party hostel with a lot of the creature comforts that have made their way into our concepts of normal.
Finca Magdalena was on my list of places to check out after our time at InanItah. Due to the unfortunate acquirement of a jungle fungus on my ankles and lower legs (I’ll be coming out with a full post on this and how I ‘treated’ it soon), we sort of cut our time in the jungle short to escape to the healing powers of sunshine, salt water, and Flor de Caña (the local rum that I grew quite a liking too). Thus, we did not make it to Finca Magdalena. I still recommend it though.
Finca Magdalena is a farm project and homestay run by Nicaraguan families that offer cheap tours and from the sounds of it, a lot of sincere hospitality. There were also a number of other farm homestays throughout the island that sounded similar, but this one remained at the top of my list through most of my research. They also advertised hammocks available for a cheap housing option for only a few dollars a night.
Where to eat and drink
The Cornerhouse, it was simple, mostly western food, but I dug the vibe there. My friend Gramya claims they have the best sandwich ever; I mostly just went for their slushy vanilla lattes and tasty treats. WiFi is the best and they have a good souvenir shop featuring things that are of the island and not cheesy.
Hospedaja Central was a colorful hostel located on a corner about a block of the main street, and they had the cheapest Nica Libre that I bought during my entire time in Nicaragua. I have no idea what the food is like, but my cocktail cost 25 cordoba (less than $1) and was a proper pour.
Restaurante LaGaleria is on the main street and usually smelled delicious around dinner time for those passing by. It was a sweet little Italian cafe with cool art, nice ambience, and even a couple small tables on the patio. Even just for coffee and dessert, it’s worth a stop in.
Santa Cruz/Balgue: The towns nearest to InanItah and El Zopilote.
Cafe Campestre was one of my favorite places we dined in Nicaragua. Bryce went with a couple friends during a day trip to Balgue and said we had to go back so I could try it. The ambience is simple but thoughtful; even the back wall in the kitchen was decorated with a beautiful mural and could be seen slightly from the dining room.
They boasted the use of organically grown ingredients at their farm Finca Campestre for a legitimate farm-to-table restaurant. So yummy! Their coffee was local as well and delicious, especially when mixed with ice cream 🙂
El Bamboo also came highly recommended by everyone we talked to but unfortunately, we missed out on this one. It’s an Argentinian restaurant with an open air dining room in Balgue. Everyone suggested it. So, don’t be like us, don’t miss out on some Argentinian steak during your time in Nicaragua. Haha.
Los Cocos Comedor was simple and cheap with fast WiFi, located right across from the beach in Santa Cruz. Honestly, there wasn’t much special to this place but I got a good vibe from it the couple times I was there. Plus they were definitely working to make more of what they had to offer. During the weeks following my stay in Ometepe, they were planning on opening a hostel right behind their restaurant with affordable options for budget travelers.
Tiki Bar was recommended to me by a local guy that gave me a ride into Santa Cruz one day. It was a low key spot with only two things on the menu (fish plate or chicken plate) and a bar. Everything was well priced, the furniture was unique and the other guests were characters.
What to do?
Enjoy the jungle. Whether it’s by finding a place to stay in it, like InanItah, or exploring it on a day trip. Just make sure you find yourself amongst the lush tropical plants wondering what kind of creatures are in your company. I was able to learn a lot from InanItah about the plant life, both edible and not, that covers Ometepe. Whether opening coconuts, harvesting turmeric, or gathering greens—like merengue which was very prominent in our daily salads—there was always something to learn.
Hike Volcano Concepción. Most everyone who goes to Ometepe hikes Concepción. It’s the bigger more ‘volcano-like’ of the two volcanos that make up Ometepe. Concepción is 1,600m—or about a mile—tall and is still considered an active volcano. Everyone says that you have to do it with a tour guide, but I did meet one guy that did it solo (there’s always one guy). Seems reasonable enough to do it with a guide for around $20 and support a local though. Check out this post on Go Backpacking, ‘Climbing Volcanoes in Nicaragua: A Brief Guide to 4 Popular Hikes‘ that features both Volcano Concepción and Volcano Maderas.
Rent a scooter or motorbike. Not all the roads are paved on Ometepe, so if you can ride a motorbike, I suggest renting one that permits a little off road action. There are also some companies that rent ATVs as well for those with enough wiggle room in their budget. Scooters started at around $20 for a day and off road vehicles a bit more. Forewarning, if you do choose to drive even one of these vehicles, be prepared to carry your driver’s license as it may come in handy if you do get pulled over for whatever reason.
Oh, also, WEAR A HELMET. I believe you can be pulled over for not wearing one. Even if that’s not true, wear one anyway. That’s where your brain sits.
Ojo de Agua. This is a natural spring pool and is a saving grace for those hot Ometepe days. The water is constantly replenishing from the springs so the water remains clean and crystal clear. Admission is around $3 for the day. Although there are food options around, it is a little pricier than the standard costs.
Watch the sunset. From the docks in Moyogalpa or from the naturally heated hot tub at InanItah, just be ready to be in awe by these beautiful sunsets.
When to go
Well, rainy season is said to be May-November. We arrived in December and it didn’t stop raining from the moment that we got to InanItah. Apparently, this was rather rare and was even effecting farmers’ crops throughout the island. Honestly, we expected a few rainy days but I am not exaggerating when I say it didn’t stop raining. Remember that jungle fungus I mentioned earlier? Well, it was basically a result of never being dry and walking through mud for weeks, or so a theory goes.
So, even if you go during dry season, be prepared for the rain just in case. The perks of the rain of course is the lushness of everything around you. So, if you have the right gear, it won’t totally matter when you go because it will be amazing either way.
Rain fell and fell and then fell some more.
The sun peaked out from the clouds at sunset,
as if to say ‘Hold on, I’ll warm your skin again soon.
Don’t lose faith in me.’
And when the rain stopped and the clouds did part,
we all ran from our shelters to feel the warmth.
To give ourselves the allusion of becoming dry.
To replenish our bodies with the severe lack of Vitamin D.
And to feed our souls with warm thoughts.
We ran, because we knew it wouldn’t last.
And every time, the sun would disappear,
and the rain would come again.
Even though it felt so close to chaos, to insanity,
the sun would come out just enough to keep us from it.