Volcán Concepción is the highest of the two volcanoes on Isla de Ometepe. It has a perfect cone shape and is 1610 metres high. Concepción is an active volcano with smoke coming out of the crater. I visited during the rainy season so the volcano was mostly covered with clouds (very much the day I did the hike).
Right after arriving to Moyogalpa I arranged for the hike to Volcán Concepción with Ometepe Expeditions. The tour was 15 dollars (July 2009) to the middle (actually 1000metres) and 20 dollars if we went further (to the top I thought). The price only includes the guides, no transport and no snacks. When I booked the tour we were three people in the group and we were told to be in Moyogalpa at 7am (there was a bus passing Playa Venecia around 6am). But in the evening the man from the agency was at Playa Venecia and we were now eight people in the group, so it was arranged that a car from the hotel would take us in the morning, not only to Moyogalpa, but to the place were the trek began. And it was going to pick us up later in the afternoon to return us in the afternoon. It was going to be 5 dollars each. In the morning the group had increased and we were now ten tourists. No prices decreased though.
In the morning we stopped at a supermarket in Moyogalpa to buy water and snacks. The guide advised us to buy three big bottles each, that’s 4.5 litres. I had only intended to buy two but followed the guides advise. The backpack became very heavy of course and after the hike I had still one bottle left.
We had two guides and were divided in two smaller groups of five and then started the hike. The first part of the trek is only sloping gently but it soon becomes steep. We walked through a lush green tropical forest and saw both howler monkeys and white faced monos. At higher elevation the vegetation changed and soon after passing the tree line we stopped. We were at 1000 metres and from here you will have a spectacular view if it is clear, which is was not on the day I visited. We sat down to rest and ate our snacks. It was quite cold and windy and I changed my wet t-shirt to a dry one to keep warm.
It had been a quite hard ascent and we were only three from the group who wanted to go further up. It was now even steeper and it was rocks and loose volcanic rook (see photos in travelouge). We went to 1300 metres and were told we could not go further. It is too dangerous with strong wind and ravines. I guess that if you want to reach the top it should be done in the dry season.
When we walked through the forest on our way down we suddenly heard a roar, it was the rain arriving, one of the most heavy downpours I have seen. I was lucky I had my camera in two plastic bags. In the end of the hike we caught up with the rest of the group. Even if we were all soaking wet and it had been cloudy the hike was absolutely worth doing.
After cycling north of Playa Santo Domingo for about 2 km I came to the entrance of Ojo de Agua where I left the bicycle. At the entrance you pay 2 US $ (December 2010) and then walk a small trail through corn fields and banana plantations for around 1km until you arrive to Finca Tilgue, better known as Finca Ojo de Agua because of the natural spring that flows across the property. Set in the middle of a beautiful tropical forest, there are the two pools filled with crystal clear water made up of several underground springs that shine and bubble in the sun. The pools are almost 2 m deep and the larger is over 40 m long which makes for a good swimming. Ojo de Agua is of volcanic origin and its crystalline water includes several minerals which has medicinal properties for the skin.
A thatched roof hut by the pool is a restaurant with a good selection of food and cold drink, including natural juices and cocktails. There are lots of places to sit in the sun or in the shade, and a few accurately placed hammocks. You'll also find a small souvenir shop, changing rooms, showers and toilets.
Ojo de Agua offers an escape from the tropical heat in peaceful ecological environment where you can spend a morning or an afternoon chilling around the pool and dipping into refreshing water.
more pics in the travelogues
Horse riding is a wonderful pastime activity on the island. In many ways, it is the best way to get around this muddy and steep terrain, and experience the island's village life. Surprisingly, no independent operator is offering rides yet, so ask at your hotel. Normally you can rent horses for between 5 US $ and 7 US 4 an hour, which should come with a guide. Where you go it depends on the area you rent from. You can go for a ride towards the lake and get the chance to explore the tiny villages. The beaches around Santo Domingo are also a nice place to ride.
As I was staying at Albergue Ecológico El Porvenir, it was most convenient to rent a horse there. I asked the owner José what were the options and he suggested a ride to the slopes of Vulcán Maderas. We left El Porvenir at 8am following a trail to the volcano. It was a steep terrain through the forest, plantations and pastures scattered with volcanic rocks, offering some great views. After about an hour ride we came to a huge bean field where we left the horses. We took a short walk to a viewpoint where we were able to appreciate a fantastic panoramic view of Ometepe and Lago Nicaragua, with Volcán Concepción in the background.
The ride took 2,5 hours and it was 5 US $ per hour (December 2010).
Finca Magdalena is an organic farm set up on the slopes of Vulcán Maderas, a 20-minute hike uphill from Balgue. The hacienda was built over 120 years ago and it contains two large buildings and several smaller ones. It is part of a working cooperative that produces coffee, honey and organic fruits and vegetables. There are now 24 families who are a pat of the cooperative, which received land under the Sandinista land reform in the 1980s.
The finca also serves as a backpacker's hostel, offering dorm-style accommodations in an old wooden farmhouse, along with some cabañas for those who'd like a little more privacy. Finca Magdalena is on the way up the trail to Vulcán Maderas so guided tours can be arranged here. It provides an easy access to the petroglyphs scattered around the grounds, and horse riding tours are also available. The finca is surrounded by lush gardens and has plenty of scenic chill-out areas. Meals are served from the finca's porch which offers glorious views of Lago de Nicaragua and Vulcán Concepción. During the coffee season, which usually runs from November to February, guests can watch or even participate in various stages of the harvest.
It took me almost two hours to walk the dirt road from Santa Cruz to Finca Magdalena. Exhausted from the heat, a chilled for a while on the porch and had a good cup of organic coffee from their farm and a chocolate cake. Fortunately, I did not need to walk all the way back to El Porvenir. I managed to arrange transportation in 4x4 with some guys from Managua who just returned from their hike to Vulcán Maderas.
On the way back from Finca Magdalena to El Porvenir I also wanted to visit Finca Ecologica El Zopilote. It's a permaculture farm located in a quiet place, a 10-minute walk up the trail from the village of El Madroñal, run by a few peace-loving Italians, working with respect for the environment and nature. The finca offers to the visitors different types of accommodation such as camping, hammocks, dorm beds and private cabañas. All the cabins are constructed from natural materials and are integrated perfectly into the surrounding nature. The roofs are all made from natural palm leaves from the island. In order to limit the use of cement in El Zopilote they make use of natural stone and rock as well as recycling materials such as glass, bottles and metal.
There is a communal kitchen where guests can cook their own meals, and three times a week they organize pizza nights with a good selection of organic pizzas to choose from. You can have tropical fruits for free as well filtered water. The compound has compost toilets, an artisan's workshop and a clay oven for bread and pizza. The land is completely planted with trees and plants of all kinds, including a nursery and a vegetable garden. There is also a wonderful lookout where you can watch amazing sunset with the volcan in the background.
For those interested in permaculture, sustainable living and ecology they organize tours with one of the owners where you will get hands on experience with permaculture, composting, rainwater harvesting, solar power, recycle of all the trash, and more. And there is always plenty of work in El Zopilote so they have open arms for volunteers and WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) members that come to work and learn how a tropical farm operates.
And don't forget to check out the yummy products in the small shop. All the products are organic and handmade in the farm. The list is huge. You can get everything from coffee, chocolate (6 different flavours), homemade nutella (rich chocolate-peanut spread), peanut butter, tahini, marmalades (made with seasonal fruits, herbs and spices from the farm), mango chutney, liqueurs (made from various herbs, nuts, fruits and spices), honey, juices, yogurt, granola, muffins, cookies and cakes, whole wheat bread, tomato sauce, chili oil and chili paste, cold pressed coconut oil and banana vinegar, and also soap (natural soaps made with oils and plants from the finca), natural sponges and notebooks (made from their homemade recycled paper). I would certainly buy lots of their products if I stayed on the island longer. But it was my last day so not very practical to carry them with me. I only bought three chocolate pralines with different flavour: coffee, nuts and coconut. A top-grade chocolate products with exquisite taste!
Ometepe is known for its rich pre-Columbian past. Petroglyphs and stone statues are scattered all over the island but the biggest concentration of them can be found on the north and northeastern slopes of Volcán Maderas. More than 1700 petroglyphs have been found on Ometepe and the oldest are thought to have been made around 1000 B.C. Some of the best places to see petroglyphs in their original place are at Albergue Ecológico El Porvenir and on Finca Magdalena. At El Porvenir there is a well-marked trail where you can see approximately 20 of these rock carvings. Visitors have to pay 1 US $ (December 2010) but for guests of El Porvenir it was free.
Petroglyphs on the island of Ometepe paid homage to the Nahuatl gods. The most common motif is the spiral, representing perhaps calendars or the Nahuatl concept of time and space. Their calendar consisted of 18 months of 20 days each, which made a year of 360 days. Other images carved in the rocks depict anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures, like lizards, turtles, frogs and monkeys.
Except for the road between Moyagalpa and Altagracia, most of the roads on Isla de Ometepe are still unpaved. Actually, they are in terrible condition. There aren't many cars but you'll encounter many (mostly local) cyclists and will share it with heards of cattle, horses, pigs and chickens. Bicycles can be rented at most hotels. For me it was most convenient to rent it at Albergue Ecológico El Porvenir where I was staying and I took it for the whole day.
I left early in the morning, after breakfast. In Santa Cruz I turned left and followed the road to Playa Santo Domingo, passing by a few tiny settlements and pastures, and with a nice view of Volcán Concepción. Lush tropical vegetation grows right next to the road. It is not unusual to see animals on the road, children playing and women doing laundry in the creek.
I passed by Playa Santo Domingo and then continued 2km further north to Ojo de Agua, two natural pools filled with crystal clear water and set in the middle of a beautiful tropical forest, where I spent a great part of my day. On the return I made a stop for lunch in Playa Santo Domingo, and had a short walk around before cycling back to El Porvenir.
In spite of the heat, humidity and poor road conditions, I found cycling on Ometepe a great way of exploring this magical island.
Situated on the north-eastern side, at the narrow wedge of land that connects the Maderas and Concepción side of the island, Playa Santo Domingo is a 4 km long stretch of gray sand which is said to be one of the prettiest freshwater beaches in Nicaragua. With the forest-covered Vulcán Maderas looming at the beach’s end, it is truly magical. The swimming can be nice but with the constant breeze the water is usually choppy and it can get windy. At the time of my visit the water level was very high due to a lot of rain in the previous months, so the sandy beach literary disappeared. But it was still fun sitting at one of the restaurants, just a step from the lake and with beach umbrellas literary in the water.
Playa Santo Domingo is one of Ometepe’s main tourist destinations with some of the island’s finest accommodation options and scenic lakeside restaurants and bars. The main attraction is certainly the beach though Playa Santo Domingo can be also an ideal base to explore the surroundings. There is a short trail that leads into the isthmus of Ometepe and to the river Istián (actually a swamp) with its rich bird life. The best way to explore the river is by kayak. Another pleasant stroll is to Ojo de Agua, two natural pools with refreshing water. Surrounded by forest, the place kept its tropical look.
Located on the north-western coast of the island, Moyogalpa is the getaway to Ometepe, via 1-hour ferry ride from San Jorge on the mainland. The name in the Nahuatl language means 'place of the mosquitos'. Not just the ferry terminal, Moyogalpa is the largest village and commercial centre on Isla de Ometepe with the only bank and ATM, a post office, a tourist office, a choice of hotels, bars, restaurants and shops, and the fastest internet on the island. It's also a home base to most of the island's tour companies, and the best starting point for a hike on the Vulcán Concepción.
From the port, Moyogalpa's main drag rises up to a charming Catholic church where it meets the road connecting to the rest of the island's communities. La Sala Arqueológica, located toward the top of the main street, seems to have a small but interesting collection of pre-Columbian artifacts found on the island over years, but unfortunately I only stayed in Moyogalpa shortly so there was no time to visit it.
The Vulcán Concepción looms over Moyogalpa, providing a dramatic and ever-changing backdrop to the town scenery. Moyogalpa also has a perfect location for watching the sunset which is best to enjoyed at the small park at the side of the port.
Several fiestas are held in Moyagalpa. The most important celebration is the patron's saint (Santa Ana) festival which takes place from July 23 – 26, featuring the Baile de las Inditas which is performed in much the same way as the indigenous dance it replaced, with traditional costumes and the resonant sound of the marimba.
A short walk from Playa Venecia is the Reserva Charco Verde. I took a hiking trail beginning at Hotel Charco Verde and this late afternoon I didn’t see any other persons along the path. I saw a lot of birds though and the landscape was lush and green so it was a very nice walk.
The trail passes the Laguna Charco Verde, a green pond said to be home of the ancient witch Chico Largo. According to the legend he is there to protect the tomb and gold throne of Cacique Nicarao, who is buried here. In change of your soul Chico Largo can also give you a life of luxury. But remember your soul will become a cow!
More than 1700 petroglyphs have been found on Isla de Ometepe, most of them on the Maderas side of the island. The petroglyphs on Isla de Ometepe have been carved in volcanic basalt 800 to 1200 years ago and the carvings are about a centimetre deep.
Around Albergue Ecológico El Porvenir, where I stayed, there is a marked trail where about 20 petroglyphs can be seen. Also in many other places there are petroglyphs scattered around in the landscape and to see some of them you can ask for a tour at your hotel.
The second volcano on Isla de Ometepe is Volcán Maderas. It is inactive and 1394 metres high. If you take the Maderas hike you will ascent through tropical forest up to the rim of the crater (there is no view from here), and then there is a steep descent to a crater lake. The volcano was mostly covered in thick clouds during my visit on the island.
I had planed to do the Maderas hike as well and asked for it at El Porvenir. A guided tour would be 20 dollars (July 2009) if I was alone and 10 dollars if another person also came. In the end I didn’t do the hike as I realised a Public Holiday was coming up and there could be problems with less transport the day I was supposed to go to Granada, so I left Ometepe a day earlier than planed.
Merida is a village on the west side of Vulcán Maderas. It is the end stop for the buses and there are a few cheap hotels here.
I came to Merida on bike and had lunch at the hotel Hacienda Merida, a place that used to be a farm belonging to the Somoza family. I had a tasty lunch in the restaurant and then walked down to the lake. At the jetty there were a couple of boats and two tourist coming down to the jetty with their luggage told me they were taking the boat to Moyogalpa. Apparently there was a new boat service between Merida and Moyogalpa and this sounds to be a good option as the buses are not frequent.
If you stay in Merida you can do activities like horseback riding, kayaking and mountain biking. It is also easy to make excursions to Vulcán Maderas, Cascada San Ramón (a 40m high waterfall) and to El Cogüito (Monkey Island).
You can rent a mounting bike at many hotels on Isla de Ometepe. I rented a bike at Albergue Ecológico El Porvenir where I stayed and it was 3 dollars (July 2009) per hour (I think). I cycled to Mérida, had lunch and went back, so I was only away for three hours.
The road is a rough dirt road so it was very bumpy, but the surroundings were green and beautiful and it was peaceful. Along the road there is little traffic. I saw a few people with bikes and a couple of cars.
If you want to cycle around Maderas it is 35 km.
The ferry from San Jorge arrives in Moyogalpa, a small town with a population of 6700 inhabitants. As I arrived I arranged for a hike to Volcán Concepción, and then bought snacks, sweets and water at one of the small supermarkets up the road. Then I bought an ice cream at Eskimo, situated by the yellow church at the end of the road, before going to the bus stop.
If you want to travel on from Moyogalpa you can catch a bus down by the ferry terminal or from the road opposite the church.
In Moyogalpa you can find several hotels, restaurants and Internet cafes. There is also a small archaeological museum, which I didn’t visit.