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Ometepe Island with Kids

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Ometepe island is a twin-volcanic island rising up out of Lago de Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America. Tropical flora, clean and warm water, wide sandy beaches, wildlife population, archaeological sites, dramatic profile and off-the-beaten track emptiness combine to make this one of the most fantastic destinations we have had the pleasure of staying at.

You could easily spend a week here between lounging around on a beach or lagoon and hiking up volcanoes and in wildlife reserves. Sadly, we could only allow 3 days, and one of them was completely called off due to weather, but we were satisfied that our activities gave us a broad view of this wonderful place.


We stayed at the cheap and beautiful Hospedaje Central in the main town of Moyogalpa. Rooms were rough around the edges, but it had a nice vibe, great location and very helpful and friendly owners. I’d recommend this part of the island for its cheap guesthouses and range of food, everywhere is around 30-40 minutes’ drive from town.


Getting to Ometepe and around it

As in Leon and Granada, we had our own car, destined to be dropped off at the southern border with Costa Rica in just a few days. Ometepe was part of the sway in choosing to hire a car, as the beautiful parks, volcanos and coastlines are a good 40 mins or so from one another – it’s much bigger than it looks on a map! I had found one or two blogs directing our attention to the challenge of figuring out car ferries. From our base in Granada, we found a few accommodation sites with timetables detailing which company operates which ferry, and if it carries cars on what day. However, all sites indicated that a car requires advanced booking, and typically we were also embarking on this logistical nightmare on a Sunday! Offering up a Spanish (only) language phone line, we failed to communicate with the operators directly via WhatsApp and google translate over the phone, and staying in a guesthouse devoid of any staff or other guests made this even more tricky. Finally, we did manage to pre-book the car onto a Sunday ferry at our desired time of 9:00 with the help of our onward hostel manager (see above)! The cost was around $15 each way for the car, plus passenger tickets (just adults and over 5s – around $2 each!). If you can’t get a reservation, or just don’t fancy bringing your car, there is 24-hour secure parking at the ferry terminal in San Jorge where you can leave it for about $5 per day.


If you are bee-lining through Nicaragua with no car, then there are plenty of Chicken buses abound from Granada and the surrounds, taking approximately 1.5 hours and costing only a few dollars. Be warned, it can be $30 or so each way for taxis from place to place on the island which is more than we spent on the car.


We set off on our hour-and-a-half drive south from Granada (with some street-cart pastries!), and managed to navigate the ticket collection easily and quickly, and reverse onto the little ferry on a misty Sunday morning. We had read due to its size, waves can build up to sea-sickness levels, but we chilled on the roof deck with no problems at all on a calm day.

Things to do:


Sadly, the calm didn’t last long and within an hour of arriving the heavens opened. It became clear during lunch (in the beautiful Blue House) that this wasn’t going away any time soon :( The price we pay for having cheaper rates and no other tourists was the threat of having entire days or even weeks cut out through wet/hurricane season. There isn’t a great deal to do indoors on Ometepe, it’s certainly a wild, outdoorsy place, and we sadly had to miss out on the volcano and waterfall treks (we comforted ourselves with some blogs and reviews saying these were not especially doable with young kids).

Ojo de Agua


Ojo de Agua is a natural spring pool filled with crystal clear water from an underground river flowing from volcano Maderas. The swimming hole is rimmed with cement and sun loungers to form two separate swimming areas where the water gets renewed constantly by the spring that emerges from the bottom of the upper pool. With showers, changing rooms, a bar/restaurant, and even a diving board/rope swing, spend half a day here at least! We probably saw the largest number of other tourists here that we encountered throughout our 2 months in the region, but it was still far from crowed, maybe 5 other families at the peak. There are a number of treks around the surrounding jungle as well, but we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the water. We drove and parked there, but you can take a chicken bus from Santa Cruz and walk 1.5km up the road. Entry is 80C for adults and kids are free.

Volcano treks


The scenery on Ometepe is quite spectacular with the twin volcano peaks “Fire” and “Water” rising up from the lake, their summits generally shrouded in cotton wool hats.


The barren summit of Volcano Concepción (1610 m) is evidence of its active state. The Concepción is Nicaragua's second highest volcano and one of the most perfectly shaped volcanos of the Americas. Opposite, the wrinkled cone of Volcan Maderas is covered in thick cloud forest. On its summit a crater lagoon has formed where you can swim in a serene, jade-green setting.


It is a popular trek to climb either volcano, although they are dawn-busting 8-11 hour trips with an added level of difficulty with young kids, so not for us this time sadly – we spent our volcano points in Pacaya and Masaya (#noregrets).


Museums


Museos El Ceibo is quirky money-museum showcasing the nations coins and banknotes, alongside the troubled history of the Nicaraguan economy and hyperinflation during the Contra War.


Across the road, Museo Precolombino (Pre-Columbian museum) displays an excellent collection of more than 1,500 pieces of ceramics, metates, funeral urns and jewellery, spanning the different civilizations from all around the island, and some over 5,000 years old.


San Ramon waterfall


This stunning 40m waterfall is one of the jewels of the island. Depending on where you stay, hiring a taxi to the entrance and then up the road around 2.2km up to the parking area, can cost around $40. You then hike a 3.7km trail (30-40 minutes) beginning at the Estación Biológica de Ometepe. The trail to the waterfall has a steep scramble near the end and some of the reviews on Trip advisor put us off attempting this in the rain with the baby carrier – we made our peace for leaving it in the knowledge we saw some badass waterfalls already. If you can attempt this, at the top, the cascade tumbles down a sheer, mossy rock face into a cold pool that's supposedly fabulous for a dip on a hot day.


One things I must note here, is our trip(s) to the Hand of God soda in Moyogalpa. We had the most amazing smoothies with our tasty dinner (and then breakfast). I know smoothies, having spent way too many calories and cash on them across the world, and I would go as far as to say these are the best. Try fresa/strawberry and yogurt, but to be honest you can't go wrong!


Punta Jesus Maria


Just outside the town of Esquipulas, this absolutely must-photograph sand spit stretches out into the lake for more than 1km at the height of the dry season. In the drier spells the lake levels drop to reveal what was once a natural dock for indigenous fishers, and still used the same way today. Any time of year, this is a great spot for swimming. There is a car park of sorts nearby, a cheap and tasty commadore, and some of the best sunsets on the planet. Don’t miss this one!

The island’s petroglyphs


Some of these basalt carved pre-Columbian idols date back to 1000 BC. Motifs depict lizards, crocodiles, turtles and frogs, or anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. Some of the best places to see petroglyphs on their original location are at Hotel Finca Porvenir and on Finca Magdalena, both on the slopes of the volcano Maderas.

Rio Istian/kayaking


Rio Istian Kayaking with Caballito’s Mar is around $20pp, kids free (double kayaks). It can be strenuous kayaking against the wind on the lake. In dry season water levels were low and you might not see a lot of wildlife. This was one of things we had to cut during the downpours, but we hear it’s a really fun trip.


Reserva Charco Verde


This nature reserve surrounds the Laguna Charco Verde. We first visited the butterfly house at the ticket entrance, this was quite small but quiet and peaceful. We then walked through a more manicured garden that morphed into the jungle trail.

There are 3 trails surrounding the lagoon. We opted for the full walk around the jungle perimeter, which diverts to the wild black-sand beach of Lake Nicaragua around halfway through. The path was suitable for the pushchair, save for a few larger tree roots. Once again, we had the whole park to ourselves. We all changed into our swim gear on the beach (no changing rooms but absolutely zero people so…) and spent a beautiful hour or so in the warm, clear water. No matter what direction you look, the volcanic coast stretches into its mounds on either side of you and front and behind just water and jungle meeting right on the beach - there wasn’t a single bit of civilization in sight.

Once we got dressed, we picked up the main path again, finding stick insects, cicada cases and a plethora of large and small birds. In an unforgettable moment, I hushed everyone for a rustle in the trees and after a minute or so, a singular howler monkey emerged! He howled away (more like a pig oink!), walking around the lower tree branches, very close - one of those perfect moments.

This was quickly ushered on by the slight panic that we had overstayed, about to be locked in and we would have to break out (this happened to us in Birdworld, UK once!). We picked up the pace and found we had indeed been locked in and had to breakout! A crawl between the wall of the butterfly house and some bushes and we managed it without confronting any barbed wire!


Ometepe Island Summary:


The Ometepe landscape was painted green and exploding with thick rainforest, black sand beaches, beautiful swimming and the worlds greatest sunsets. Even if you’re only visiting Nicaragua for a week, Ometepe should be on your route. I can’t put it more plainly than that!

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