A Solo Adventure on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
One commitment I made to myself when I left my career to go back to school was that I would travel as much as possible. I’ve travelled my entire life, but was always limited by the number of vacations days I had. I also realized that I had never taken a solo vacation. Sure, I had moved to other countries alone, but those experiences were not vacations as they involved all the aspects of establishing yourself in a new place. I decided that I would take my first solo vacation during a recent semester break and chose Nicaragua as my destination.
There’s so much to see and do in Nicaragua. I found it really difficult to narrow down my list! On the recommendation of two friends, I decided that a visit to Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua would be on my itinerary. Here’s my story and what you need to know about Ometepe Island!
The Journey There & Where to Stay
When planning this portion of the trip, I wanted it to be relaxing and quiet. With that in mind, I stumbled upon La Via Verde which is a 2 bedroom organic farm and B&B on Ometepe Island at the base of Volcano Madera near Balgue. The owner, Eileen, was both a fascinating person and incredibly helpful. She arranged for a friend to pick me up in Granada, along with the 2nd guest staying at her place, and have them drop us off at the San Jorge (Rivas) ferry terminal. This was about a 1 hr drive and cost us each less than $20. It’s worth getting there a little early so you can get a seat on the top deck. The views of both volcanoes are amazing as you approach the island.
The ferry ride was about 1 hour and arrived in the town of Moyogalpa. There are a few different ferry routes sodefinitely check the schedule online to be sure you arrive in the best location for you. Moyogalpa is a typical congested and lively ferry terminal. Again, Eileen had a friend pick us up to transport us to the other side of the island to La Via Verde (30 minutes, ~$25 total for both of us).
The island of Ometepe is essentially two volcanoes connected by an isthmus. Moyogalpa is at the base of Volcano Concepcion so the ride to La Via Verde had us snaking around the base of Concepcion, across the isthmus, and around the base of Volcano Maderas.
La Via Verde is an Oasis on Ometepe Island
From the street, La Via Verde has a gate and a tree lined grassy driveway up the hill to the property. Eileen was there and happily greeted us and showed us the property. The downstairs is the kitchen and one bathroom, but the real surprise is upstairs. As you climb up the stairs, there is a large balcony with a kitchenette and an incredible view of Volcano Concepcion. The fridge is stocked with fresh spring water (for free) , beer and rum. Both rooms have a wrap around balcony with a hammock and rocking chairs. It was exactly what I was looking for! Eileen and her husband organically farm on their land. At breakfast you have amazing options of fresh red beans and eggs, homemade yogurt and granola, among other options – all grown and made from their farm.
Dinner with a View
After dropping off our bags, myself and the other guest walked down into Santo Domingo beach area. Here there are loads of resorts and hostels to stay at. In this area, you can find places that offer more of a party atmosphere. It’s also the perfect place to stop for a beer to cool off in the afternoon by the water.
Because myself and the other guest were both hiking a volcano the next day, Eileen told us that she can order food from any of the local restaurants and they’ll deliver it to her house for no charge. We took her up on that so we could watch the sunset behind Volcano Concepcion from the balcony. It was fun opening up the food and finding what appeared to be a family’s own tupperware containers full of deliciousness. It’s clear that this is a service provided only to friends of the restaurant owner.
The Volcano Hike
I won’t go into detail on the hike up Volcano Maderas, because I’ve already written a whole post on that. I highly recommend the hike, but will say that you really need to be in decent shape to do it!
RELATED POST: Nicaragua: Hiking Volcano Maderas
Scootering is the Way to See Ometepe Island
The morning after the volcano hike, I woke up just a little bit sore pretty much all over. I decided it was the perfect day to do my absolute favorite activity – renting a scooter and exploring. Eileen, of course, knew a guy who delivered a scooter to La Via Verde for me to use. Like an idiot, I did not bring my driver’s license with me because I didn’t expect to drive while in Nicaragua. Apparently there are random police stops on the island (which I can confirm I saw several of them) that will stop and ask for your license. The guy renting the scooter warned me that I may get fined or have trouble if I got stopped. I decided to risk it and employ my favorite strategy which is to smile and wave at the police officers. It seemed to be an effective strategy for me as I did not get stopped!
There’s really one primary road that wraps like a figure 8 around Ometepe Island. This makes it easy to navigate and difficult to get lost 😉 My first stop was Chaco Verde, which has a butterfly farm as well as hiking trails with beaches. I had never been to a butterfly farm, but absolutely loved seeing (and photographing) all the colors! While hiking, I saw both monkeys and lizards along the trail. I have a bit of an obsession with primates so that pretty much made my day. The beach that I stopped at had a pretty awesome view of Volcano Maderas… and there were only about 3 people using the beach. It’s the perfect place to sit and relax or read.
A Glimpse Into Life on Ometepe
From Chaco Verde, I headed to Moyogalpa to say goodbye to the other guest from the B&B, Ryan, who was heading back to Managua that day. We had shared several beers and talked about life on the balcony of La Via Verde. We shared lunch at a cafe, said our goodbyes, and I was off again on the scooter.
The afternoon included a series of random stops. One of my favorites was Punta Jesus Maria, which is also one of the best beaches in Nicaragua. It’s located at the end of a long and winding dirt road.
When you arrive, a guard will ask you to pay $1. He was very friendly… and curious about me driving the scooter alone. You can walk out on a narrow bit of sand formed by the currents into Lake Nicaragua and get a view of both volcanos. The water is shallow enough to swim here and there is a cafe/ bar if you want a bite.
What I love about scootering is that you can see more of how people live. I passed herds of cattle on the road, the airport runway crossing the street, birthday celebrations and funerals. In Altagracia, there was a beautiful old church being renovated. And in Balgue there was a rodeo being setup for the locals, which Eileen later explained is a big (often loud and drunken) celebration. I could’ve kept riding and exploring but the day was coming to an end and I had to return the scooter.
All Good Things Must End
The last night, I enjoyed a cold beer, a book and the sunset one more time from La Via Verde’s balcony. I reflected a bit on this first solo adventure. I think what so many people misunderstand about solo travel, is that they think it’s lonely. What I found is that because I was solo, I was open to the kindness and conversation with strangers that really enriched my experience.
My 3 days in Ometepe Island went by so quickly. On the last morning, Eileen’s friend Eddie drove me to Moyogalpa to catch the ferry back to San Jorge (Rivas) terminal. On the drive, Eddie explained that he had lived his entire life on Ometepe Island and never left the island. He was so proud of his four children and the life his family had together there. When I asked him if he would ever leave or visit someplace else, he said simply “when you live here, why do you need to go anywhere else?” I can’t say I disagree with him.