San Ramon Waterfalls
One of the landmarks of Ometepe, these lovely waterfalls are within a private reserve, the San Ramon Biological Station. There is a 3 km long trail from the entrance to the reserve, of which approximately 2 km can be traversed in car or motorcycle up to a small private hydroelectric plant that is fed by the same river as the waterfall. Here, the road becomes two distinct trails, one that leads to the waterfall, which is clearly marked and the other that leads to the summit of the Maderas Volcano.
There is a $3.00 US entrance fee to the trail. Make sure you bring water with you as the hike is uphill all the way and you will need it! The trail is well marked and most of it is under the canopy of the forest, so you will not be under the sun all the way. En route, keep an eye out for wildlife. I actually heard howling monkeys and saw a troop of white faced monkeys and a large boa just off the trail. There are also many birds on the trail, especially if you are there early in the morning.
In the end, you will arrive at the foot of a 50 m, 150 foot waterfall that falls clinging to mossy cliffs into a small knee deep pool. Make sure you bring your bathing suit as you will want to cool down in the refreshing water falling from high above. During the summer months, the waterfall does not have much water, but the hike is still well worth your while. The water comes from a spring up in the Maderas Volcano. From the hydro electrical station it is about a 45 minute hike to the waterfall.
Hike to the Maderas Volcano
Maderas is the extinct volcano that is covered with tropical rain forest vegetation that changes, as you reach the summit to a tropical cloud forest. The hike up the Maderas is generally an 8 hour activity. Keep in mind that you are climbing to 1394 meters. The hike is a steep trail that can be quite muddy in the rainy season. Above all, it is best to take a guide with you, this will result in your seeing more wildlife, not loosing the path, and having help in the more difficult sections of the trail.
Make sure you bring good hiking boots, gear that you don’t mind covering in mud and plenty of water and snacks. There are several routes to the top, the most traversed is the one leaving from Finca Magdalena, near Balgue, but there is also another trail leaving from the San Ramon Biological Station and yet another leaving from the Albergue Ecologico El Porvenir. Most of the hike will be under the thick canopy of the rain and cloud forest, which means the there is not a clear view from most of the trail towards the lake and the rest of the island.
From the summit, the view, of course, is subject to having the peak of the volcano free of clouds, which is more common during the dry months. If you hike up to the top, you can then descend into the crater to a small, very mystical lake with clear fresh water where you can swim. It is always a good idea to leave as early in the morning as possible to give you plenty of sun light to make it up and back before it gets dark. This hike is not for you if you are not in good health and very fit!
Hike to the Concepcion Volcano
Concepcion is over 200 meters higher than Maderas (1,610m), and is the second highest volcano in Nicaragua. Its almost perfect conical form makes it a true beauty to see. Because this volcano is still active, its last activity was in May 2010, the upper half of it does not have any forest cover. Concepcion is one of the most active volcanoes in Nicaragua. Keep this in mind if you are considering the hike up to the top!
A hike up to this volcano should not even be considered without a local guide. The hike is usually a good 10 to 12 hours long and is more demanding that the one to the summit of Maderas Volcano, so you must be fit and willing to carry your own water and some energy snacks. There are three different trails to the summit, from Altagracia, the trail starts at La Sabana, and from Moyogalpa there are two different options, the more popular La Flor trail, that takes you first to a lookout spot at 1,000 meters above sea level and then on to the peak and the La Concha trail.
Regardless of the trail you choose, don’t try doing the hike without a local guide, make sure you bring a gallon of water per person and some snacks. The first part of the hike will take you through farmlands, then into a dry forest and eventually you will be above the forest line, where the volcanic presence of rocks and sand does not allow vegetation to grow. From this point on, the trail is out in the open, and you will have no mercy from the sun or the wind that blows across the majestic Lake Cocibolca.
Ojo de Agua
A natural spring in Ometepe, flowing in the middle of tropical vegetation, has become a tourist destination, with a large pool surrounded by lovely lush greenery.
The springs are close to the Santo Domingo Beach area. They are along the road that leads from the detour of the main Moyogalpa to Altagracia road towards Santo Domingo. Entrance fee is 2 US dollars. Facilities include changing facilities with showers, toilets, a restaurant and bar. For your comfort, chairs and lounges, are all available. Thatched roof umbrellas area also available to protect you from the sun.
The pools offer fresh, running spring water at a very pleasant temperature. Ideal to cool you off from the hot tropical sun of Ometepe. The site is open daily. Make sure you bring your bathing suit and relax and enjoy yourself in this lovely tropical setting.
Kayaking and Canoeing
The marshes and swamps around the Istian River are a sanctuary to many different species of birds. Some are native and many more migratory. The area offers unique opportunities to silently paddle through canals and sneak up on the wildlife here.
There are two different outfits that provide outstanding service and good boats for this tour. Both of them on the Maderas side of the island. The first is at the Hacienda Merida Hotel in the community of Merida. The other is the Caballitos de Mar. Both offer a great experience with the added benefit of being on the usually calm western side of Ometepe. If you like to paddle, and enjoy bird watching, this activity is a must!
The tour will usually take between 3 to 4 hours. As always, an early departure ensures seeing more wildlife and less heat.
Ometepe has a rich pre-Columbian heritage, large stone idols and petro glyphs (glyphs carved in stone) provide testimony to this. There is a trail at the Albergue Ecologico El Porvenir. Access is past Santo Domingo and just past the Santa Cruz hostel.
The trail will take you about 1 hour, and you will se several different pre-Columbian carvings. Access to the trail is 25 Cordoba’s, just over $1 US dollar.
Charco Verde is on the Concepcion side of the island. It gets its name from a small pond that is green due to the high level of algae in its waters. The pond is famous due to an ancient legend. A local, Chico Largo, reputedly made a deal with the devil and now lives at the bottom of the pond. He is often seen on the lonely roads in the area. There are several different hotels here. The most complete one being the Hotel Charco Verde. The beaches along this area are of black volcanic sand and are very good for swimming due to the tranquil waters.
Nearby is the La Ceiba Museum. It houses the most complete collection of pre-Columbian artefacts from Ometepe. They are part of a private collection. Entrance fee to this spacious, air conditioned museum is $4.00 US per person and includes a guided tour. The museum also houses a very complete numismatic collection. Probably the most extensive in Nicaragua with a large selection of coins, bills and post stamps of Nicaragua. Also in the vicinity is the Mirador del Diablo lookout point and Canopy tour.
The oldest community on the island, Altagracia is the seat of the municipality of Altagracia. Roughly 4/5ths of the island is within this municipality. It is a small quaint town with good hotels and several different restaurants. There are a couple of interesting sites to visit in town, including the central park. There you can see a large three dimensional map of the island. Nearby is an old church building that now serves as a small exhibit hall with many different photos of the island. In addition some large stone idols and petroglyphs are around the courtyard. Finally, the museum of Archaeology is located in the town. This offers an overall view of the different cultures that have inhabited the island over the centuries. The ferry to Granada and San Carlos departs from the Port in Altagracia.