In the middle of Lake Nicaragua, isolated from the rest of the country, stand two majestic volcanoes at either end of an island. In the north of this island sits Volcán Concepción, a perfect cone-shaped active volcano. To the south, the extinct Volcán Maderas.
Both volcanoes boast a truly spectacular and fantastical sight. When you first approach Ometepe, whether by plane or ferry, you cannot help but gaze in awe at the twin volcanoes.
Maderas stands at 1,394 meters, and while it is an easier climb than Concepción due to its cloud forest, it is still by no means an easy trek. Expect around a 6 – 8 hour round trip to the top of this prehistoric volcano. Concepción stands at 1610 meters high, a steep climb up mostly loose rock. Expect around an 8-11 hour round trip to climb (depending on your fitness levels.)
If you’re not up for an intensive and grueling hike whilst visiting the island, there are many beautiful black beaches around the island, offering safe swimming in the clean, clear waters of the “freshwater sea” that is Lake Nicaragua. Then there is Ojo de Agua (Eye of Water.)
Ojo De Agua is situated on the north-eastern side of the island’s isthmus. It has two pools fed by thermal spring water from an underground well in the upper pool. The continuous stream of fresh water flowing through the pools is said to have unique qualities. The lower pool is over 40 meters long and around 2 meters deep.
I had heard from multiple travelers passing through about a place I must not miss out on that was described as “Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory… on an island.” How crazy does that sound? Obviously I had to go.
My second day on Ometepe I made plans to make my way to El Pital Chocolate Factory. My friend and I rented 2 bicycles for the afternoon, not knowing much about the route other than the vague directions to head north on the main road. It took us a few times to find the little wooden sign pointing down the beaten path.
After doing a quick scan of the road that was ahead, we locked up our bikes and finished the journey on foot. This may have been due to the terrential downpour and post-hurricane weather front that had blown through weeks prior, but the road was pretty rough.
I would strongly advise against driving or even riding a scooter down the rocky hill. However what lies ahead of you is well worth the trek. Low and behold… a chocolate paradise.
El Pital specializes in raw chocolate and the owners will give you a tour of their facility. We had a few pieces of chocolate by itself but you can also get some desserts and milkshakes. They also have something called a Magic Ball, which is just as delicious as it sounds – raw dark chocolate, açai, pitaya, granola, fresh fruit and chocolate sauce!
This amazing little place is a hidden gem on the island. I can’t recommend it enough.
As far as transportation goes, there is only one main road around the island so needless to say, getting around can be slow. If you bring your own car or hire car from the mainland, a 4×4 is recommended. Especially if you want to explore off the beaten track.
Scooters can be rented for around USD $20-$25 for the day and are a great way to get to most places. Motorbikes and bicycles can also be rented. There is a bus service running between Moyogalpa and Altagracia for around USD $1 but it is very slow – expect around 1 hour to take what should be a half hour trip.
The great beauty of Ometepe is the friendly people, the landscapes and the simpler way of life. This is an island where you can really switch off and relax. I enjoyed many breakfasts and cups of café at the nearby Cafe Campestre located in Balgüe.
Take a ride around the islands villages, and you will find more restaurants by the beach, how horses are still so integral to daily life, and the many smiling, friendly people. While Ometepe is by no means a fancy island, it is very rich in what is has to offer you.
The Traveling Yogi