Ometepe, Nicaragua is a magical island located in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. There is something very special about this place. Part of its draw is the two stunning volvolcanoes, Concepcion (active) and Maderas (inactive). Even if you can only swing by for a couple of days, definitely get here before hoards of other tourists discover it! (I’ve already been twice in the past 15 months!) The island is a wonderful spot to soak in nature and there are plenty of hikes for all levels. If you can’t do them all, first pick the level of difficulty you’re up for. Be honest with yourself. What is your physical fitness like in this moment? (Not what you’d LIKE it to be.) If you’re short on time, or are just wondering where to start, here is my collection of the top hikes in Ometepe, Nicaragua.
1. Volcan Concepcion (most difficult)
I hiked this beast during my first visit to Ometepe in 2015. It was intense, and while I feel VERY accomplished, I said I’d never do it again. (It nearly broke me!) I went alone with a guide. In hindsight, it probably would have been more enjoyable with a small group because I felt like I was constantly running to keep up with this nimble mountain goat. One of the keys to surviving this hike is to take it slow. We finished the entire hike in 6.5 hours, but some people take up to 10. Clearly my guide was on a mission to keep me out of the sun…or to get home early.
Concepcion is a perfectly shaped volcano standing proud at 5,250 feet/1,600 meters. It. Is. STEEP. There is nothing easy or relaxing about this hike. The panoramic views of Ometepe island and Maderas are stunning if you go on a clear day. I had brilliant views halfway up and was then immersed in clouds where I felt like I was in a Lord of the Rings movie. It was so eerie up there, and I even got to peer over the edge into the crater.
A guide is absolutely required for this hike since tourists have died doing Concepcion without one. It is extremely steep and rocky and has several path options as well.
The essentials: $10-15 US when booking from a hostel like El Hospedaje Central. Depending on which path(s) are taken, the hike takes 6-10 hours and starts from Moyogalpa. Bring lunch, water, sunscreen, a hat, a jacket, more water, and a good attitude. (Maybe even some bad jokes in Spanish?)
2. Maderas Volcano (difficult, but also has an intermediate option at the viewpoint)
This hike couldn’t be more different than Concepcion. It’s far less steep, but challenging because you hike through thick jungle and mud. If you don’t want to get covered in filth or if you’re afraid of falling, please don’t do this hike. I signed up to do it on my most recent visit to Ometepe, but I woke up with stomach problems and had to skip it. My friends went without me and had a great time, but they said it was definitely extreme. (They also came back covered in mud!) There’s a bit of a debate as to which volcano is more difficult; I recommend selecting the one that most fits your hiking style. There is also a view point part way up the volcano if you don’t want to invest your entire day climbing. A guide is also required to hike Maderas.
The essentials: $8 US for a guide from Zopilote hostel; 3 people minimum. The posted hike hours are 7am-3pm but most people are gone longer. You can start near Balgue or Merida. Bring lunch, water, sunscreen, bug spray, swimsuit, hat, a jacket, and more water.
3. San Ramon Waterfall (intermediate)
Half the battle of this hike is getting to the start! San Ramon is located on the more rural part of Ometepe, Nicaragua, and the road to the base of the hike is very rocky and poorly taken care of. I met two backpackers who crashed their scooters on the way up! Our 4×4 vehicle got us mostly to the start, but we did have to hop out and walk a bit. If you choose to get there on your own (bicycle or chicken bus), it’s only a couple of kilometers more to get to the “official” start of the hike, so add more time for that.
The hike is somewhat steep and slippery at points, but it’s definitely doable within one and a half to two hours. The waterfall at the end is 52 meters/170 feet high and picturesque. If you go during dry season, it might not be flowing as powerfully as it does during rainy season when I went, but it’s still a beautiful sight to see. The pool isn’t deep enough to swim in, but you can still wade in and cool off before the trek back down. Bring snacks and relax for a while.
The essentials: $2 US entry payable at the Biological Station. Hike is approximately 2 hours. Located on the south part of the south island near Merida. Bring water, sunscreen, bug spray, and snacks. (I take almonds with me everywhere!)
4. Charco Verde (easy)
I learned about this nature reserve during my second visit to the island when I was staying in Moyogalpa. There is a small butterfly, bird, and orchid pavilion, 3 walking trails, a green lagoon (not for swimming), and a beach with a view of Maderas Volcano. I spent 15 minutes with the butterflies, walked all 3 paths, sat at the beach for a bit, and was done in approximately 2 hours. There is also a resort where you can grab a drink afterwards which I did while waiting for my chicken bus. The hiking trails are easy and short enough where I felt comfortable doing them alone. I saw guides taking groups of Spanish speakers on an informational tour, but a guide is definitely not necessary. If you have an interest in flora and fauna, or if you just want to get away from town for a while, this reserve is worth a visit!
The essentials: $5 US entry. Allocate 2-3 hours at the park. Located 10-12km east of Moyogalpa. 30 minutes / 11 cordoba chicken bus or 1 hour on a bicycle. Bring water!
This island is simply one of my favorite places to explore and connect with nature. I can’t stop gushing about it! I hope you will have the opportunity to enjoy Ometepe, Nicaragua as much as I did! I’m sure I will be back for a third time to climb Maderas one day. #FOMO #goals
Do you enjoy easy hikes or more extreme ones? Are there any others you can recommend in Ometepe, Nicaragua or throughout Central America?