Why not read our Retirement Reviews.
It was time to move on to Ometepe for a bit of adventure time …
GRANADA TO OMETEPE:
It would have been about a 1 km walk from our hotel (with a suitcase), so we decided to flag down a taxi outside of our hotel at 7:30am (N$15 per person).
We were targeting the 8:05am bus. We arrived at 7:40am. Our bus was waiting. Our luggage was thrown up on the roof and we claimed our seats. We left on time. The price was N$70 to Rivas (but, we may have paid 2x N$35 … to pay for our over-sized bags). The bus wasn’t full.
We arrived in Rivas at 9:35am. The bus stopped on the side of the main road and told us that ‘this is the stop for San Jorge’. This IS NOT the main Rivas Bus Terminal (which was the final stop about 1km further down the road). There are many rumours about scams going on with tourists at the main Bus Terminal … stopping here helped to avoid that problem.
A bus to San Jorge (the port where you catch the ferry to Ometepe Island) was waiting. We jumped on. Our bags were thrown into the luggage compartment. The bus weaved its way through busy market streets (missing the market stalls by centimeters) before hitting the road to San Jorge. We arrived at the ferry port at 10:10am (N$10 each).
We were approached immediately by an official looking tout. He asked us if we needed transport from Moyogalpa to our hotel … which we did. We were going to the other side of the island: Santa Cruz. There were 4 of us. He offered a price of US$30 for all 4. Within 1 minute, we had negotiated him down to US$5 each. We paid him and took it on trust that there would be a Colectivo waiting for us in Moyogalpa; he gave us a ticket for the booked Colectivo. We, then, bought our ferry tickets (N$50 each) and boarded the ferry.
Our Colectivo driver was waiting for us. We gathered up a total of 10 passengers and set off for Santa Cruz at 11:55am. We arrived at our hotel at about 12:30pm.
A young backpacker got off at the hotel before us. He didn’t buy a ticket back in San Jorge. He was charged US$10.
At our hotel we talked to a couple that had made it to Santa Cruz by Chicken Bus. They had to change bus in Altagracia. It had taken them nearly 4 hours. They said that the 2nd bus was standing room only for over 1.5 hours. In retrospect, they wished that they had caught a Colectivo.
MY ADVICE: Treat yourself and book a Colectivo. Buy your Colectivo ticket in San Jorge … you can get it for half the price.
ABOUT OMETEPE ISLAND:
Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua. Its name derives from the Nahuatl words ome (two) and tepetl (mountain). It is the largest island in Lake Nicaragua.
The two volcanoes: Volcán Concepción (1610 meters high) and Volcán Maderas (1394 meters high) are joined by a low isthmus to form one island in the shape of a peanut. Ometepe has an area of 276 km2. It is 31 km long and 5 to 10 km wide.
The island first became inhabited during the Dinarte phase (circa 2000 BC – 500 BC), although evidence is questionable. Traces of this past can still be found in petroglyphs and stone idols on the northern slopes of the Maderas volcano.
In the 16th century (early colonial times) pirates began prowling Lake Nicaragua. They came in from the Caribbean Sea via the San Juan River. The inhabitants of Ometepe were hard hit. The pirates kidnapped women, stole the inhabitants’ animals, possessions, and harvest, and the pirates took refuge in small settlements on the shore. This displaced the local population to higher ground. The island was finally settled by the Spanish conquistadors at the end of the 16th century.
Today, Ometepe is developing tourism and ecotourism … with the archaeological past and the bounty of its nature sanctuary, the exotic vegetation, animal and bird life as draw-cards.
With a population of approximately 40,000 people, the tourists that visit this island make a great impact on the local economy. Current estimates have about 60,000 visitors to the island every year. The majority arrive between mid-November and mid-May. The majority of the visitors arrive via ferry from San Jorge to Moyogalpa. There are many things for tourists to do: from black sand beaches … to zip lines … to kayaking at sunrise … to seeing caiman alligators … to horseback rides at sunset on the beach.
Ometepe is likely to transform into a mature Tourism destination relatively quickly. If you want to see it before then, you will need to come soon.
We decided to rent a scooter for 5 days so that we could have a good look around the island and freely get to all of the interesting places.
You soon pass the best beach area on the island which lies between Santa Cruz and Santa Domingo. Along the way, you find small pockets of sandy beach. Alas, when we were on Ometepe, the lake was the highest that it has been for over 10 years … and, most of the beach was underwater.
At Balgue, the road becomes paved for the last 3 kms of your journey back to Santa Cruz.
The coastline of Ometepe is not beautiful. The beauty mainly lies in the constant view of one or both of the island’s volcanoes.
A road trip around the western end of the island offers little of interest.
A trip around the eastern side is a waste of time. The road is so rough that, in patches, you need a motorbike (you should not really attempt this ring-road on a small-wheeled scooter).
WHERE TO STAY:
Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online around the island … this is for 1 night in the middle of December 2017 (the first month of their High Season) …
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 18% to the displayed price to get the final price. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first.
VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s …
PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Extra Fees (which can add as much as 16%).
In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.
There are many GRANDPAcking options to choose from in the US$18-25 price range.
Most places are already on the internet … it is hard to find a ‘hidden gem’ at a cheaper price.
Hotels on the eastern side of the island around Volcan Maderas are isolated and hard to get to down dirt tracks; This limits your ability to get out and about around the island.
The main towns on the western side of the island are uninspiring.
You are best to find a hotel on the western side of the island on the new paved road.
MY ADVICE: Find a hotel in the area between Balgue and Santa Domingo.
I got online a few weeks in advance and found the Hostal Tecali.
It was a mix up between the Tecali and Booking.com … we contacted each other by email and came to a compromise …
We agreed that I would cancel my Double Room booking and that my son would move into the Cottage with me: I would have the downstairs and he would have the upstairs mezzanine floor. Our price of US$5 / night each would stay the same.
We arrived in Ometepe 1 day late to find that Nelly (the owner) had put 3 backpackers into the Cottage mezzanine floor.
… and, I would take the whole of the Double Room.
It made sense. The cottage is rigged up with 5 beds: 3 singles upstairs and a Double with Single downstairs.
The hostal grounds were plain. There was a small common area with hammocks … this is where everyone met up for Breakfast (US$3) and Dinner (US$3).
I paid for all 7 nights (even though we were now only staying for 6 … it wasn’t Nelly’s fault that we arrived 1 day late).
Have a look yourself:
INTERNET / WIFI:
You will find ‘sporadic’ wifi in the hotels and restobars. Many of the cheaper restobars / comedors do not have wifi. You may want your own Internet Plan on your Smartphone.
I bought a Movistar SIMcard in Jiquilillo.
I top it up as and when needed with N$100 and buy a new 7 Day MegaPack which comes with 500MB of data, 20 minutes of call time, 20 SMSs, and unlimited Facebook / Whatsapp.
PLEASE NOTE: Movistar run regular promotions (usually at least 2 per week) that can as much as Quintruple your top up credits. This only applies to call and text credits – not to data. Try and top up on a Promo Day. If you are a sports fan, they also do regular N$30 Promos that give you unlimited 4G internet for 24 hours … great for streaming weekend sports from back home.
PLEASE NOTE: When you top up in a store / tienda they usually charge you a 10% fee. If you top up for more than N$100, they usually charge you a flat rate fee of N$20. To avoid these charges, try and top up at a proper Movistar Store or a Movistar Stall found on the street.
Busses run regularly around the volcanoes on weekdays, but are scarcer on weekends. Schedules are quite flexible, so ask the locals when the next bus is likely to arrive, and where you should wait for it. Expect a bus between Moyogalpa and Altagracia about every hour.
Expect to wait 1-2 hours to get from Altagracia to somewhere like Santa Cruz or the eastern end of the island … Busses to and from the eastern side of the island only leave a few times each day.
Cars can be rented from the many rental agencies in Moyogalpa and Altagracia. Some places have horses, bicycles, and kayaks for rent as well. None of these is likely to cost more than $21 for a day.
Getting back to Moyogalpa from remote parts of the island becomes a bit expensive. You can’t get the Colectivo deal that you can on arrival. A private taxi from Santa Cruz back to Moyogalpa is US$15 (if you have a nice hotel owner like Nelly looking after you).
Motorbike rentals range in price from US$20-30 / day. But, be careful … some renters are unscrupulous … when you return it, they will try and charge you for damage that was already there … and try and screw you for any damage that you actually do yourself.
If you rent a motorbike / scooter, make sure that you take photos of every dent and scratch … and give it a test drive first.
As always, it is usually best to organise a rental through your hostal / hotel … they have a vested interest in making sure that you are happy (and a reputation online that they need to protect for future custom).
I did a deal with the Tecali when I cancelled my Double Room booking. I looked after Nelly and Nelly looked after me. She organised a brand new 125cc automatic scooter for me for 5 days at US$17 / day. Nelly usually rents them out at US$20 / day. This meant that my son and I had accommodation and transport for a total of US$27 / day … which was wonderful.
I had to pay for the scooter in advance. I did not have to give them my passport as security.
You find many small Comedors scattered along the tourist areas of the main circular road (if you can get to them).
Expect your hotel prices to be about 150% of that.
The Tecali did Breakfast for US$3 (N$90). This is a reasonable price compared to what you can get elsewhere (and better than prices in, say, Granada).
You could choose between Porridge & Fruit or Desayuno Tipico. Both came with a coffee.
In a Comedor, you can get something like a Taco for N$50. These are bigger than you expect and a very good snack. They are (usually) a deep-fried taco filled with shredded meat and frijole paste served with a shredded salad. A coffee is usually N$25. A large smoothie is usually N$50.
The Tecali did Dinner for US$3 (N$90). It varied according to what Nelly could get her hands on. One night we had a whole pan-fried fish with battered plantains, salad, and rice / beans. It came with a fruit juice.
Out on the streets a large Chicken Soup in a Comedor costs about N$120-130.
Maria’s also did a good burrito (filled with chicken and salad – rather than beans and rice) for N$100.
1 km down the road from Santa Cruz towards Balgue is a Pizza Restaurant (which many people rave about). They do homemade pasta meals as well as Pizzas done in a proper pizza oven. We tried their Fettuccini Carbonara (N$180) and their Olive and Ham Pizza (N$190).
Elsewhere, you will find many over-priced eateries and restaurants with meals starting at N$150 … but, expect N$200 to be the average price on the menu.
Expect to pay an average of N$90 / US$3.00 for a cheap Breakfast with coffee.
Expect to pay an average of N$80 / US$2.65 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average of N$155 / US$5.35 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / small Beer.
You will not find many Happy Hours – if you do … they will, probably, be in the more up-market hotels.
In a ‘local street bar’ (in the back streets of, say, Moyogalpa) you will pay N$25 for a 330ml bottle of beer and N$50 for a 1 liter.
In the ‘party’ hostals / hotels (like Little Morgan’s) this can go up to N$45 for a 330ml and N$80 for a 1 liter.
Little Morgans is the ‘party’ hostal in the area an put on many events in the evenings.
Their busy nights are Tuesday through Thursday.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
Prices in Ometepe are a bit higher than on the mainland because most things have to be shipped in (and prices are also hiked for the tourist market).
Typical costs are:
- Sunblock: 100ml for N$200
- Water: 4 liter bottle for N$40; 2 liter bottle N$28
- Bananas: 10 for N$20
- Petrol: 1 liter for N$40
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:
You will find banks and ATMs in the main towns of Moyogalpa and Altagracia. You will also find a couple of ATMs on the western island ring road – but, they are far and few between. The usual withdrawal limit is N$10,000 … the Lafise ATM allows a maximum withdrawal of N$20,000.
You won’t find any Bureau De Change.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
Ometepe has a low crime rate. There is no reason to feel unsafe.
As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America.
When I was there, mosquitoes were around and you needed to cover up and put repellent on (especially at dawn and dusk).
Don’t drink the tap water.
WHEN TO GO:
Nicaragua has a tropical climate, generally alternating between two seasons: rainy and dry.
With a geographic location between 11 and 15 degrees latitude north (combined with the humidity from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans), Ometepe has fairly stable weather all year round.
The rainy season is usually between May and October, and dry season between November and April. In December the weather is temperate and the warmest months are March, April and May.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
There is much to see on the island, and numerous ways to see it. You can choose how you want to explore: by bus, by car, by scooter, on horseback, on a bicycle, in a kayak, or even on foot.
TOUR THE ISLAND:
See the, above, Photo Gallery.
Allow about 7 hours to tour the western part of the island and 5 hours to tour the eastern part of the island.
Charro Verde is a nature walk around a small lagoon.
The highlight is the Butterfly Nursery.
TREK VOLCAN CONCEPCION:
My 21-year-old son did it. He was picked up by his guide at 5:00am (you MUST have a guide). They caught a Chicken Bus to Concepcion from our hotel (N$15 each). Entry to the trek costs US$1 each. They spent about 6 hours trekking the volcano (2.5 hours going up and 3.5 hours coming down).
Alas, it was a Sunday and they could not get public transport back home. They waited 45 minutes for a bus … but there weren’t any on a Sunday. After 1.5 hours of trying, they finally had to give in and catch a taxi back to our hotel (US$10).
MY ADVICE: Do not do a volcano trek on a Sunday.
SWIM IN OJO DE AGUA:
Entry is US$5 (N$152) for tourists (US$2 for locals).
A very pleasant way to spend a day.
KAYAK RIO ISTIAN:
There are several places that provide guided kayak tours of Rio Istian.
They leave from the El Peru and Merida areas of the south eastern side of the island.
We chose the latter. A 2-person kayak for 2.5 hours without a guide is US$30.
You don’t see much wildlife. We saw a few birds, some lizards, a cobra snake, and a family of howler monkeys high in a tree.
SAN RAMON WATERFALL:
You can do Rio Istian and San Ramon in the same day. Given the poor state of the roads, this may be the best option … you don’t want to scooter down these roads more than you need to.
All-in-all, you need to allow at least 3 hours to get to the waterfall and back. In the dry season, the waterfall is just a trickle.
From here we head to the party beach town of San Juan Del Sur.
To avoid the 600 meter walk down a dirt track with my suitcase followed by 3.5 hours on 2 chicken busses, we will get a taxi from our hotel to Moyogalpa port for US$15 / N$450. We plan to catch the ferry back to San Jorge (N$50), a Chicken Bus from there to Rivas Bus Terminal (N$10), and a Chicken Bus from Rivas to San Juan Del Sur.
I will tell you more about that in my next post.
This is a detailed breakdown of costs for 2 GRANDPAckers holidaying here to GRANDPAcking standard.
As a reminder, this “standard” requires 2 GRANDPAckers to:
- Stay in an Hotel Double Room with Fan and Private Bathroom
- Eat 3 ‘balanced’ meals each day in a budget restaurant
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
MY ACTUAL COSTS:
My costs are purely provided for information purposes. I do not always follow ‘GRANDPAcking Standards’. In fact, I deviate from them all of the time! But, my costs are real costs and they may help you formulate your own budget.
I lived in Ometepe to GRANDPAcking standard.
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
Accommodation: I stayed at the Tecali Hostal for US$5 / night. This is an amazing price … don’t expect to get anywhere near it. I paid for 7 nights but I only stayed for 6.
Transport: I rented a scooter for 5 days at US$17 / day. I filled it up 3 times with 2 liters of petrol. The scooter cost me an average of N$560 / day.
Communications & Fees: I topped up my Movistar SIMcard with N$200 when I was in Granada. This covered me whilst I was in Ometepe … I didn’t need another top up. I used this credit to buy a 7 day MegaPack with 500MB of data, some call credits, some SMS credits, and unlimited Facebook / Whatsapp (N$100).
Food & Beverages: I spent an average of N$310 / day. I ate Breakfast every morning at the Tecali (N$90 each). I had the occasional lunch. My main cost was Dinner where I spent an average of N$187 per day.
My COE was US$33 / day (60% of my total budget).
COST OF LIVING (COL):
In / Out Costs: It cost me US$10.35 / N$310 to get from my Granada hotel to my Ometepe hotel. This covered a taxi in Granada (N$30 for 2 people), a Chicken Bus to Rivas (N$70 including luggage), a Chicken Bus to San Jorge (N$10), the ferry to Ometepe (N$50), and the Colectivo to the Tecali (N$150).
Living Costs: I spent an average of N$142 / day on beer. We also had a big Birthday Party night at Little Morgan’s (with one of the girls from our hostal). I spent N$1,282 on tours and entertainment: Ojo De Agua entrance fee, Kayak rental for Rio Islian, and San Ramon entrance fee. I also picked up my son’s N$370 meal bill at the Tecali.
My total COL was US$50 / day (91% of my total budget).
We had fun in Ometepe … we had comfortable accommodation … freedom of movement … and day tours to the best that Ometepe has to offer.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
COST OF EXISTENCE:
Accommodation: Book yourself into something for the first 2 nights at about US$25 / night. I suggest somewhere between Bague and Santa Domingo. Once here, look around … get yourself into a decent budget hotel for US$20 / night thereafter for a long-term stay. Try and get a good Breakfast included in that price (but, it is not the norm) – if breakfast is included, you can look for log-term places charging up to US$25 / night (a cheap Breakfast on the street costs US$3 each).
Transport: There is a budget for 2 people to go on a weekly day trip to an island tourist spot (an average of N$20 per person each way).
Communications & Fees: Your budget includes a N$50 Movistar SIMcard and 4x 7-day MegaPacks (N$100 each).
Food & Beverages: Your budget is N$662 / day. This is to eat all of your meals in a Comedor Economica or from the lower quartile of a menu in a budget restaurant. You will need to buy your own water (which is unlikely to be provided by the hotel).
Your COE is US$43 / day (79% of your total budget).
COST OF LIVING:
This leaves you US$12 / day (N$340) to LIVE on.
LIVING on that will be ‘tight’.
Ometepe makes it into my Retirement Reviews.
Accommodation & Transport: You can get a 2 bedroom apartment somewhere like Altagracia for as little as US$200 / month. This could be an option if you also organise cheap transport. A more realistic budget is US$400 / month for a nicer (near waterfront) location.
Extra Costs: You will need to pay for your own electric usage. Electric is relatively expensive here. Budget US$95 / month for electric (more if you plan to have your aircon on all of the time).
Food & Drink: Budget US$625 / month to eat all of your meals out in Comedors and budget restaurants (reduce that to US$400 if you eat all of your meals at home).
Health & Safety & Visas: Travel Insurance is from someone like World Nomads. The Visa costs are for a 5 Year Retiree Visa apportioned over that period… if you don’t have a Retiree Visa, you will need to do a Visa Run to Costa Rica every 3 months (budget US$100 per couple for each Visa Run).
Many GRANDPAckers will enjoy the peaceful, island lifestyle that Ometepe has to offer.
But, if you particularly want to base yourself somewhere in Nicaragua … Ometepe is definitely worth a look.