Ometepe, Nicaragua – From Little Corn Island we traveled to another island, Ometepe, which, instead of being in the ocean, was in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. We got up at the ungodly hour of 4:30am and walked to the boat dock for the 6:30am boat to Big Corn. We were advised by a few people to get there early because the boat can get full. I’m not sure this is really the case because they seemed to manage to squeeze on everyone who showed up, even a couple locals who strolled up five minutes after the boat was supposed to depart. We got to Big Corn around 7:10am and then took a taxi to the airport. It seemed crazy to arrive 25 minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart, but everyone said that the boats always make the flights and it was fine. We flew to Managua and then took a taxi to the bus station.
At the station a ton of dudes came up and grabbed our bags from the taxi before we could even get out and stop them. We knew they weren’t thieves, just porters looking for tips, but we didn’t really want to pay a tip for work we didn’t really need, or more importantly, ask for. At a time like this I wish my Spanish was better so that I could explain that it’s not right for them to grab our stuff without asking permission and then charge us for it. Guess they are just trying to make a living but we’re not so keen that they do it by taking advantage of people.
From Managua we took a bus to the town of Rivas and then a ferry to Ometepe. The ferry was more like a cargo ship and we had to sit on the top deck on our bags, but it was kind of fun to watch them load up the ship while we waited. From the ferry dock on Ometepe we had to take a taxi to the quieter Santo Domingo beach on other side of the island. Turns out we could have taken a bus but it was jammed packed and it was a 45 minute ride so we forked over the $20 for the taxi which we shared with a couple hippies who lived in Costa Rica.
Omepete is a fairly large island made from two volcanos in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. You can hike the volcanos, but they are fairly difficult and long hikes and it was just way too hot to even think about doing a hike like that.
We had heard nice things about Santa Domingo and you can see both volcanos from there. We also read in our guide book that it was quiet and has one of the nicest beaches on the island. When we arrived at the hotel that had been recommended to us by some people we met on Little Corn we realized that we had arrived on Ometepe during gnat season. There were swarms of gnats everywhere during certain times of day. It was hard to see how we were going to enjoy this place if we were being swarmed by bugs the whole time.
The hotel turned out to cost more than we expected – they wanted $70 a night for a bungalow with a porch and hammock and free breakfast. That was way above our budget, plus the hammock and porch seemed pointless on account of the gnats. They said they’d knock down the price to $60 if we took it without breakfast, but still that was way too much for what it was. We were ready to walk out before they offered us a much cheaper, but still nice, room in the main building with no porch for $30 – still a little pricey for us, but it included breakfast so we took it.
The breakfast turned out to be really good, so we thought, and so did the magpie jays that hung around every morning trying to steal our food. One of them eventually got some of my pineapple and another poo’d on Stuart! Magpie jays are pretty neat looking birds, but it turns out they can also be really obnoxious pests.
Aside from the pesky birds and gnats, the island turned out to be quiet and relaxing. There was a cool breeze by the shore and we weren’t too bothered by the gnats when the wind was blowing. We had a conversation (in Spanish!) with the owner of the restaurant we dined at one night about the gnats. Apparently, they are on the island six months a year! I guess you get used to it, but I just can’t see how people live with them that long.
In addition to some nice walks on the beach, we also did a short hike through Sendero Pena Incuita forest where we saw lots of lizards, birds and a ton of monkeys; we took a nice swim in the cool mineral pools at La Presa Ojo de Agua; and took in some great sunsets from the lake.
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Stuart was super excited about taking the ferry from Ometepe to San Carlos in the south of Nicaragua. It is a ten-hour journey across the lake, there are no cabins or assigned seats, so you basically have the choice of the open-seating benches inside or renting a lawn chair and sitting outside on the deck. Definitely the kind of thing that Stuart gets really excited about – and that I would hope to be able to tolerate.
I was happy Stuart did his research; it really ended up paying off. Since it is an overnight ferry, scheduled from 6pm to 4am, it was important that we were comfortable enough to get some sleep. There is an inside cabin that looked comfortable enough but Stuart found that other people reported that cabin is really cold and that they play loud horror movies all night long. It seemed like renting the deck chairs an sleeping out on the deck was the way to go. It was supposed to be much quieter and comfortable out there.
The boat ended up being a couple hours late, but that was fine by us. We were happy to wait a couple hours at the dock in exchange for arriving in San Carlos at 6am instead of 4am. When the ferry finally arrived we boarded and were handed our deck chairs. We set them up on the deck and got comfortable. We chatted with our fellow passengers for a couple hours and ate our dinner of peanut butter and crackers before trying to settle down and get some sleep.
It turned out that we made the right decision with the deck chairs. We got a little water on the deck, so being up in a chair, opposed to lying right on the deck was great. And, not only was the interior cabin cold, loud and noisy, it smelled really bad and was full of gnats. They ended up playing the Saw movies all night long. No way I could have slept through that, plus I would have been really scared. I have no idea why the ferry’s staff plays these horrible movies. There were children on the boat, how anyone can think that’s okay, I have no idea.
We woke up around 5am and had a little breakfast and took in the views until we arrived in San Carlos at 7am. From San Carlos we took the 8am boat three hours down the San Juan river to El Castillo.