Ometepe

After ten days in Granada, we were happy to be moving on again. We had initially planned to head to the coast, but as the island of Ometepe is so close, we decided to do that first. It’s only about an hour away from Granada and before long we had bought our tickets and sat waiting for the boat.

A chatty security guard had a lot of questions for us, many of them incomprehensible, as we waited and watched them load the boat with building supplies. Then it was our turn. It’s a pretty small boat that only fits around 4-5 cars and therefore you need to reverse on. After some juggling around and much stalling, Ruby was in place.

The ferry is incredibly slow, despite being only around 20km away it takes a good hour to reach the island, giving you time to really appreciate just how big Lago Cocibolca is. It may only have a maximum depth of 26 metres, nothing compared to a Mexican cenote. But it contains 103 cubic kilometres of fresh water and boasts a surface area 8264 square kilometres. It’s the third largest lake in Latin America and clear why locals refer to it as “Mar Dulce” or “Sweet Sea”.

Once at the other side, we disembarked in Moyogalpa, the largest town on the island and the only cashpoint. The island features two active volcanoes, Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas, both are possible to hike after an exhausting uphill hike. We planned to hike to more popular Concepcion, but decided to have a day or so relaxing somewhere nice after our long garage stretch. The peak of Concepcion which had briefly been visible when we arrived on the ferry, now sat in it’s own personal cloud. We headed to a free lakeside spot on the north west of the island for the night. We watched the sunset over the lake with the back of the volcano behind us, it was a beautiful place.

The next morning, after a tranquil night, I decided to follow the locals example and wash our clothes with easy access to freshwater. This side of the lake it was also actually possible to see the bottom unlike the otherside where I figured that it wouldn’t actually make the clothes any cleaner.

Once more the volcano was in cloud and with the heat here, you needed an early start to complete the strenuous hike. Instead we decided to drive to a nice sounding campsite down on the other part of the island.

There is basically one road here, that creates a figure of eight route around the two volcanoes. It’s half paved and half not, so journey time is not the quickest. We headed for Hacienda Merida, what looks to be one of the only decent campsites here. Still struggling for power, we were happy to hear that they had hook up and wifi as well as all the other usual services for a reasonable $5 per night. They also kindly gave us a room key to use the showers and toilets close to us.

In the area are a couple of things to do, so we spent a few days here making use of the wifi and enjoying some spectacular sunsets from the pier.

Only 4km down the road from us was the waterfall of San Ramon. Rather than pack up the van, we decided to leave it in the shade for the cats and take our bikes. Despite setting off at a reasonable time, it was a very hot day. The waterfall hike is only around 3.5km but that is uphill the whole way.

Apparently you used to be able to drive two thirds of the way and for a moment we wished we had tried. The road wasn’t two bad, some of it even paved. However, as we continued up there were a few spots where the rainy season had taken its toll. The top soil completely washed away leaving some sections that would definitely be classified as 4×4 only. 

We had heard that the waterfall was potable, and we hoped that was the case. We had only brought a small amount of water, relying on our lifestraw to be able to refill at the top. As we continued onwards past a rather dry looking riverbed we got slightly worried that we would have hiked all the way for nothing except the good views back to the lake behind us.

The humidity of the jungle, accompanied by some sections in the mid morning sun meant we were really looking forward to some cold water. Some parrots flew through the trees above us and around us howler monkeys screamed in the trees.

We were happy to see that towards the end of the route, we crossed a river with actually flowing water. Then, finally, we rounded the last steep uphill section of path and were rewarded with our waterfall. Cascada San Ramon poured over the top of the hill in front of us, tumbling over 300ft to a clear pool at the bottom. We were quick to fill up our water bottles and Lee committed to cooling off completely.

After enjoying the cool breeze and a well-earned drink, we retraced our steps. The path was now significantly busier. We passed countless out of breath tourists making there way up, all asking us how far they had to go now with varying levels of desperation. We had timed it just right.

Back at the ranch, we decided that we also had time to head over to another monkey island. There were two, just off the shore and only a short paddle in the kayak. We also planned to kayak Rio Istian so we would get double use out of the slight hassle of getting the kayak out. It was a good job we had this other plan, as monkey island was no more. It offered a lovely view back onto the island and the volcanoes but nothing in the way of monkeys.

Back at the ranch the owner confirmed that all the monkeys had left sometime ago.

It was time to move on. We decided that we would spend a day at Zipolite, a permaculture farm and hostel around the other side. Only accessible by foot up a small rocky path, we paid a local family to park our camper at the bottom and made our way up.

We spent a pleasant afternoon in the restaurant amongst the tree tops, enjoying some cheap local food and a couple of beers to boot.

That night was also pizza night, so we returned later to enjoy some of the fresh baked pizzas from the oven outside. The hostel was popular, full of travellers from different parts of the world. We enjoying some evening entertainment and a rather good vegetarian pizza before heading back down for the night.

While the parking was very cheap, it was not exactly scenic and so we decided that our final stop would be at El Peru. It looked like a lovely spot. A lakeside restaurant just a little further north from Hacienda Merida, with a big grassy field for camping.

As is often the case, things had changed somewhat since the last review. It used to be free, now it was £2 a night! Along with our lovely view, this did include; showers, toilets, wifi, water and electricity though. We wished we had found it first, it was the perfect spot. Kencho the owner gave us a friendly welcome and put up some hammocks for us and we enjoyed the views of the ever shrouded Concepcion.

We enjoyed yet another lovely sunset over the lake and thought happily to ourselves maybe we would stay a few more nights before heading for San Juan del Sur.

It was then pointed out to us by Kikki, that our vehicle TIP was due to expire in three days. Suddenly, things were not so relaxed. We needed to leave the country in only a couple of days and we needed to sort out the paperwork for the cats still. We decided to drive up to the ferry port the next morning and book our tickets for the following day. That would give us one day in Rivas to sort the cats before hitting the following day. Things were a little tight, but when the fee for overstaying your vehicle permit is $500, we were definitely going to make sure we made it out.

Despite not being a particulary large island, it takes a good hour to drive to the ferry port. We booked our tickets for 9.30am the following morning and headed back to the campsite to enjoy our last afternoon.

Conveniently, the restaurant is also the perfect location to visit Rio Istian in our kayak. It was one of the closest lake access spots to the mouth of the river and the next day we set off. It was still a fair paddle to find the river mouth, we raced a tour group wanting to get there before they scared off the wildlife. Apparently there are crocodiles and turtles in the river, the former a little more of a worry for us in our inflatable kayak.

After a good half an hour of paddling, we found the entrance to the river. The jungle of the land around, overflowed into the waters itself and we pushed our way through green plants and overhanging trees as we glided upstream.

Countless egrets and other birds observed us as we passed by. Even, I think a peregrine falcon although it didn’t give me time to take a very good photo.

Before too long we entered a mangrove, the path here was not always clear. The sun shone through the trees creating streams of light around us and the huge root structures of the mangroves doubled in size, reflected back of the still waters. It was definitely worth the effort.

We were now at a bit of a loss. Lee would probably have happily called it a day, but I was in tree and bird heaven and would have happily kept going for hours. We seemed to have run out of accessible river though. We hung about for the tour to see where they went and then followed behind at a distance. Inflatable kayaks are not so good for very plant filled rivers and we fought our way through the surface vegetation only to realise that the tour group was simply looping back to the main river.

We followed behind at a distance, the sun was getting lower in the sky and we wanted to make it back in time for sunset again. We hadn’t seen any of the larger wildlife, but at least I felt it had now been worth getting the kayak out.

We enjoyed our final sunset view from Ometepe, and what would be one of our lasts nights in Nicaragua.

We had come here intending to stay for a week and had stayed for a month. It was our favourite country in Central America so far, and we had never even made it to the coast (much to the horror of anyone we spoke to). Still, for me Costa Rica has been on my bucket list for about the last ten years and so we were still excited to move on. I hoped that everything would go smoothly with our paperwork and ferry the following morning. We didn’t have any margin for error.

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