Everybody starts looking nervously for their camera and mobile phones to snap the first picture of Volcán Concepción, as the boat from Rivas approaches Isla de Ometepe. I am really excited about discovering the island, recognized as one of the most authentic and beautiful spots of Nicaragua!
Our first port of call is Altagracia. The town consists of a church, a few side streets and the Parque Central, which is awfully quiet and a bit rundown. In front of the old parroquial church are some ancient excavated statues. What era they date from or what they are supposed to represent will remain a mystery, explanations are nowhere to be found… except maybe in the small, local museum which is unfortunately closed…
The next day I continue my trip on a very slow bus to Balguë, which consists basically of one street. I hire a bicycle at my family-run accommodation to explore the island. It is wonderful to see how authentic it has remained! There are hardly any cars or tourists. I am surrounded by banana plantations, beautiful views and secluded beaches. The beach of Santa Cruz is everything a great beach should be: miles of soft sand, a hinterland of virgin forest and magnificent views of the island’s smoking volcanoes.
I continue rolling down and pushing up the island’s hilly roads until I reach “La Presa Ojo de Agua” where a pleasant stroll through banana plantations leads to a shady mineral-infused lake. It is an incredible place to relax for a few hours!
Cycling in the midday sun is pretty tiring, so before heading back to my accommodation, I stop to watch baseball training, THE national sport of Nicaragua. I have no clue what the rules are but that doesn’t seem to matter. There is no real competition going on anyway, this is about local teenagers enjoying themselves.
“Asi es mi Tierra”, the name of the place I stay at, is very basic, but the short jungle track that leads from the rooms towards the rocky shores of the lake definitely makes up for it! According to the staff you can spot some howler monkeys at the beach just before sunset. I wait and wait and wait… alas, the monkeys aren’t coming tonight…
The next day I get back on my bike. I am off to explore another part of the island: Mérida. The main road soon turns into a dirt track scattered with boulders. It is pretty challenging cycling and I have to stop a few times, rolling down the hill just seems too frightening! At Albergue El Porvenir I take a small detour to spot some of the petroglyphs, rock engravings that date back to the pre-Columbian past, some of the oldest ones to 1000 BC!
Then it’s back on track for some more huffing and puffing until I reach Mérida. This is a very wild and untamed stretch of road with barely any civilization, except for a few dispersed houses.
I still haven’t given up on spotting howler monkeys, so I decide to try my luck on the “Sendero Peña Inculta“, a short interpretative trail meandering through the forest. I can spot quite a few birds like the white throated magpie jay, but the forest seems pretty quiet at this time of the day. And then, to my great surprise, high up in the trees I spot him: my long awaited monkey! He is quite high up, but my luck continues in the evening when in the backyard of the hostel, I get clear views of some of them swinging in the trees. Happy girl!
I absolutely love Ometepe and decide to stay on for another day to check out the Charco Verde nature reserve. Several hiking trails take you to different view points over the green lagoon and the windy beach offers a welcome break from the walk. You are in the middle of nature, birds and butterflies and …yes, monkeys!
Catching a lift in the back of a pick-up truck with empty beer crates, I end up in Moyogalpa. It is the main tourist hub of the island and almost every house has been converted into a restaurant or small hotel. On my last evening, I just hang around and try the Nicaraguan version of a pizza, a nice escape from the endless rice and beans….
Have you been to Isla de Ometepe or Nicaragua?
Where in the world is your favourite escape?