Thursday, June 3, 2010

First Visit to Isla Ometepe

With nearly 5 years of working and living in Nicaragua, I was finally blessed with the opportunity to visit the twin volcanoes (Maderas and Concepción) of the Island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. I am now a "believer" in a beauty of Ometepe and a huge fan. My opinion is that everyone who is planning a trip to Nicaragua should make sure to stop here for at least 2 days en route to their next destination.

On Ometepe there are many activities if you have the energy to do anything besides lay in a hammock and gaze out over the green jungle canopy and infinite lake, or "fresh water sea" as the Spanish conquistadors called it. Ometepe is such a serene and magical place, it is easy to see how it remained peaceful and basically neutral during the Sandinista Revolution.

I traveled with some clients and a real estate developer and consultant named Mark Sullivan from Pro Nicaragua Development and El Camino del Sol development and yoga retreat center just outside of San Juan del Sur. We only had 2 days to spend on the island and decided to climb Volcán Maderas - a 5 kilometer vertical hike up and down, but well worth it. Since we went in rainy season, the hike took about 8 hours total due to mud and rain, but it was still fun and exhilarating. The view from different spots in the ascent is better than from the top, which is typically cloudy, but there is also the opportunity to descend into the crater and swim in this volcanic lake. Quite a surreal experience.

After all the hiking and exploring, visitors work up quite an appetite and there are a few authentic, local restaurants to choose from selling fresh, locally sourced food. My personal favorite was a place called "Natural" - a vegetarian restaurant right on the beach in Santo Domingo on the road to Balgue. The charismatic owner is from Managua but has been living on Ometepe for years. My clients and I enjoyed veggie stir fry, curry and pineapple-watermelon rum drinks - all homemade and with a fantastic ambiance and view of the beach and lake.

Real Estate on Ometepe: This island is so paradisiacal, anyone would wonder how to own a piece of this green gold. I may sell real estate, but I also like to buy as much as possible! There are no real estate offices on Ometepe that I have seen, but there are a lot of national brokers on the internet selling property. I would advise that anyone looking for property contact a trusted, referred real estate broker in Nicaragua to assist in an Ometepe property search and confirm that the titles and deeds of any potential properties are clean and clear. Even if you want to buy directly from a property owner and without buyer representation (although I do not recommend this for multiple reasons), make sure you use a trusted lawyer (oxymoron?) for reliable guidance and candidness throughout every step of the transaction. The secret is out, however, as hotel developers have quickly started to stake their claims throughout the island's coastline and the new pavered roads will help to catapult ecotourism over the upcoming years.

In my opinion, Ometepe is the perfect place for any sort of sustainable development project, retirement home, health and wellness retreat center location or farm. Despite relying a bit on deliveries from the main land, almost anything grows on Ometepe and residents rarely like to leave the island.

For those on a budget or interested in mid-long term volunteer work opportunities, there are quite a few organic farms looking for any sort of help:

Ometepe Zopilote:

Project Bonafide
Finca Magdalena:

Casa Campestre:
Hotel Finca del Sol:

Getting There and Away - Island of Ometepe:

Ferries leave regularly from a port east of Rivas to the main port on Ometepe called Moyogalpa. There is food and lodging here and it is a good place to stay the night before you leave on a morning ferry for the mainland. It is also a good base if you want to climb Concepción (1,610 meters alt).

Ferry passage is only 60 cordobas each way (about $3) for pedestrians while cars have to pay up to $30+ each way in taxes. There are gas stations on the island as well. I brought my car and it made the journey quite relaxing without having to worry about transportation. Enjoy a cold Toña or Victoria on the pleasurable 1 hour ride across the lake!

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