Lago Nicaragua & Isla de Ometepe

Lago Nicaragua & Isla de Ometepe

May 2023

Volcanoes do no let us go here in Nicaragua.  However, the next one on our trip had already exploded 23,000 years ago, creating the Laguna de Apoyo, a crater lake with a diameter of more than 6 kilometers and a depth of around 200 meters. The water temperature is a constant 27 degrees, thanks to the thermal springs that heat the lake in various places. Not that we needed warm water, quite the opposite. Cold water to cool off was more on our wish list. Despite the temperatures, doing nothing was of course out of the question.

Overnight place at Laguna de Apoyo

We parked our car at the end of the road that leads halfway around the crater lake. From there, a hiking trail led first along the lake and then through the forest up to the crater rim. We had to climb 400 meters in altitude, but our reward was a viewpoint at the top with a great view of the lagoon. We were the only ones there.

We reached the village of Diria, one of the many “pueblos blancos” in this area. The white villages already formed the heartland of the indigenous Chorotegas people in pre-Hispanic times. Tradition and crafts are still practiced in these villages today. We took a tuktuk to the next village, Catarina. After a tasty lunch in the village, we visited the viewpoint, which was much more touristy and busy. The locals are always out in large numbers at the weekends visiting tourist attractions. But as soon as you turn off into the countryside and onto a hiking trail, you are alone. With an ice cream in hand, we watched a silent howler monkey and several capuchin monkeys in the trees above us. Then we made our way back down to the lagoon.

Tuktuk from Diria to Catarina
Iglesia in Catarina
Lunch in Catarina

On this hiking trail, we were surprised by numerous petroglyphs along the way, which probably date back to the time when the Chorotega used this path. After this 5-hour excursion, we treated ourselves to a dip in the lake and the clear, mineral-rich water was very refreshing. In addition to many locals, cows also came by from time to time to bathe and towards evening several people arrived to go fishing. They drove long poles into the water near the shore and attached lamps to them. The light attracted the fish in the dark, which they then tried to catch with nets and quivers. They continued this through the night, even late after midnight there were still around 10 people fishing.

Next on the agenda was Granada. The streets were deserted on Sunday, only the Plaza Central was a little lively, the coachmen were waiting for paying guests and, as always, there were numerous souvenir stalls. Granada is considered the main attraction and most beautiful city in Nicaragua. Completely destroyed in two major fires in 1685 and 1856, Granada has been rebuilt each time and is characterized by colonial houses with colourful facades. 

Colonial buildings in Granada
Horse carriages waiting for paying guests

The cathedral looked very beautiful from the outside, but inside it was somehow empty and bare. We liked the Iglesia La Merced with its church tower better, from where we had a great view over the roofs of the city. Down on the street, a carriage drove past from time to time, which in Granada is not only used by tourists but also as a cab.

The pedestrian avenue Calle La Calzada, which leads directly to Lake Nicaragua and is lined with bars and restaurants, was suddenly full of life. The closer we got to the lake, the more people strolled up and down. On the lakeside promenade, children splashed around in the cool waters of the water fountains and there was music and entertainment for the whole family. The sun slowly set over the lake and we enjoyed the evening outside in the park in front of our car.


Next, the plan was to visit Isla de Ometepe. Lago Nicaragua is the largest inland lake in Central America and is 15 times larger than Lake Constance, for example. Fortunately, the island of Ometepe is fairly close to the shoreline so we reached it in just under an hour. The ship used for the crossing was not too big. We were on the late side, but were fortunate to still be able to get a ticket. About five cars and two small trucks were already parked on the deck when it was our turn to drive onto the boat. Loading and unloading is only done on one side here so we had to go backwards up the ramp and the last 7 meters of deck space were ours.

Driving onto the ship
Volcanos Concepcion and Madera in the background
Volcano Concepcion on Isla de Ometepe

Waves sometimes a meter high broke on the bow giving us the idea of crossing an ocean rather than a lake. With the two volcanoes clearly visible, the island immediately showed its most beautiful side. We wanted to drive a circle around the island, with a first stop in the town of Moyogalpa. We passed a café and adapted to the pace of the morning and had breakfast again before heading for the beach in Santo Domingo. Though sandy beaches are scarce on this volcanic island, surprisingly we had this mile-long sandy beach for a cool down all to ourselves.

Between the two volcanoes is a swamp area that splits the island into two parts. In this swamp area live many birds and it is even possible to see caimans. For us reason enough to prepare for a kayak tour. We were allowed to park the car for the night at the kayak rental along the shores of Lago Nicaragua and had a perfect view of Volkan Concepcion. As if it couldn’t get any more beautiful, the sun disappeared right behind the volcano, with us experiencing one of the more beautiful sunsets on this trip.

Overnight place South Ometepe
Sunset at Volcano Concepcion

A mysterious cloud cover hung around the summit of the Concepcion in the morning, which at 1610 meters is the second highest volcano in the country after San Cristobal. With a kayak we paddled out toward the swamp in search of anything that felt at home there. Fortunately we were spared the huge waves on the lake, so we reached the entrance to the swamp area without any problems. Here we were able to greet the first birds right away. Some cormorants had just finished their “breakfast dives” and were drying their feathers on a low hanging branch. We paddled up the wider part of the river and saw different species of herons left and right. We had no idea that the heron family is so large. They all vary in size and wear the most beautiful colors.

We were warned that we were still in the dry season and that the water level was therefore low. As a result, we would not be able to navigate the whole area and occasionally we ended up with the boat in the mud. After a while we saw the first caiman swim by less than three meters from our kayak until it disappeared under the green carpet of water lilies. A number of cows also moved slowly through the water and horses also watched along the shore. On our way back, we were waved goodbye by a few turtles who curiously poked their heads out of the water.


Upon our return, we plunged into the water ourselves before embarking on our second activity of the day. We could well imagine the locals regularly shaking their heads at seeing what a white European is capable of at 40 degrees plus. On a not too good off-road route we drove up the mountain until it went no further for our car. From there we hiked to a waterfall on the flanks of the Maderas volcano.

The normally active howler monkeys weren’t in the mood today either. Sitting in a tree and having arms and legs hanging down was enough exertion. Fortunately, the hiking trail to the Salto San Ramon ran mostly under a roof of branches and leaves. We were pleasantly surprised by the view that opened up at the end of the narrow valley. A rock wall at least 100 meters high rose right in front of us where water fell down along it. The greenery that had grown on the wall indicated that water, even if only in drop form, is always coming down, even in the dry season. 

Salto San Ramon

We ended the day at a restaurant popular with tourists in Balgüe. We opted for the “Asian “cuisine” and ate by far the best food of our trip so far.

Road around Volcan Madera
Camping Balgüe
Delicious food in Café Campestre - Balgüe

The next day we drove back toward Moyagalpa. On the way we took another short walk around Laguna Charco Verde. Here again we were accompanied by monkeys and after cooling off briefly in the lake we enjoyed the view of Volcan Concepcion one more time. 

We spent the last night along the beach at Punta Jesus Maria. This pointed protrusion that reaches a few hundred meters into the lake was perfect for a day of relaxation and the moment the heat went up our head we walked 20 meters and took a dip in the water.

Punta Jesus Maria

The time in Nicaragua was thus slowly coming to an end. To the border with Costa Rica from San Jorge it was another 30 kilometers or so of driving. After noon we packed up and drove to Moyogalpa to find that the ferries at 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. had no room for us. Only the larger boat at 5:30 p.m. would still be a possibility if we decided and paid immediately. An additional “propina” or tip was of course expected for this service. We protested a bit, but in the end we didn’t have much choice.

After Eddy again had to drive backwards onto the ship and we had made ourselves comfortable on the upper deck overlooking the sea, we saw the familiar effigy of Che Guevara everywhere. Our thoughts went back to Cuba. Indeed, the boat bore the name of this freedom fighter who is still a hero in Cuba. The sun was slowly setting. 

After the last of the daylight had disappeared we arrived at the mainland and parked in the small harbor of San Jorge for the night. Of course, better places could have been imagined, but we considered it less safe to drive in the dark. Tomorrow we would then drive the last stretch in Nicaragua and then say goodbye to a country that has captured our hearts with it’s incredible diversity of nature and welcoming people.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, All Rights Reserved.

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