It’s fun to come to Ometepe Island across Lake Nicaragua, particularly the final approach displaying the full grandeur of Ometepe’s two iconic and ethereal volcanoes: Concepion is the larger, has a symmetrical cone, is active and periodically spews ash; Maderas is smaller and greener, wrapped in a thick cloud forest full of butterflies and flowers. At dusk exotic birds chatter away.
Ideally one needs few days to capture the natural and cultural magic of the island and to cover its must-do’s: Spend time in the excellent Ometepe Museum with an excellent display of archaeological artifacts in the pretty town of Altagracia; hike the trails of the Reserva Charco Verde, where the jungle rolls down to the black volcanic beach and offers excellent birdwatching and kayaking around the bay; starting at dawn, climb (four-hours and for the physically fit) the Maderas Volcano, crowned by a beautiful crater lake with a waterfall spilling down its western wall.
Scattered around the island—principally on the north and northeastern slopes of Maderas Volcano— are statues and petroglyphs carved around the year 300 B.C. that paid homage to the ancient gods of the Nahuatl people from Mexico who settled here. Altagracia, which has fine views of Concepion Volcano and a park displaying some of the most famous pre-Columbian statues in Nicaragua, are several pretty fresh-water beaches—Santo Domingo is one— with choices lodgings. And on this figure-eight shaped island, the Isthmus of Istiam sits at the center, a lowland finger connecting the two volcanoes round bases; here are several lagoons and creeks offering primetime birdwatching and kayaking.
Getting there: While there is now twice-weekly air service to Ometepe, the easiest and most scenic access to the Island is by boat or ferry from San Jorge on the mainland, a one-hour ride on Lake Nicaragua to Moyogalpa port-town on the west side of the island.