Exploring Ometepe – Adventures in Island Transportation


Lancha boat with chicken bus and horse/cart in the background.

For the past two weeks I’ve tried unsuccessfully to pull words together and share the magic of Ometepe. A tropical island comprised of two volcanoes—one active and the other dormant—with wild animals and hidden waterfalls in the middle of a lake with the world’s only freshwater sharks. Oh my—hello dreams, allow me to introduce you to my nightmares. Let’s dance.

Our journey began at the port in St. Jorge, where we paid to park our rental car and boarded a lancha boat to Ometepe. The blue tarp that blocked my view of the starboard side should have been my second indication that I had selected the wrong seat (the first was the lack of leg room due to a copious amount of Fanta bottles), but hey, I can be a bit dense. About two waves into the sail water came bursting through the side panel and I (along with my bag) was soaked. The ferries and lanchas are also the main mode of transport for supplies going to/from the island. So it was about 50 humans to every 500 Fantas. At least we would have sugar supplies if we were shipwrecked.


This was supposed to be a photo of the passing ferry, but our lancha was set on making sure I was drenched.

This was supposed to be a photo of the passing ferry, but our lancha was set on making sure I was drenched.

Upon our arrival on the island, we synced up with our pre-arranged taxi service (an old, unmarked 4×4 SUV) and headed to our finca (farm). We had been warned that the roads on the island are terrible so we left our rental car behind. However, the first 20 minutes on the Concepción side were smooth sailing on a newly paved road; we were sure we had been duped. The fairy tale abruptly ended, however, when we crossed the isthmus to the less-inhabited Maderas side of the island and hit the “dirt” road. And by dirt I mean small boulders and deep pot holes that require vehicles to move slower than pedestrians. We were like kernels of popcorn in the microwave, bouncing around uncontrollably in the backseat. I imagined the underside of our little rental car getting banged up like a can on the back of a newlywed’s bumper. We had made the right choice.

Once we had arrived at our accommodations in the small village of Merida, there was little need for wheels as kayaking, waterfalls, and the beach were all within walking distance. Thank God.

On our final day Terra decided to rent a small dirt bike and circumnavigate the entire island. The Maderas roads were actually easier to negotiate by bike, although my quads proved to be more effective shocks than those on the hog. When I hopped on at 10am, I was unprepared for how hangry and tired I would be by 3pm, when I had not eaten a damn thing and we were still making our way around the damn island. You can imagine what a peach I was when we sat down to eat. But then this happened, and instantly cheered me up. You don’t see this every day:

Yes, that's a weiner dog chasing a horse on the beach. Like I said, things you don't see every day.

Yes, that’s a weiner dog chasing a horse on the beach. Like I said, something you don’t see every day.

The next morning we made our way back to the port at Moyogalpa by way of a large shuttle van. Man, that was the way to go! The trip was smooth and fast compared with all previous options. Noted. We had timed our return so that we would forego the wet and wild pleasure of a lancha and spread out on a ferry boat. It really was better, although we were joined by trucks filled with cattle and avocados (as Terra said, “Steak fajitas and guac coming to a Chili’s near you”). Throughout the 1-hour ride, men scooped water from the side of the boat and washed away the ongoing trail of cow poop that seeped from the corners of the truck. In the end, we all had the pleasure of walking through it as we disembarked from the boat.

Photo credit: The Tall Guy

Photo credit: The Tall Guy

It wasn’t until I wrote this post that I realized just how intense the transportation experience had been. I guess that means that the Toña and Flor de Caña were working. What is it they say? “It’s the journey, not the destination that matters.” Well, in this case, it’s a good thing the destination was so kick ass.



Getting there: Both ferries and lanchas leave throughout the day—a current schedule can be found here. If you’d like to take your rental car to the island, you will need to make a ferry reservation at least a week in advance. There are a handful of flights each week from Managua with La Costeña Airlines that cost around $50 each way. If you’re strapped for time, it may be the way to go.

Travel on Ometepe: Taxis are available at the port, although I recommend that you book in advance through your accommodations to avoid overpaying. Merida is about an hour’s drive and should cost $30US each way. The local chicken bus is very cheap, but takes about 3 hours to go the same distance. A 1-day 150 cc motorbike rental was $35 plus gas.

1 comment

    • Mom on August 26, 2014 at 2:21 pm
    • Reply

    Tell me again why you love that kind of travel so much! 😉

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