Within Lake Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in Central America, lies Isla Ometepe. It is a small island shaped like an hourglass – both sides of the hourglass being volcanoes (Concepcion on one side, Maderas on the other) joined together by a narrow isthmus.
My mom and I stayed at Totoco Ecolodge on the Maderas side of the island. It was phenomenal. The views towards Conception volcano were great in the day and spectacular at sunset. The sunsets at Totoco were one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in all my travels.
Below: reception/restaurant area at Totoco.
One of the tourist activities is hiking up Maderas volcano. I hired a guide (Melvin) through the lodge and we set off very early in the morning. The ascent to the summit is about 6 hours at a fast, but grueling pace. The best part of the hike was seeing the howler monkeys in the first hour while still in the lowlands. After that it is a sweaty, dirty climb up poor trails towards the top. I like a tough hike when it’s rewarded by great views – but in this case there wasn’t much to see, the trees and brush covering up any vantage points. In this regard I was a bit disappointed. The best view I got was when I climbed a tree and took a picture looking down towards the lake. A few photos:
Across the isthmus, you can also climb Concepcion. I’ve read that it is a tough, slippery climb up a steep, shale-covered slope. You have to be in good shape. Unlike Maderas there is no vegetation – just fantastic views in every direction. It is on my agenda for the next time in these parts. More on hiking these volcanoes here.
Besides the hike, our time was spent laying out by the swimming pool and enjoying the nature. The views as the light changes is spectacular. I would recommend this place to anyone and I would come back here with Lissette for a more romantic kind of vacation. The food at Totoco was fantastic. Bring earplugs; the NOISE at night from all the bugs and animals is unbelievable. There is one bird, a small grey bird that seems to only appear at night, that constantly hung out right next to our lodge calling out what sounded like like ‘f”-word all night. I’m not kidding. Then, when the noise from the night animals finally starts to die down close to dawn, the howler monkeys start up. There is no peace and quiet in the jungle.
Below: A few more photos of Concepcion from the Lodge
Below: the family-sized lodge at Totoco.
Heading back to the mainland on the ferry:
Below: the mix of travelers and locals you’ll see on the ferry.
We only spent a week together in Nicaragua. My mother stayed on in Granada for her Spanish courses and I had to go back to work.
It’s nice to have money and to be able to travel in Nicaragua. Everything is relatively cheap. Since I was travelling with my mom I booked private transport (with Oro Travel) for all our transfers. But Nicaragua is a poor country and you can’t help but feel bad at times; I saw a boy who couldn’t have been more than 10 on a horse tending to a herd of cattle. In Canada kids that age are playing nintendo and getting fat. Skinny horses pulling carts are still the principal mode of transport. You can see that most Nicaraguans, especially in the countryside, live a very basic existence.
A few Nicaraguans I spoke to in the travel industry expressed their frustration that Nicaragua was portrayed as a dangerous country, especially in the US (see the Bureau of Consular affairs website). In actual fact, Nicaragua is known as the safest country in Central America, safer even than Costa Rica. I never felt in danger – the flip side of few tourists is that locals aren’t overwhelmed by foreigners and are so much friendlier because of that. And I always say; in the end, it’s the people that make a difference between liking or disliking a place. Based on that, I would definitely come back to Nicaragua.
Have you been to Isla Ometepe? Have you done either hike? Would love to hear your stories and experiences!