Isla Ometepe

The largest freshwater island in the world, Ometepe is a highlight of any trip to Nicaragua. It has two volcanoes, one of them,
Concepción
, a perfect cone rising to 1610 m; the other,
Volcán Maderas
, rising to 1394 m. There are two main villages, on either side of Volcán Concepción: Moyogalpa and Altagracia, which are connected by bus.
Moyogalpa
is a tourist port and there is not much to keep you here unless you're catching an early boat.
Altagracia
is smaller and more charming. The people of Ometepe are said to be the
kindest in Nicaragua, partly because the Revolution and Civil War were never waged here. There are many indigenous
petroglyphs
on the island, the best being near
Finca Magdalena
.

Altagracia

Pickups meet boats arriving at Altagracia to provide transport for the 2-km ride into town. In the main plaza there is a
sculpture park
of pre-Columbian-style ceramics with some large basalt statues, similar to those housed in the San Francisco museum in Granada. The
Museo de Ometepehas
, has displays covering local ethnographic and environmental themes. Ask for the birdwatching site about 3 km from Altagracia; birds fly in the late afternoon to nest on offshore islands.

You can stroll to the base of
Volcán Concepción
(which had its last major eruption in 1954), for good views of the lake in the company of many birds and howler monkeys. To climb the volcano, leave from
Cuatro Cuadros
, 2 km from Altagracia, and make for a cinder gully between forested slopes and a lava flow. There are several
fincas
on the lower part of the volcano. The ascent takes about five hours (take water), with alpine vegetation, heat from the crater and howler monkeys as attractions. It gets very steep near the summit. It's recommended that you get a guide as visibility is often restricted by clouds and it is easy to get lost, especially in the final stages. Ask for guides near the pier; otherwise contact Eduardo Ortiz and his son José, of
Cuatro Cuadros
, or Eduardo Manzanares or Berman Gómez from
Exploring Ometepe
. There is an alternative route up Volcán Concepción from behind the church in Moyogalpa. Again, a guide is recommended as it's easy to get lost in the jungle or the cloud. The walk takes eight hours; a machete is useful. Camping is possible near the top. South of Volcán Concepción is Laguna Charco Verde .

Around Isla Ometepe

For
Volcán Maderas
 take an early bus from Altagracia to Balgües and ask for
Finca Magdalena
(20 minutes' walk). From here it's a 2½-hour walk through banana plantations and forest to the beautiful lagoon in the crater (the path can be very muddy, boots recommended). This is one of the country's finest Pacific basin cloud forests with howler monkeys accompanying you on your way to the volcano summit. The climb is not technical, but a guide may
be helpful. Guides can be found at the coffee cooperative in Balgües,
Finca Magdalena
and in Moyagalpa at
Exploring Ometepe
or at
Hotel Ometepetl
. On the southwest flank of Volcán Maderas is
Salto San Ramón
, a 110-m waterfall. Take water on all hikes and climbs.

Other activities on the island include the
Laguna Charco Verde
(ask around for the legend on Chico Largo who is still said to watch the lagoon), the waterfall at San Ramon or the underground spring and water eye of
La Presa.
 The island does not offer a lot in terms of entertainment besides some local dancing at weekends (ask around). Every month there is the
Fiesta de la Luna Llena
(full-moon party) at Charco Verde (ask around for directions and times).
Fiestas patronales
are held year-round in different villages, the festivities 22-26 July in Moyogalpa and 12-18 November in Altagracia include both religious processions and bull riding.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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