If you’re thinking about cycle touring or bikepacking in Central America, you have to include cycling Ometepe island in Nicaragua. It’s one of the most spectacular locations we have encountered on our journey through Central America and it’s worth exploring on or off bike. We’ve put together some information to make it easier for you.
How to get there?
There’s ferry regularly going to the island and back from San Jorge, close to Rivas. There are two ports on the island – Moyogalpa and San Jose del Sur. You can find the ferry schedule here but please don’t expect that all the boats will go as you can see on this schedule. They won’t. You’re in Central America. They won’t. We assumed something and we ended up in San Jose, instead of Moyogalpa. At night. And we cycled to Moyogalpa from there because Gilberto, a local who seemed trustworthy enough told us it’s perfectly safe. It was.
Don’t make the same mistake, always ask before boarding the boat even if several people told you you’re going to Moyogalpa, ask the crew. It was very windy in January, so the bigger boat you take, the better. There was one day when we were on the island, when the ferries were suspended due to the wind.
How much does it cost?
On the way to the island, we paid this:
1USD each to enter the port in San Jorge (tourist contribution)
16 cordobas together for port services
50 cordobas each as tickets
the boat crew didn’t charge us for bicycles
On the way back from Moyogalpa we paid:
50 cordobas each for tickets
30 cordobas for bicycles together
30 cordobas port fees
We’re writing it like this because we were really confused in San Jorge, when they charged us the first two amounts (not saying where or how we should buy tickets or that these are not tickets) and then on the boat itself they told us we don’t have tickets. But no problem, you can buy them on the boat. When returning, there’s a window where you can buy tickets.
What to pack when cycling Ometepe island?
We think the ideal option is to leave heavy stuff in the hostel/hotel and travel really lightweight. You will appreciate it when cycling around Maderas on rough roads. So for the first time we went with only bikepacking setup and not even using its full packing potential. In theory you can easily travel without camping gear and food because there’s plenty of accommodation options and restaurants on Ometepe.
How long is the circuit?
The whole circuit is about 90 kilometres. It’s 50:50 paved vs. unpaved surface. The part around Volcán Maderas is rough with bigger stones, sometimes a bit technical but very enjoyable with lightweight setup.
How much time do I need for cycling Ometepe?
We did it comfortably in two days. If it’s just about cycling around, of course one day is feasible but bear in mind you won’t have time to enjoy any sights and attractions. And it’s a shame to speed through it ;). It’s very easy to spend there a week if you include things like hiking the volcanoes, kayak trip into mangroves or exploring the ancient petroglyphs.
We started cycling Ometepe in Moyogalpa from Hostel Life is Good heading clockwise around Volcán Concepción first, towards Altagracia. Both towns are biggest on the island so it’s easy to do your shopping there, especially fruits and veggies. Majority of the surface between the two is unpaved, easy to ride on. From Altagracia you hit the pavement all the way past Balgüe. Don’t forget to stop at Ojo de Aqua. Natural pool, clear water. We came one hour before they were closing, so they charged us only 5 USD together rather than 5 USD pp. There’s also a possibility they will allow you to camp there but we didn’t try. Refreshed we headed to Balgüe where we wanted to have dinner in Cafe Campestre. Best curries but the portions rather small for a touring cyclist, you may want to order two ;). Already in total darkness, we headed to Hostal Guis where we camped for the night for 4 USD per tent.
Next day we headed around Volcán Maderas. In the morning you can’t see much of the volcanoes, they are covered in thick clouds. But then in the afternoon, the clouds disappear and those two massive mountains will come into view. We really enjoyed this first part of our day as you’re going through little villages, through banana plantations, with amazing views of the lake. All happening on dirt road, Phoebe and Lolo could run with us. Then we descended back to the lake to San Ramón. It’s a very charming little village and the lake is completely quiet and still here as it’s protected from the wind. You can hike up to San Ramón waterfall from here. Just before Merida we stopped for food in Café El Imperio. Señora here knows how to cook, even though we had only gallo pinto (rice and beans) with some plantains and salad, it was the best gallo pinto ever. And maracuya juice! From Merida it’s just few more kilometres to Santa Cruz on dirt, with perfect views of Volcán Concepción. If you have time, take the kayak tour to Rio Istian where you can see caymans.
The road between Santa Cruz and intersection towards Moyogalpa or Altagracia was familiar because it was the second time we rode it. Just be prepared for fierce winds blowing from the lake on this side. Then we headed towards San Jose del Sur. The only mentionable hill is on this part really. And then great downhill to the town on smooth pavement with Maderas on the left and Concepción on the right. Just before Moyogalpa we headed to Punta Maria Jesus which is a small peninsula heading to the lake with best sunset views on Ometepe.
Why you should do it?
Cycling Ometepe island is very different from cycling in mainland Nicaragua. It feels very quiet and especially the Maderas part is completely different world. We recommend you take your time to explore the island and do it as lightweight as possible. We cycled with half full bikepacking setup and in sandals. Felt like a holiday :-D.
If you have any questions about cycling Ometepe or travelling there in general, feel free to contact us. And if the words and photos don’t do justice to this place, we hope the video will!