Isle de Ometepe

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After crossing the Nicaraguan border from Costa Rica, we headed straight to Isle de Ometepe (Ometepe Island). This island is in the countries biggest body of water, Lake Nicaragua, and is formed of two large volcanoes connected by a flat and narrow piece of land.

We had our taxi ($35) drop us off right at the ferry yard in San Jorge, and had time to buy some snacks and use the washroom after purchasing our ferry passes ($10). When we got to the ferry there were only seats left below the deck. The seats were long benches like pews in a church, and the ride was very rough. I spent the 30 minutes ride with my head between my knees hoping that I wouldn’t get sick to my stomach. I made it!

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We didn’t have solid plans for once we arrived to the island. I had read about San Jose Del Sur, Moyogalpo, and Merida and thought we would see what the first two areas were like before deciding wether we wanted to head to the much quieter and secluded area of Merida.

It must have been the fatigue, but for some reason when we got to the island and found out there was a “chicken bus” immediately leaving for Merida, we jumped on ($2) without much thought or consideration. At the time I don’t think we realized that it would be a two hour bus ride and that about half the trip would be on unpaved road. It was a very long drive but at least we were happy to have some snacks and cool drinks that we had picked up before the bus left the docks.

When we finally made it to Merida it was very easy to find the hostel I had read about online, Hacienda Merida. It was easy because there was essentially nothing around except one little restaurant, a school, a little shop or two, and some hostels and small hotels. We were very secluded.

We were happy, however, to get a private room  for $25 a night, and to be able to enjoy a dinner prepared for us right at the hostel just in time to enjoy the sun setting over beautiful Lake Nicaragua. It was a nice ending to a very long day.

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Our next mistake on Ometepe came the next morning. We were up early to get ready to take the chicken bus back towards town, but during breakfast we decided we would rent bikes from the little shop up the road. These bikes were far from state-of-the-art. And the roads? Oh, the roads. They were rough, to say the least. Here’s a look:

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It was impossible to avoid these large rocks, and therefore the ride was very bumpy. It didn’t take long for the journey to become uncomfortable. It did, however, take a long time to get where we were going. We stopped briefly to look at some petroglyphs, which was mediocrely interesting, and then a couple of more times just to give our bodies a break and get some water. After two hot, sweaty, and painful hours, we finally reached our destination- Ojo de Agua natural springs pool.

We spent a couple of hours here splashing in the cool water. There was a rope swing and a slack line over the water. The pools were refreshing, but the cement bottom was rough and definitely had some algae on it. We ate lunch at the on-site restaurant. It was a plain and simple meal, as good as it seemed to get for our short visit to this island.

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We certainly weren’t looking forward to our return trip, but didn’t have much of an option so set off back on the road. The journey back was no better than the ride there. It ended up taking us 6 hours for the whole journey.

When we got back to Hacienda Merida we took a bit of time to relax and enjoy the many hammocks around the hostel. We tried to go out in the kayaks that the Hostel has, but were told it was too windy. We decided to have an early dinner, and shortly after the lake became a bit calmer. We quickly grabbed a two-person kayak and headed out towards the sunset. Being on the water, looking out over Ometepe, and watching the sunset was our favourite experience from our time on the Island.

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That night was our last night on Ometepe. The next morning we were up early again to catch the 8:30 (8:50) bus back to the ferry. That was another interesting experience but luckily we had made it almost back to the docks before the bus broke down for the final time, and were easily able to walk the rest of the way. We caught the 12:00 ferry and waved good-bye to this unique little island.

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Crossing the Border Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua

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We were unable to book transportation into Nicaragua at our hostel in Costa Rica because the shuttle service needed a minimum of four passengers before it would operate. Because we wanted to get on with the next chapter of our travel, we decided to chance public transportation on our own.

Foolowing the instructions from the receptionist at our hostel, which I finally asked her to write down after getting her to confirm twice, we left our hostel in Arenal at 5:30 in the morning (sorry to our dorm mates). We went to the Super Mega grocery store in town, and just down the street we found the bus stop. We had a bit of a wait here, and at 6:30 we caught a bus to Tonque ($2 per person). It was only about a 15 minute ride. When we got off the bus in Tonque, we crossed the street and waited at another bus stop for the 7:15 bus which would take us to the Penas Blancas border crossing ($8 per person).

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We got off the first bus where the person is on their bike, and this picture is taken from the bus stop where we were waiting for the 7:15 bus to Penas Blancas border crossing. 

This was a very long journey. The bus seats were hard plastic and the bus ride was 5 hours long. We had one bathroom break at a road side stop where there was also food available.

When we got to the border crossing we were a bit overwhelmed. We gathered our packs and followed the crowd of people going to pay their exit fees. There were lots of people trying to tell us where to go and I am not sure if they were all trustworthy. We kept our heads down and made it to the lineups where we paid an $8 exit fee per person. Now we had to try and figure out what was next. We headed back across the road and finally decided to go into the building and fill out our paper work, then get in line.

From here we walked across the border and were bombarded by people wanting to help us. One man just wouldn’t leave us alone and insisted on staying by our side. We had to pay our entrance fee of $13 per person at a small hut, and then take a piece of paper into another building that was almost like airport security. Finally, escorted by our “helper” we were outside again and being put into a cab. He wanted a lot of money from us, and we eventually settled on a much smaller price for his “help” then he originally demanded. I am not sure how to avoid these people, but if you can it will save you a few bucks and a lot of hassle.

Once we were in our taxi we were able to settle down from the excitement/anxiety of crossing the border. We paid $35 to be driven to the San Jorge ferry docks. We found the ticket office there and paid $10 for our tickets. We had a bit of time to get a snack while we waited for the ferry.

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It was a short but tumultuous ferry ride over. We were seated in the lower part of the boat and it was a head-between-your-legs kind of trip. Once we got across we almost immediately caught a bus ($1) which would take us around the island to the small town of Merida.

Overall, the process of crossing the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua was quite smooth. It certainly cost a fraction of what it would have to pay a travel agency to escort us across. If you are for comfort and ease, don’t go this route. If you are more interested in getting to Nicaragua on the cheap- try it! I feel like if we can do it, anyone can! Good luck.

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