6 Mistakes to Avoid on Ometepe Island

Ometepe Island is known for its untouched jungles, fiery sunsets, and natural healing elements. But it’s equally infamous for igniting misadventure–from intrepid volcano treks to unmarked trails, everyone walks away with a wild travel story to tell.

Looking back on my first trip to Ometepe, there are plenty of things I would do differently if given the chance. While I can’t get a redo, I can share the lessons I learned along the way so that you don’t run into the same obstacles I did when you visit.

Take my advice–be wary of these 6 mistakes to avoid on Ometepe Island:

Ometepe Mistake #1: Renting the wrong vehicle

@noodlefaye23

Ometepe is not a large island. But getting from one end to the other can be a real headache if you aren’t renting the right vehicle. 

What is the right vehicle for Ometepe Island? While we answer that question in detail in another blog post, we can give you the short answer here: it depends. 

My mistake was not planning ahead and making a quick decision that wasn’t the best one for me. I went with an ATV rental simply for the storage capacity: I had brought a suitcase that I didn’t think would be compatible with a motorcycle or a scooter. But because I wasn’t interested in serious adventuring–like a hike to Cascada San Ramón–the ATV ended up being a lot more than I really needed for the duration of my stay, and limited my agility (not to mention my budget).

Lesson learned:

Do your homework on rental vehicles and don’t make an uninformed decision at the last minute. Had I been better prepared, I might have taken a one-way taxi from the Moyogalpa port to my accommodation, then switched to a rental motorcycle to get around more easily. Make sure you’re exploring all your options.

Ometepe Mistake #2: Going to Punta Jesús María too early 

@acshanks

You can’t go to Ometepe Island without seeing the remarkable Punta Jesús María. Known for its naturally occurring sandbar that gives the appearance of walking on water, the black sand beach is also a hotspot for sunset picnics (and epic photo ops). 

The second Ometepe mistake I made was visiting Punta Jesús María too early in the day. After arriving at the Moyogalpa port around noon, it seemed logical to make a pit stop at this Nicaraguan landmark as I passed by on my way to Balgüe. But the empty beach bars and desolate shoreline told a different story: clearly, this was not prime time at Punta Jesús María.

Lesson learned:

Too late, I learned that Punta Jesús María is known for having one of the best sunset views on Ometepe Island. Without enough time in my trip to revisit the beach (see Mistake #6), I had missed an opportunity to catch a glimpse. If you do go to Punta Jesús María, time it for 4:30pm to get the best experience–and bring a good camera.

Ometepe Mistake #3: Missing the turn to Balgüe 

It’s difficult to get lost on Ometepe–but, as I found, it’s not impossible. Hopping on the simple two-lane road wrapping around the island’s perimeter will get you just about anywhere you need to go. But if you’re making your way from Moyogalpa to the Maderas Volcano side, the single turn required is surprisingly easy to miss.

Ometepe is shaped like an infinity symbol. As you follow the figure-eight route, it’s a beautifully scenic ride. The trouble is, it all looks more or less the same. You need to keep an eye out for a point called El Quino to turn toward Balgüe instead of continuing on to Altagracia. I way overshot the marker, and ended up backtracking after asking around for directions.

Lesson learned:

For the directionally-challenged like myself, preparation is key. I assumed the El Quino turn would be obvious, and took for granted that I would recognize it without knowing exactly what I was looking for. Don’t make the same mistake I did: save precious time (and gas) by familiarizing yourself with the signage that indicates it’s time to turn right to Balgüe

HN Hint: When you see this bright little bus stop, you’ll know you’re in the right place. Look across the street for a sign papered in advertisements for Balgüe attractions like Ojo de Agua.

Ometepe Mistake #4: Getting to Playa Mangos too late 

Another popular sunset destination on Ometepe Island is Playa Mangos. The little beach with big views is a siren song for backpackers. Carpeted with fallen mango fruit and illuminated by string lights, it’s a playful site that’s buzzing with energy. What could go wrong?

An easy mistake to make? Getting to Playa Mangos too close to sunset. Time is not on your side: word has gotten out that Playa Mangos is the place to be, and it fills up fast. The later you arrive, the lower your chances of securing a key spot on the beach. Not only that, but you miss out on all the other enjoyment that it has to offer.

I pulled up to Playa Mangos just before the sun went down, and I instantly understood why it was such a desirable destination on Ometepe Island. Cold drinks were flowing, music was rocking, and tourists were taking turns capturing the perfect shot on the massive swing overlooking Concepción Volcano. 

Lesson learned:

I mistakenly thought Playa Mangos was a barren beach. If I could do it over again, I would have arrived much earlier in the afternoon, rented a kayak on Lake Nicaragua, and grabbed a cerveza with time to spare before sunset. I recommend you do the same! Chances are, you’ll want to maximize your time here.

Ometepe Mistake #5: Walking instead of driving at night 

Ometepe Island’s undeveloped natural landscape is its greatest point of appeal. At the same time, it can easily lead to avoidable mistakes if you aren’t careful. After the evening sunset illuminates the twin volcano island with a final, glorious glow, it gets very dark, very fast.

In this case, my Ometepe mistake was walking home at night. I underestimated how spread out the island was, and how long it would take to find my way back on foot. As motorcycles zipped by in the fading light, I was forced onto the grass to avoid getting clipped. It was a long trek home, and not the safest–or the smartest–choice I made on Ometepe Island.

Lesson learned:

Factor in enough time to get from place to place as the sun sets on Ometepe Island. Many hotels are set deep in the trees, and reaching your accommodation can be rocky after dark–literally. Make a plan to find your way back, whether that means hitching a ride or bringing a headlamp.

Ometepe Mistake #6: Only booking one night 

@_tompaterson

The absolute biggest mistake I made on Ometepe Island? Not staying long enough.

It’s true what they say: Ometepe has a magical quality to it. There’s something in the air that rejuvenates your body and soul. Call it the eco-living or the energy patterns, but Ometepe Island is undeniably a special place.

There was so much to do and see–and then want to do and see again–that I didn’t get a chance to experience during my short time there. I ended up extending my trip to Ometepe an additional night, but truth be told, I wish I’d stayed even longer.

Lesson learned:

It’s not easy to reach Ometepe Island. When all is said and done, it takes time and energy to travel from the Nicaraguan mainland to your final destination. If you’re like many visitors (including me), once you’re there, you won’t want to leave. Give yourself an extra day or two longer than you anticipate needing when you plan your trip to Ometepe Island.

Conclusion

Rustic Ometepe is always an adventure. There’s no one right way to spend your time on this ancient island. But with the right preparation, you can skip past the rookie missteps and set yourself up for smooth sailing. 

Avoid my six biggest mistakes on Ometepe Island–make your own! 

What’s your best piece of advice for first-time visitors to Ometepe? Share it in the comments!

Pin this post for your next trip to Isla de Ometepe, and follow us on Instagram for more Nicaragua travel tips.

Meet your Tour Guides

Hola! We’re Gail & Luis, a team of two with a deep love for Nicaragua. Luis, a professional tour guide, is the knowledgeable source behind the blog. Gail, an American writer, is the voice. 

We started this blog as a way to stay connected from afar and support Nicaragua in our own small way.

Today, our mission is to open hearts and minds to the wonders of Nicaragua and make it easier than ever to start planning your trip.

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