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Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua: a reminder of why I love to travel


Every so often a place comes along – or more accurately, I come along to a place – that reminds me of why I travel. Nicaragua’s Isla de Ometepe was one of those places.

Image credit to Craig Fast
By the time I got there, I had been travelling for eight months. Eight once-in-a-lifetime months. But life on the road was starting to get me down. I was sick of travel. To be specific, I was sick of budget travel: dormitories, rice and beans, dirty old school buses and being ripped off. I can sum up the hostel I had just left in San Juan del Sur in three images: blocked sinks, paper-thin walls, and saggy beds with stained pillows. Worse, I was starting to feel ungrateful.
I know I sound like a spoilt brat – how many people would love to have these kinds of adventures? – but I couldn’t help how I felt, even while I didn’t like myself for feeling that way. I needed something different, something special. I needed to snap the hell out of it.
Ometepe’s twin volcanoes soared out of the murky waters of Lake Nicaragua as the rickety ferry I was on lurched closer. Clouds whipped off the peak of 1,610m Concepción Volcano while its runty twin, Maderas, at 1,394m, festered under cloud forests.
Ometepe Vulcano

Image credit to Craig Fast

So far it doesn’t sound that inviting, right? Murky, festering, cloudy…these are not words that scream idyllic. But remember my mood – I saw what I felt, and it wasn’t pretty! If I’ve learnt nothing else from my travels, I’ve learnt that you get out of the world what you put into it.
So I played the travel writer card. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I did. I contacted a few interesting (and definitely not aimed at budget travellers) places and proposed that I review them in return for a reduction in price.
The two that got back to me were eco-conscious hotels run by truly dedicated people with the kind of enthusiasm for their cause that makes bees look lazy. They put me to shame.
Hotel Finca del Sol, my first stop on the island, is run by Sheri and Cristiano. Their eco-friendly hotel has composting toilets, organic gardens, solar panels, two cabins and one loft, and they built it all themselves, where possible using materials from their own plot of land. I spent two nights in the rocking chairs of the loft room, marvelling at the view as hummingbirds flitting past.
The view from Totoco

Image credit to Craig Fast

Next stop: Totoco, Isla de Ometepe’s most expensive hotel, but also its most ambitiously environmentally friendly. Not only do they have everything you’d expect from a luxury eco hotel (hot showers and solar panels, luxurious cabins and water recycling, five-star views and local staff, and so on), but they doggedly work at building a relationship with the local community and returning third-generation forest to its more biodiverse original state.

All very admirable and rejuvenating for someone (me) weary of profit-hungry hoteliers and traders with one thing on their minds.

“Add to those inspirational hotels the island itself and you have the cure for travel-weariness. ”

Local legend would have you believe that the island’s volcanoes were formed from the breasts (it’s always the breasts…) of Ometeptl, a daughter of the Niquirano tribe who fell in love with Nagrando from the rival tribe, Nagrandando. At the time, the area was a dry and fertile valley. When the lovers decided the only way they could live in peace together was to die together, they slit their wrists. As Ometepl died she arched her back in pain and despair, her breasts swelling to form the twin peaks, and the valley flooded.
The single road around the island is rough, plied more frequently by horses, ox-drawn carts and bicycles than cars. Concepción Volcano is still active and emergency evacuation routes are clearly marked. But the people are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met in my travels. Walking through what appeared to be back yards and gardens (although we were assured it was a public footpath) on our way to a beach, families sharing a meal, old men in beat-up fedoras leaning on fences and kids swinging off branches all had a smile and a “good day” for us. In the back of a taxi on our last day, our driver acknowledged everyone he knew (i.e. everybody) with a toot or a quick blast of a siren (surely illegal?!), a wave and a smile, which were readily returned.
Island wide, chickens idly scratched in the dust, well-dressed women with worry-wrinkle-free faces did their laundry in the sunny shallows of the lake or clear streams, restaurants took an hour or two to serve our food. Island time rules, and it’s infectious. I caught it, good and proper, and I needed to.
Kayaking on Ometepe

Image credit to Craig Fast

Five days relaxing and soaking it all up on Isla de Ometepe put me back on track for travelling. It was my much-needed pit stop.