Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua
Isla Ometepe is an island composed of two volcanoes that emerges from the wind-swept Lake of Nicaragua. Joined by a thin, flat isthmus the two volcanoes shape the island like an hour glass. Over the northern half of Ometepe looms the majestic and perfectly cone-shaped Concepción, a still active volcanoe, while the southern half is dominated by the extinct Maderas which is swathed in a cloud forest and has a mystical lagoon in its crater. Ometepe is the world's largest volcanic island in a freshwater lake.
Many travelers come from the Nicaraguan mainland with only a volcano hike on their to-do list but Ometepe has much more to offer. The island is a mesmerizing place, entrenched in history, and full of stunning sights and activities.
Isolated from the rest of Nicaragua by the Cocibolca, the indigenous name for the Lake of Nicaragua, Ometepe feels far away from the rest of the world. Touted as the "Oasis of Peace", the island indeed is intriguing and mystical. Past Indian inhabitants regarded it as the promised land and a sacred island. Chorotega, Nahuatl and Mayans left a multitude of pre-Columbian artefacts spread all over the island, and Ometepe is considered one of the great rock art areas of the world due to the many petroglyphs and stone idols carved into basalt boulders.
The Conquistadores turned the Indians over to Catholizism but many old costums and beliefs were integrated into the Christian faith. On Ometepe people celebrate more religious and folk festivals than anywhere else in Nicaragua.
The volcanoes, visible from everywhere on the island, are a powerful and ever-present feature.
Due to the volcanic ash the soil is extremely fertile and the land yields abundant crops. In recent years many farms have turned over to sustainable farming practices, and even hotels on Ometepe might serve you their self-grown organic fruit and vegetables.
Tourism on Ometepe is picking up and a new kind of traveler mingles with the usual backpacker on his Central-America journey. Drawn by the island's unique culture and nature attractions Ometepe receives now also a more demanding clientele, from eco- and ethno tourists to sport enthusiasts and serenity seekers. There are still many budget accommodations available but you will equally find hotels and lodges on Ometepe which now offer more comfort and amenities.
Low-impact eco-tourism is very popular on Isla Ometepe which in 2010 was designed as a Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO. Various NGOs foster rural and communitarian tourism to the mutual benefit of local families and visitors interested in an authentic experience in one of Nicaragua's most intriguing travel destinations.