Balgüe and Santa Cruz
On its southern end Playa Santo Domingo runs into the beach of Santa Cruz.
From here you enjoy views of both volcanos of Ometepe - one on each side of the beach.
Santa Cruz sits on the intersection where the new brick road from Altagracia and Santo Domingo continues to Balgüe, while another, bone jarring rock road leads to Merida and San Ramon. A couple of small hotels are available to enjoy this advantageous location with a scenic beach for swimming and sun bathing, sites with petroglyphs and a hiking trail to the Maderas volcanoe. You can rent bicycles or hike to Merida which is 6 km away, or 4 km to Balgüe and Finca Magdalena.
Balgüe is a small hamlet on the northern side of the Maderas volcano and the terminal bus stop for the rickety buses coming from Altagracia. This remote part of Isla Ometepe is however a long known destination for Central American backpackers who flock to the Finca Magdalena. Additionally the area from Santa Cruz to Balgüe has, in recent years, evolved into one of Nicaragua's prime destinations for eco-tourism.
The ancient Indian settlers considered the Maderas a sacred place of the sun and you find pre-Columbian petroglyphs dispersed all over Balgüe and Santa Cruz. It seems as if the spirit of the former inhabitants inspires today's residents to strive for a life in harmony with nature. There are farming projects dedicated to permaculture and environmental education, and eco hotels and communities using regenerative technologies and growing their own organic vegetables.
The slopes of Balgüe and Santa Cruz have scenic views of the Concepción volcanoe whose top is sometimes neatly
visible, and sometimes dresses a cap of clouds. You see gorgeous sunsets while in your back you hear the howler monkeys and
birds from the forest of the Maderas volcanoe.
If once you have had enough of nature contemplation and bliss you can dive into action with a hike up the Maderas volcano. The most popular starting point is from Finca Magdalena, 2 km uphill from Balgüe. If you don't want to make the entire, strenous hike to the top of the Maderas you can walk only a portion of the trail into the elf forest of the nature reserve. Take a guide as otherwise you get lost in the maze of trails. The guide will also point out plants and wildlife of the cloud forest. Other tours from Finca Magdalena lead through the organic coffee plantation and to a couple of sites with intriguing petroglyph.
A nice spot for a river bath in the forest is at the foot of Finca Magdalena. A small pool is fed with the cool water of a natural spring. Sometimes you can watch birds and monkeys who descend from the treetops to drink.
Finca Magdalena is a large, picturesque hacienda, built over 120 years ago. Before the revolution the 350-hectare farm was owned by Somoza, Nicaragua's former dictator. Today Finca Magdalena is run by a collective of 24 families who grow organic coffee and other farming products and offer cheap accommodation in dormitories and rustic private rooms. There are many chill-out areas, hammocks and a restaurant serving typical dishes. Those who crave a bit more comfort find a couple of small hotels with more amenities nearby.
A very rough road continues from Balgüe around Ometepe's remote eastern side until San Ramon, 14 km away. You can rent bicycles to drive through beautiful forest and small settlements but be prepared that it's a tough, bolder-strewn track.