For three weeks we were living the hammock life in the village of Merida on Ometepe, Nicaragua. The months leading up to our trip were hectic to say the least and the first leg of our RTW detour was go-go-go so we needed the downtime.
Isla de Ometepe is located in Lake Nicaragua, a huge volcanic lake in the southern region of the country. The island’s hourglass shape comes from two volcanoes, Conception and Maderas, connected by a narrow isthmus. Around Concepcion, the larger and still active of the two volcanoes, are the main towns of Moyogalpa and Altagracia as well as several other smaller villages. Circling the dormant Maderas volcano is a single dirt road that connects a few communities. It was here in the lazy little town of Merida, known for it’s sunsets and location between the lake and the volcano, that we decided to make our home. It was the perfect spot for us to find just what we were looking for, some peace and quiet.
In Merida we were able to strike a deal with a local family to rent a cabina (small cabin) for three weeks. Part of our arrangement was that we had permission to use their restaurant kitchen and unlimited refills to our water bottle.
Our first week was a lot of unwinding, but also a lot of adapting. We quickly learned how to cook over a propane gas stove. The more challenging task was learning to use the local ingredients for our meals. Merida has no full-service grocery store, instead there are many smaller pulperias that sell a variety of things. For one meal, we might need to go to three different stores to get all of our ingredients. Shopping around gave us a great reason to become friendly with many of the local families and we quickly felt quite at home.
Shopping, cooking and cleaning up for three meals a day took up a lot of our time, so we subsidised our own cooking by eating at some of the local comodors (small restaurants) on average about once a day. Our favorite, Margarita’s Bar is run by it’s namesake owner. She’s a lovely lady with a big smile that puts many twists on typical Nicaraguan food.
By the time we had settled into the simple life of Merida we had already been on the island for over a week. That realization lead us to venture out and see more of what Ometepe had to offer.
Our first expedition was up to San Ramon waterfall. It was a 4 hour round-trip hike up a portion of the Maderas volcano punctuated by spectacular views and the most refreshing shower on the island.
On other days we kayaked down a river with caimens, found the best beach, took part in a local festival and climbed one of the volcanoes. You can read about those adventures here.
In the end our time in Merida passed as time does, sometimes slow sometimes flying by. It was certainly the rejuvinating experience we were hoping for. Well rested and with a renewed sense of adventure we were ready to see where our travels would take us. Next stop Costa Rica.
Getting to Merida: There are many ferries that travel to Ometepe, the busiest mainland hub is at San Jorge. From there you can catch a ferry to Moyogalpa (frequent service) or San Jose del Sur (a couple each day). There is one bus that goes all the way to Merida, it leaves Myogalpa at around 2:30pm. The bus will stop in Altagracia around 4:00pm and then arrive in Merida around 5:00pm, making many brief stops along the way as requested.
Leaving Merida: You will have to take the same bus in reverse. It leaves Merida at around 9:00am, stops briefly in Altagracia around 10:00am and arrives in Moyogalpa around 11:30am.
Getting around the island: The Merida bus connects with all of the towns up to Moyogalpa, including: Santa Cruz, Santo Domingo, Altagracia, Urbaite, and San Jose del Sur. There are also many buses that drive around the paved roads of the north section of the island. If you’re heading to Balgue on the east side of Maderas you can catch that bus from Moyogalpa, Altagracia or Santo Domingo. Alternatively, renting a bicycle or motor bike is a great way to see the island at your own pace. There isn’t much traffic anywhere on the island and the paved roads are good (be careful on the dirt roads though as they can be very bumpy). It is cheapest to rent motor bikes in Moyogalpa or Altagracia.
Accommodation: Merida has a surprising amount of accommodation options. The closest thing to a proper hotel is Rancho Merida with their cabinas, restaurant and private rooms (with shared bath). Hacienda Merida is a popular hostel-type option. Finca Mystica is just outside town and is a bit more expensive in terms of Merida, but should fit most budgets. At Finca Mystica they serve great fresh food, the best cup of coffee and homemade chocolate and also offer yoga. Besides these three, there are many other accommodations. Walking down the main road into Merida you will see a few signs that point towards the lake or little neighborhoods with the names of guesthouses. The bottom line is that you will not have a hard time finding a place to rest your head at night.
Eating and Drinking: Margarita’s Bar is the best! The cheapest beer, cheap and delicious food is served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plus it’s always served up with a smile. She also makes amazing passion fruit juice, just ask for jugo naturales. There is also Dona Clara’s (Fruitlandia) which looks like a shack down by the lake; their meals vary in both price and quality, but the family is very friendly. At the top of the hill on the north side of Merida is a pretty good restaurant (no name, has a thatched roof with two or three tables next to a pulperia), the portion sizes and huge and the price is right, it’s not as good as Margarita’s though.