“They look so isolated from the world and its turmoil—
so tranquil, so dreamy, so steeped in slumber and eternal repose.”
on seeing the twin volcanoes of Concepción and Maderas on Ometepe Island
It’s easy to believe as you approach Ometepe Island by ferry—the conical slopes of its twin volcanoes looming over a lush landscape of forest and palm trees—that you are about to set foot on a primitive island. And the caretakers of this paradisiacal place (namely, the Nicaraguan government, which protects it as an official Biosphere Reserve) want to keep it that way.
As Mark Twain would attest, this is a truly remarkable place, and it feels like a privilege to visit. Concepción and Maderas volcanoes are linked by a low, narrow isthmus, giving the island an hourglass shape. The summits seem to stare each other down from across the natural causeway. And if height and power determined the winner of this staring contest, Concepción would win: Unlike Maderas, it remains active and soars to 5,282 feet, making Ometepe the world’s highest island in a lake.
In the surrounding rainforest, capuchin, howler, and spider monkeys jump and forage in the canopy and amidst unique island flora. But of all Ometepe’s inhabitants, the most intriguing may well be those that lived here long ago. Pre-Columbian tribal societies lived off this fertile land for centuries and anthropologists are just beginning to understand them, thanks in part to ancient petroglyphs and artifacts discovered on the slopes of Maderas in the 1990s. About 1,700 panels have been uncovered on 1,400 boulders, each depicting spirals, round “faces” on human-like figures, fish, and more. In our small group, you will have time to ponder the stone etchings for yourself and gain insight from guide.
It’s enough to make you wonder if the ancestors of those monkeys were loitering around overhead as the ancients chipped away at their stones. They may well have been. And you can learn more about them at the 50-acre Charco Verde Nature Reserve and Butterfly Garden, where you will see some of the island’s unique creatures, including armadillos, anteaters, and thousands of butterflies.
A pair of primitive volcanoes, a pristine wilderness teeming with wildlife, fascinating traces of ancient people, and a glowing review from Mark Twain. Lake Nicaragua’s Ometepe Island is a place unlike any other. Experience it for yourself during our Discover Nicaragua small-group adventure.