A view of Ometepe Island from the ferry from Leon to Ometepe

How to Get from Leon to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

When Ellie and I were first planning our trip in Central America, I had my heart set on visiting Granada when we went to Nicaragua. I don’t know why – I’d just heard there was a lot to do there and it had a pretty square. However, we arrived in Leon and immediately connected with the vibe there. There’s a lot of really cool things to do in Leon: from taking a party bus to the beach to volcano boarding on Cerro Negro. We also arrived in Leon after a sixteen hour bus from Guatemala, so that might have contributed to us wanting to stay put for a few days!

We also heard a lot of people calling it “Gringo Granada” and I’m not the biggest fan of going places that are full of tourists (not in a “oh I’m too cool for that” way, more in a “let’s spread the economical benefits of tourism far and wide in this country” way). 

So, anyway, we changed our plans and decided to stay longer in Leon, and then take the bus and boat combo straight from Leon to Isla de Ometepe on Lake Nicaragua. 

Here’s your guide on how to do it, so you don’t get stuck on the same hurdles that we did!

Things to do in Leon

I’ll be coming soon with a full list of the best things to do in Leon, Nicaragua, but in the meantime here are a few highlights:

– The free walking tour, which really goes in-depth into the history of Nicaragua 

– The party bus tour to the beach with Bigfoot Hostel (it sounds a bit lame, but they decked out an old chicken bus with lights, speakers and vodka shots, and it was lowkey very fun)

– León Cathedral, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site

– Volcano boarding on Cerro Negro Volcano; this one, Ellie and I actually didn’t do. We arrived in Leon right after our Acatenango Volcano hike so we were a bit done with volcanoes for the time being, but we saw videos of our friends doing it and it looked really cool.

Read more about Nicaragua: A full Guide to Taking The Bus from Rivas, Nicaragua to Costa Rica

Taking the Bus from Leon to San Jorge

This is step one of getting from Leon to Isla Ometepe.

If you’ve read many of my articles on Central America, you’ll know there are two ways to make just about any journey. You can take the local bus (aka the chicken bus), or you can take a tourist shuttle. 

Personally, Ellie and I had seen a few of the chicken buses in Nicaragua and we didn’t fancy it. They looked full, hot, and the perfect place for pickpockets. The bus terminal in Leon is a fifteen minute walk from the city centre, and looked like chaos to us (but what’s new, eh?). We also had a loooong (even longer than we thought) bus ride from Nicaragua to Costa Rica coming up, so we decided to treat ourselves to the tourist shuttle, even though it was quite expensive. (I heard later from other travellers that they also found the tourist shuttles in Nicaragua to be quite expensive, but they’re also just a really great way to get around.) 

If you do want to take the public bus, it really is just a question of turning up at the bus station and telling them where you want to go. For many routes there is not an official bus schedule, and the next bus will just go when it’s full. Some routes have set times, like the ones to larger cities like Granada and Managua, but there was no set schedule for Rivas when we had a look. 

Rivas is the closest large town to San Jorge, where you get the ferry to Isla de Ometepe, but once you arrive in Rivas you still need to get another short bus or a taxi from Rivas to San Jorge.

So, we skipped the faff and forked out $35 each for the 3.5 hour journey straight from Leon to San Jorge in a tourist shuttle bus. 

Ellie and I actually went on a short mission around hostels and travel agents in Nicaragua to find the absolute best price for our bus, which started at $42 and came down the more places we looked. We were officially trying to avoid the company that we’d taken on the sixteen hour shuttle bus from Guatemala to Nicaragua, but after we’d finally paid and looked down at our receipt, it was the same damned one! 

This is something you’ll find commonly in Central America: you can buy these bus routes everywhere, but underneath the facade of a hostel or agent it’s the same one or two companies running all of the buses. We didn’t have the worst experience in the world with this company, it’d just been a bit more stress than usual. But, never mind, we headed back to our hostel and crossed our fingers. 

The next morning the bus arrived to collect us from our hostel bright and early, as promised. We made two stops to pick up and drop off passengers on our way to San Jorge, which lengthened our journey a little but not much. We stopped both in the city centre of Managua and at Managua Airport (Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport). 

Most people on our bus were not getting off at any of these stops nor San Jorge, but heading down to San Juan del Sur or onwards to other beach towns in Nicaragua. 

Read more about Central America: A Complete Guide to Money and Currency in Central America

The Ferry Terminal & Buying a Ticket

Not much can go wrong when you go to get the ferry in San Jorge; it’s such a small town that it’d be near impossible to go the wrong way! We each paid $1 for access to the ferry terminal (still not totally sure if this was a scam or not), and then walked through and paid $3-4 each for the ferry ticket. The ferry leaves every half hour from San Jorge to Moyogalpa, one of the main towns on Isla Ometepe. 

The last ferry from San Jorge to Moyogalpa is at 5.45pm, so you should have plenty of time to get it even if you’re taking the chicken bus to San Jorge (just remember to set off in the morning!)

On the Ometepe Ferry

When you first see the ferry and the island in the distance you will surely think “there’s no way that journey will take an hour” but trust me, it does. The ferry takes around 1 hour in total. 

We got on the ferry right before it left; we were one of the last to board and therefore struggled to find a seat. There were a lot of people on board. There are four levels and the top level is essentially on the roof – so make sure you take sun cream! This ended up being our only seating option, but at least we got a good view. 

The lake is not made up of the calm, serene waters you’d expect from a lake. It actually looks a lot like the sea – it is choppy, but the waves aren’t big, so don’t be too worried about a bumpy ride.

Where to Go Next

You will arrive in Moyogalpa on Isla de Ometepe, which is to the very west of the island. We stayed here in Moyogalpa because we only had two nights in Ometepe and we wanted easy access to the ferry port for an early departure on our last day. However, there are lots of different places to stay on Isla Ometepe and each of them has their pros and cons. Click here for a guide to beaches in Ometepe!

The hostel we stayed in was called Hospedaje Central, and we really liked it there. The owners were friendly, the place was clean, and they offer both private rooms and a shared dorm room.

We also visited the Chocolate Paradise Hostel, and although the chocolate was REALLY good, the vibe there was a bit underwhelming. It didn’t feel like a chocolate paradise – just a normal hostel (a nice one, I’ll give it that) with an amazing view and a slightly overpriced cafe. 

Coming soon: Everything there is to do on Isla de Ometepe 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *