Formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe is an emerging eco-tourism destination. Long popular with backpackers, the island is now beginning to cater to travelers who want a more comfortable base to stay.
My husband and I found that comfortable Ometepe base at Xalli Hotel, a lakeside property on a black-sand beach, where we recently spent several sunny — and active — days.
The Xalli Story
Xalli’s energetic and welcoming husband-and-wife owners Jonathan and Roslyn — she’s Australian and he’s originally from Europe — came to Ometepe to open an eco-lodge on the slopes of the Maderas volcano, which they ran with a business partner for several years. When they had the opportunity to revamp a lakeside lodging, they decided it was time for a new venture, and they opened Xalli Hotel in early 2013.
Xalli is located on a beautiful, secluded, black-sand beach just outside the village of Santo Domingo. It’s roughly at the middle of the island, between Ometepe’s two volcanic halves.
Guest Rooms and Amenities
Xalli’s seven simple, roomy guest accommodations are located in cottages set back from the lake. While not luxurious, the units are well-planned and comfortable, with solid wooden furnishings, embroidered duvets and pillowcases, colorful artwork, bedside reading lamps, and flat-screen TVs with plenty of cable channels in both English and Spanish. In the bathrooms, the sinks sit on hand-crafted wooden counters, and the walk-in showers (except in the cheapest rooms) have solar-heated hot water.
The best rooms at Xalli are the “Deluxe” units, which have breezy front porches. High-season rates for these units run $85-95/night for two people, including laundry service (up to 5 pieces per day) — useful for long-term travelers.
The “Junior Deluxe” rooms ($68-78/night), including #5 (pictured above), where we stayed, are at the back of the cottages, which means that these less expensive units lack private outdoor spaces. We found that our room, which faced away from the lake, didn’t get much breeze, but between the ceiling fan and the air-conditioner, we were comfortably cool. While these units don’t include complimentary laundry service, Xalli staff will send out your laundry for a reasonable price.
Xalli also offers two basic “value” rooms ($47/night) that share a bath with a cold-water shower.
Xalli’s room rates include a complimentary breakfast, with several different cooked-to-order choices, served with rich locally-grown coffee. My favorite dishes were the fresh tropical fruits and the “Nicaraguan breakfast,” which included eggs, gallo pinto (rice and beans), and tangy local cheese.
In the evenings, Xalli’s dinner menu features fresh fish, chicken, and lots of fresh vegetables, among other options. Most meals are $10-12. Rum cocktails, fresh passionfruit or other juices, and local Toña or Victoria beer are the drinks of choice.
Guests often linger in the restaurant/bar between meals and in the evening, particularly since Xalli provides complimentary Wi-Fi there. We found that the signal reached outside onto the terrace and even to the hammocks on the lawn — my husband was able to make a Skype call to a client while lounging in the hammock — but not to our room. You might be able to pick up a signal in one of the rooms closer to the restaurant.
Staff advise not drinking the tap water and provide pitchers of filtered water in each room. Guests can also refill their own bottles from a dispenser in the restaurant.
The nearby village of Santo Domingo has a few simple eateries, including Comedor Julia, where we enjoyed a fish dinner on the beach one evening. A juice bar at the north end of the beach makes great fruit smoothies. Take a flashlight if you’re making the 20-minute walk into town in the evening, since the road isn’t lit.
Facilities and Things to Do
At Xalli, you can swim in the lake, arrange kiteboarding lessons, or simply lounge on the beach or in a hammock on the breezy lawn. Xalli is centrally located for exploring, too. One day, we rented bicycles (which Xalli staff arranged for us for $1/hour) and cycled into the village of Balgüe, where we toured Finca Magdalena, a cooperatively-run coffee farm, hiked a short distance up the side of the Maderas volcano to see several ancient petroglyphs hidden in the forest, and snacked on deliciously fresh guacamole at Cafe Campestre.
Another day, we did a late-afternoon kayaking excursion along the Rio Istian, where we spotted tropical birds, howler monkeys, and a solitary caiman, lurking in the reeds.
We also spent a fascinating day in Los Ramos, a nearby village where the residents have established a community tourism program. We had a fishing lesson in a hand-carved wooden canoe, enjoyed lunch with a farm family, and learned to cook nacatamales, Nicaragua’s hearty masa tamales that are filled with vegetables, meats, and spices, and then steamed in plantain leaves.
While Ometepe Island is not the place to go if you need pampering (or if you’ll freak out at the occasional ant or spider in your room), Xalli’s helpful bilingual staff assisted us in arranging transportation and other details for all these excursions and giving us lots of tips for things to see and do.
Ometepe Island is a one-hour ferry trip from the mainland town of San Jorge, near Rivas. To reach the San Jorge port, we caught a shuttle for the one-hour ride from the city of Granada (run by Erick Tours) for $15/person.
On Ometepe, most ferries dock in the town of Moyogalpa, where Xalli staff had a car and driver waiting for us. The 50-minute drive to the hotel was $20.
You can also fly to Ometepe; a new airport opened just outside Moyogalpa in 2014. Local airline La Costeña currently flies in twice a week from Managua.
Have you been to Ometepe Island? Or can you recommend another undiscovered island adventure? Leave a comment and let us know about your experiences.