Dear Fuego y Agua Racers,
The commute from Managua to Ometepe is not too long (I managed to get to the island in 6 hours on a weekday), however, it involves a lot of steps and transitions, which in itself is exhausting. You can just print it out and bring with you to cut down on the anxiety during travel day. I hope this helps.
1. Get to Managua I trust that you already bought your tickets. Getting to Managua from wherever in the world you happen to live is the easiest part. You will probably be flying into Augusto Sandino International Airport (MGA). Just don’t forget your passport.
2. Stay in Managua Yes, you will probably need to stay in Managua overnight on your way in and out of the country. I ended up staying at Managua Hill B&B (recommended by Josue Stephens), and I cannot praise it enough. Amazing place, great friendly staff and beautiful courtyard. You will wake up to the sounds of birds, and lots of greenery. It was also nice to be away from the hustle and bustle after spending an entire day in airports. Breakfast is included, and I was pleasantly surprised to get an omelet. The owner spoke English. Wi-fi signal was strong and steady. And yes, they had coffee.
You will probably end up taking a cab from the airport to your hotel, especially, if you are flying in late in the evening. I had my cab arranged via Managua Hills, and it was definitely worth it. Once you arrive, there will be a swarm of cab drivers, waiting for you, so it is nice to see someone with your name on the card. The cab ride was $15 USD and took about 25-30 minutes.
Your other options include staying right by the airport. Camino Real and Best Western are both really close, but will run you $90-110 a night. Most people would still take a cab to those hotels for safety reasons.
As we drove to Managua Hills around 10pm, the streets were empty for the most part. I saw an occasional man at a bus stop, and few groups of young men, walking together, and a rare couple. Not a single sighting of a woman walking alone. Make your own conclusions.
I was also able to get a cab to the bus station from the front desk, knowing that I would be paying a fair price, and get a little bit ($10 USD worth) of local currency.
3. Get from Managua to Rivas <2.5 hours> Getting from Managua (wherever you are staying) to Rivas (name of town) - your second last destination before you reach a ferry, is the biggest stretch of distance you have to cover. a. arrange transport service This will be pricey. You are essentially taking a cab for 111km. Aim to spend around $150 USD. Ouch. Do shop around. A much easier (aka cheaper) approach would be to make friends with an expat or two, while you are in town. I received two offers for a ride to Rivas from two families, making that trip anyway. Many expats are in Managua over the weekend, doing grocery shopping and running errands, and heading back towards Rivas on Sunday. This, of course, implies some flexibility on your end in terms of scheduling. b. take a local “chicken" bus If you have never taken a local bus while travelling, this may be a bit of culture shock. But it’s also fun. And educational. If you are taking a bus to Rivas, you will first need to get from wherever you are staying to the bus station terminal . Cab will probably be the most efficient option. I had taxi arranged through the front desk of my hotel, and they quoted the price equivalent to roughly $5.50 USD or 160 Cordobas (for an 8-minute ride). Buses leave from Mercado Roberto Huembes every 20 minutes or so. Just show up and you will be able to hop on the next bus. Try to get on an express bus if you can. The ticket is just over $2 USD or 60 Cordobas.
4. Getting from Rivas to San Jorge <10 minutes> If you were travelling from Managua in a cab, this is not something you need to worry about. Skip to step 5. But if you took a bus from Managua to Rivas, you need to know that the actual ferry that takes you to the island leaves from San Jorge (pronounced “Sun Horhay”), not Rivas. And there is no direct bus from Managua to San Jorge, so this is another link in your fun-filled travel day. a. cab This cost me around $3.75 USD or 100 Cordobas without haggling. The driver mentioned that 4-5 people can easily arrange for a bigger cab, paying less than $1 USD or 20 Cordobas each. b. bus This will be significantly cheaper than the cab, however, you are depending on the bus schedule - buses do not run very frequently. Given the reasonable price tag of the cab ride, I would not recommend this option. c. walk For the fittest of the pack, this is always the cheapest option. Keep in mind that it is at least 5km to the port. Wear sunscreen.
5. Getting from San Jorge to Myogalpe, Isla de Ometepe <1.5 hours> The next step will involve getting from mainland to the island. You can’t get lost - the cab will drop you off right in front of where the ferries take off. You will be departing from San Jorge, and most probably getting out at Myolgalpe - the biggest town on the island, and where most ferries are headed. Just get on the ferry - the tickets will be paid for, once the ferry departs. a. big ferry You’ll see it. All the touristy looking people will be getting on it. There are even bathrooms on board (so no need to pay 5 Cordobas for a little loo on shore like I did). Schedule:
There is no ticket to buy, just get on, and someone will come around to collect the fare eventually – just over $2 USD or 60 Cordobas. If you choose to sit at the front, keep in mind, it does get wet. Keep your electronics away.
b. smaller ferry / boat
These run more frequently, and are cheaper. However, if you get motion sickness, stay away.
6. Getting from Myogalpe to Playa Santo Domingo <30 minutes to almost 2 hours> If you are racing, you are probably staying somewhere along the Playa Santo Domingo strip - race start line, and, arguably, the nicest stretch of beach on the island. The stretch is at least 5km, and there is no “main strip” per say. For example, Hotel Paraiso and El Encanto (both common choices) are 3.5km away from each other. Expect few restaurants, no stores except little fruit stands where you can buy water. a. cab Easiest, fastest and most expensive option is to grab a cab. The island may be small, but it is really not that small. This is a 30-45 minute cab ride. It will run you $25 USD. b. taxi collectivo Probably, the best option for the money is to look for a mini-bus - there is frequently one or two of these, hanging around the port, as the ferry arrives. This is what I chose. Expect to pay $5 USD per person. The trip will take 45 minutes or so with possible occasional stops along the way. c. bus If you are arriving on a ferry in the morning of a weekday, this may be an option. Keep in mind that the local buses are crowded and hot. They may involve vomiting (I am not kidding). This may be a bit of a nightmare after a full day of travel and with luggage. But it’s cheap - just over $2 USD or 60 Cordobas. Not recommended.
All in all, it took me 6 hours , and $20 USD to get from Managua to Playa Santo Domingo.
Getting around the island at night is difficult. “Night” pretty much means “as soon as it gets dark”. Don’t expect to catch a bus past 6pm, and even cabs will cease around 9pm. I learned that lesson the hard way, but that's a story for another time. Keep your headlamp on hand.
Cab is always an option, albeit the most expensive option. When possible, get a bunch of people to split the fare.
Buses are significantly cheaper, but significantly slower. Budget time accordingly. Buses are scarce on weekends. In fact, it is best to assume that buses do not run on Sundays at all.
You do not necessarily need local currently right away. I have not encountered a single step in the above journey where USD were not accepted with pleasure.
You can also fly from Managua to Ometepe one or both ways on La Costena for about $65 USD each way if you book online. The flight is only 20 minutes from Managua, but you are VERY limited in terms of departures - the only flight I could find was on Thursday at 12pm. Just another option. Airplane in this case probably does not mean what you think airplane means. Whatever you are expecting, cut it in half. Or in four. If you get motion sickness, DEFINITELY stay away from this one. :) Hugs, SOLO