Dreamy Ometepe & Finca San Juan

Our ferry boat sailed towards Ometepe Island: twin volcanoes that rise out of Lake Nicaragua, sloping down to lush forests and sandy beaches. We always heard about Ometepe during our Central American travels, and it sounded like a mythical place…volcano trekking to sky-high lagoons, wild horses galloping the shores, kids riding to school on ox carts, and community farms growing organic vegetables. We disembarked and drove around the base of Volcano Concepción and reached the lush grounds of Finca San Juan de La Isla, and thought this may be paradise after all.

The “driveway” went on for over a mile through orchards, pastures, and banana plantations, until we reached the historic Spanish-hacienda-turned-hotel. The reception was in the former stables and the original house was now the lobby that flowed out to the open-air restaurant, twinkling with lights.

Walking through the gardens of papaya and frangipani trees, the bellman showed us to our room: a stilted suite with a spacious porch on the lakeshore. Outside looked like a classic log cabin and inside was freshly designed with minimalist décor and a luxurious bathroom.

We got a great night sleep and went down to enjoy the complimentary breakfast. I had the Finca (eggs, gallo pinto, plantains, and homemade cuajada cheese) and I had the French toast with fruit. When we heard most of the ingredients on the menu were grown on their 160-acre farm (with 40,000 fruit trees!), we had to hike the grounds. Wandering between the forest of fruits, we stopped by the horse stables, a bubbling spring, and the farmhands’ house–where we got invited in for a special stew!

Each afternoon at San Juan presented us with tons of things to do: horseback riding, kayaking, mountain biking, swimming, or a guided hike up the active Concepción or the lagoon-topped Maderas volcano.

The hotel helped arrange a motorbike so we could cover the most ground and adventure in a short stay. We headed toward Maderas, the smaller of the two volcanoes (still an impressive 4,573 feet tall) and enjoyed local life along the slopes. We stopped at the historic coffee plantation of Finca Magdalena, had picnic on the beach with the horses, and joined the fanfare at a Balgue soccer game.

From Finca Magadalena, we followed one of the hiking trails to an ancient petroglyph in the forest. Ometepe has a rich pre-Columbian history with over 73 different sites scattered around the island.

For our final night at San Juan de la Isla, we took a private cooking class with their head chef Ernesto. He wanted to show us classic Nicaraguan cuisine with an Indio Viejo soup. This recipe is said to date back to pre-Columbian times and made with ingredients, like the achiote plant, that are native to the region. We had a blast chopping, chatting, and sampling our way through the class and ultimately eating a delicious meal together.

When the owners of San Juan de La Isla, saw this historic finca, they weren’t hoteliers or farmers at the time, but dreamers with a vision for a lodge to match Ometepe’s mystical reputation.

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