This was not my plan.
I had successfully negotiated a shared taxi from the port with two girls on their way to a hotel very close to my destination. I was feeling good. I only paid $10 to get here when arranging private transport in advance would have been $38.
Then the driver stopped at the base of Volcán Maderas at the start of a very rocky road going straight up the volcano. The minivan taxi apparently didn’t have the right tires. It would have been nice to know that before he agreed to take me here.
It was mid-day, incredibly hot and humid. I had my 45-L pack on my back and a smaller pack in front with my electronics. My only option was to walk 1.5 kilometers up this volcano.
I was a sweaty disgusting mess when I arrived at Totoco Eco-Lodge. The owner Martijn told me to drop my bags and relax at the bar where they would bring me a fresh fruit juice. As I chugged the most satisfying juice ever, I looked around and realized I was in a very special place that far exceeded my expectations. Words that came to mind…
I wanted to visit the island of Ometepe three years ago when I was traveling through Central America on sabbatical. I had heard from other backpackers that it was incredible and unlike anything they had ever experienced. In 2010 Ometepe was named a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. The name comes from the Nahuatl language and means “island of the two hills,” referring to the active Volcán Concepcion on one end and dormant Volcán Maderas on the other. Surrounding Lake Nicaragua is home to freshwater bull sharks and dog sharks.
Sounds awesome, right?
I had to be in Panama by a certain date to meet my mom for her birthday. And that would have only given me a few days in Ometepe. Because of the higher expenses of the island (high to a budget backpacker living off of $20-$30 a day) and the length of the ferry ride (6 hours from Granada), I decided not to go and save it for another time.
As soon as I found out I was going to CHICABRAVA Surf Camp, I knew this was my chance to experience Ometepe. From the port of San Jorge (a 25-minute drive from San Juan del Sur), the ferry ride is only an hour.
So here I am. I finally made it to Ometepe.
While the island is stunningly beautiful and filled with amazing adventure activities, the hotel where I stayed was just as important to my overall experience.
And I rarely say that.
Totoco Eco-Lodge has created a perfect balance between comfort and luxury and nature. The business started as an idea in 2005. Martijn, a Holland native, and two friends wrote a business plan for an eco-lodge while living in their Amsterdam apartment. The next year they came to Nicaragua to scout locations and decided Ometepe was where they could make their vision happen.
Totoco has a triple bottom line: economic, environmental, and social.
The property is 16 acres and consists of three sections: the eco-lodge, the farm, and the surrounding forest. And the most incredible part is that they built it all from nothing. This was a corn field in 2007. That rocky road I walked up didn’t exist; they had to build it themselves.
There are only eight cabanas, and they are all slightly hidden from the main road in the surrounding forest.
The accommodations are not over-the-top, but they are comfortable, and you still feel like you’re in the middle of untouched nature. Knowing that my cabana was built from locally sourced and sustainable material, uses only solar power, and has a composting toilet really ups the cool factor.
You may discover a giant grasshopper in your room. And you must absolutely always watch for warrior ants crossing your path while walking outside. But that’s what makes the experience special. It’s not overly sanitized.
(Full disclosure: I was bit by a warrior ant, and it really does hurt, but in a sick way I feel that it helped me have a more authentic cloud forest experience.)
I fell asleep every night listening to an orchestra of insects and frogs. I woke up well-rested to the sound of howler monkeys in the surrounding cloud forest.
I ate organic healthy meals every day, many of the ingredients from their own farm or other Ometepe locals.
The wonder of Ometepe is its unique, gorgeous setting.
Totoco Eco-Lodge gets it exactly right.