Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Wed June 24 2015

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | June 24, 2015 3:00 AM ET

    Hippie Haven: Ometepe, Nicaragua

    Hippie Haven: Ometepe, Nicaragua

    Every night Courtney, Jess and I sat along the dock in Maderes watching the sunset (all photos and video by Shannon Wolf)

    We left León just as the sun rose in order to make our 12-hour journey to the port just outside of Rivas to catch the large (safe) ferry over to the island of Ometepe instead of the small, wooden “wouldn’t-pass-a-safety-inspection” boat that 1) took double the time 2) actually capsized a few weeks prior with passengers on it and 3) gave anyone with a fear of drowning an automatic anxiety attack that even a Xanax couldn’t fix

    … Anyways, we missed the large ferry by a few minutes and spent the next two hours on a rickety boat reminiscent of the Titanic two hours after it hit the iceberg.

    We sat at the bottom of the boat thinking it would be safer than the top deck and evidently our decision making skills weren’t on point, since Jess and I squished into a wooden seat stuffed with our backpacks and next to us was stacked with (now thawing) frozen chickens.

    The boat rocked viciously back and forth, and water splashed in through the windows onto other passengers, filling the floor with water up to our ankles. I looked at Jess and we looked at the pile of dead birds. “This is it.” I said. “I can see it now — headlines read ‘two vegetarians die next to thawing chickens in an attempt to make it to a hippie haven…’”

    Oh, the irony.

    When we made it to land we cheered as we sprinted off the boat. I would have kissed the ground if we didn’t have to literally run to catch the last chicken bus of the day.

    When we arrived at our hostel in Maderas, we managed to make it just in time for sunset and besides El Tunco, it was one of the most breathtaking views I had seen as the sun set over the sparkling water and volcano. The three of us sat on the deck in peaceful silence with beers in our hand and nothing else mattered. We arrived and everything worked out as it always does.

    It’s my 5th day on the Island of Ometepe now. We’re living at a hostel near the beach in Santa Cruz and the sun is beginning to rise. It’s 5:30 a.m., I have just trudged uphill for 45 minutes somehow persuaded by Courtney to forego sleep and attend my first yoga class. I sit on a bamboo mat amongst dedicated yogis and my teacher with his long flowing hair, crystal pendants around his neck, and alligator skin cuffs around his ankles and wrists which he made himself. Luckily, the class was focused more on meditation.

    By the end of the session, when I had rolled up my mat, I felt an unfamiliar sense of calm for the first time in my life. Maybe it was the fresh air or maybe it was something deeper but from then on, I dedicated my early mornings to attend his classes. 

    It was not so much about the physical as it was about the internal: I was taught to appreciate the richness of my life, and how to positively shift my awareness and introspection. My teacher preached that the mind is where real change begins in your life and once you master your thoughts, you will only receive a positive outcome. After 26 years of searching for balance, I found enlightenment and a new perspective when I stopped looking for it externally.

    The days just slipped by and it wasn’t uncommon to forget what day it was. Nor did it matter. Here, time is on your side. You walk slow, amongst wild horses and lay under the stars as travelers sing around a bonfire just happy to be alive.

    Welcome to another world; as if time froze and you can enjoy the simple things in life.

    Best Accommodation: El Zopilote ($12 a night for dorm)

    This hostel is the crème de la crème of hostels in Ometepe and everyone (I mean EVERYONE) comes to Santa Cruz to be apart of the experience. Beyond their FREE yoga classes every morning, which is something truly special — the atmosphere feels more like a community than just a place to rest your head and you will make friends for life.

    I will mention now; there are no reservations. First come, first serve and it is challenging to get a bed (but trust me, it is worth the wait). We tried 3 times to get in and once you do; you’ll be staying as long as you can!

    If you want to try and get in, you need to arrive first thing in the morning (and EARLY). Your best bet is to attend one of the yoga classes at 6:30 a.m. and then head straight to reception to try and get a spot before there is a queue of people trying to do the same thing, too. For a better chance of getting in, bring a tent instead of renting a room in one of the dorms.


    • Situated on a gorgeous mountain
    • Organic, eco-friendly and self sustaining farm/garden
    • Comfortable bunkbeds — 4 per room in a stunning cabin
    • Large lockers
    • Beautiful walking trails
    • The notorious pizza nights!
    • Two lookout towers with great views

    Best Backup Accommodation: Santa Cruz Hotel ($10 a night)

    The sunset view from our porch at Santa Cruz Hotel

    If you can’t be bothered trudging up to El Zopilote for accommodation every morning but still want to stay in Santa Cruz, this hostel is the perfect backup.


    • Close to everything (beach, tienda, bus stop, bike rental shop)
    • Comfortable rooms/beds
    • Good working Wi-Fi
    • Stunning sunsets overlooking Volcano Concepción
    • Reasonably priced restaurant/bar with generous portions

    Cheapest Accommodation: Maria Hostel ($6 a night)

    Around the corner from Santa Cruz Hotel, this is the most basic of accommodation and the showers are like the Arctic but it’s cheap and the owner Maria is hilarious.


    • Basic but sleep-able beds
    • Ice cold showers guaranteed to wake you up
    • Cheap meals with generous portions
    • Close to everything (beach, tienda, bus stop, bike rental shop)

    BEST Meals:

    Café Campestre

    One of the many mouthwatering curries made at Café Campestre

    Opens at 12 p.m. and about a 30-minute walk from El Zopilote or 10 minute bike ride to the adjacent town of Balgues but it is well worth it. We went more times then we’d like to admit! They serve a long list of healthy and fresh organic food, smoothies, and coffees. EVERYTHING on their menu is incredible and filling. Some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had as well as iced coffee. Bonus: They have the fastest Wi-Fi on the island but it “magically” stops working at 2 p.m. everyday.

    El Zopilote Pizza Night

    Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, everyone heads to El Zopilote at 7 p.m. to take a break from their hippie, healthy ways to consume mass amounts of mouthwatering, homemade woodfire clay-oven pizza, and bottles of rum. Be prepared to meet some incredible people, dance the night away to drum circles and musical ensembles.

    Budget Meal: Maria Hostel

    Next to where the bus drops you off in Santa Cruz on the way to El Zopilote, you can get a LOT of food for here for little price and if you’re sick of eating tortillas and bean wraps from the tienda for the 100th time, this is the place for a filling meal around $3.


    • Heaping plate of gallo pinto, 2 eggs, toast and fresh fruit
    • Giant Pancake and Fruit
    • Spaghetti and giant meatball

    MUST DO’S:

    • Attend FREE yoga classes at El Zopilote (technically only free for guests but they don’t take attendance and didn’t seem to care if you just show up).

    • Eat at Café Campestre and El Zopilote’s famous pizza night!

    • Rent a bike for $5 a day or hitchhike and spend the day exploring the island and its villages. Plenty to see and do!

    • Have a bonfire on the beach with all the friendly people you will meet!

    • Attend a traditional Temazcal sweat bath via El Zopilote.

    • Full-day or half day hike up Inception Volcano.

    A small glimpse into the magical island of Ometepe that took everyone's breath away

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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