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Isla de Ometepe

Centuries ago, in the dim past of Central America, a group of wandering Mexica followed a vision south. They believed that they would find their true homeland at a place where twin volcanoes rose from an azure sea. Their search was long and their trek arduous, but they finally reached their destination and founded a city on an island in the middle of a lake.

They called their new home Ometepl, and the "sea," Cocibolca. The majestic twin peaks can still be seen emerging from the slate-blue waters of Lake Nicaragua. The island of Ometepe is composed of two volcanoes: Concepción (1,610 meters/5,282 feet), a perfect cone, which often has a spume of smoke wafting from its mouth; and Maderas (1,394 meters/4,573 feet). Being on Isla de Ometepe is like being on Bob Dylan’s Black Diamond Bay.

One can’t help but wonder if and when Volcán Concepción might blow its immaculate top, and how the island could be evacuated successfully. Indeed, Ometepe had to be vacated in 2000 because of Concepción’s increased activity.

Today it is safe to visit the island and enjoy its natural wonders. Isla de Ometepe teems with birds and wildlife, even in Moyogalpa, the largest town. At dusk here, green waves of loros (small parrots) paint the sky. Hikes along the slopes and to the craters of the two volcanoes provide ample opportunities for birdwatching and for close encounters with monkeys. The southern part of the isle, around Maderas Volcano, has been declared a nature preserve. Since its last eruption 800 years ago, an emerald-green lagoon has filled its crater.

The two main towns on Ometepe, Moyogalpa and Altagracia, are at the foot of Concepción. There are a number of smaller villages, plantations and beaches that one can also visit. At Balgüe is Finca Magdalena, an organic coffee cooperative.

At the narrow waist of the island, between the two volcanoes, is Playa Santo Domingo. Swimming here and all along the eastern side of the island is best, as the water is cleaner. There is no need to fear an attack by fresh-water sharks—it is believed that members of the Somoza family (dictators of Nicaragua for decades) fished the sharks out long ago. Some local fishermen, though, say that in the remotest reaches of the lake they still net one on rare occasions. At dusk, howler monkeys serenade strollers along the road.

Beyond the natural wonders of the island, the indigenous peoples left behind a number of pictographs and petroglyphs around the island. Evidence, dating back thousands of years, has been found of migrations by the Olmecs, Toltecs, Nahuas, Aztecs and Mayas from the North, and Chibchas, Tiwanakus and others from the South.

The Mexica found their home on a volcanic island on a blue lake; it is worthwhile to follow in their footsteps to this remote paradise.

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