From San Carlos to Ometepe

My last night on the Río San Juan was spent in luxury in San Carlos – I had air-conditioning!   Lapped that up for as long as I could (11:30am the next morning) and then headed out to San Carlos airport to catch my La Costeña flight to Ometepe.

The airport building was quite literally a concrete hot-box with a couple of fans that did absolutely nothing to mitigate the heat.  And the worst thing is that you have to get to the airport at least 2 hours early as La Costeña is not renowned for taking off on time … it usually takes of early!

I was first to arrive, my checked baggage was weighed and tagged as expected, and then they weighed my hand luggage.  But the twist was that they weighed the hand luggage with the person – so I had to get on the scale as well!  Obviously I haven’t put on too much weight because they didn’t say anything (and my hand luggage is heavy with camera gear, computer, etc), and sat down to wait eating the rest of the cake I’d bought at the bakery the evening before (yes, I had cake for dinner and for lunch – and it was good!)

Airport guy told me a little while later that we would be leaving an hour early and flying from San Carlos to San Juan del Norte (Greytown) first, and then onto Ometepe, rather than flying direct.   Essentially a free flight over the Indio-Maiz Reserve 🙂

La Costeña is a very small airline with a very small plane (I’m actually not sure they have more than one!)   It’s a 12-seater and hops around between Managua, San Carlos, San Juan del Norte and Ometepe – seemingly in random order.

La Costeña

I sat right up the front of the plane so I could also see out the front windscreen of the plane and have a clear view out my window.  There were no safety instructions (either written or spoken) and for the first time ever, they didn’t insist that carryon luggage needed to go under the seat in front of you.  There were seatbelts – but no instructions to put them on.  Pretty relaxed!

La Costeña cockpit

The flight was incredible!  What an unbelievable bonus!  Thank you to the one guy who needed to go to San Juan del Norte!  Took off from the dirt airstrip in San Carlos and followed the Río San Juan for the first little bit.  Very depressing to see the amount of deforestation in the area – you get a bit of a sense of it from the river, but nothing like seeing it from the air.


After about 10 minutes, started to see more and more trees, and more and more fires as these trees too were being cleared for further farms.


A short time later, we were over the Indio-Maíz Reserve and there was nothing but trees as far as the eye could see.  I have never seen anything like it.  Not a single man-made scar marred the sea of green, and the trees were so densely packed together that they almost looked like florets of broccoli.  And it went on, and on, and on.  I was absolutely mesmerized!  Incredible to think that this is what our planet should look like.  Beautiful!

Indio-Maíz Reserve

Indio-Maíz Reserve

Fascinating being able to see what the pilot sees coming in to land, and really amazed by the airport in San Juan del Norte!  For such a remote and small place, it had a sealed runway and a super-fancy looking terminal.  I bet it was even air-conditioned!   Not sure why San Carlos airport was so under-developed in comparison.

San Juan del Norte airstrip

Dropped our one passenger off and headed back over the Indio-Maíz Reserve – essentially re-tracing out flight path, but a little further to the north.   Really disheartening when the fires at the edge of the Reserve came back into view – how is this progress?  There were so many fires that the smoke haze sitting underneath the cloud layer was really, really thick.

Eventually reached the eastern edge of Lake Nicaragua and flew over the Solentiname Islands on the way to Ometepe.  It’s clear from any map of Nicaragua that Lake Nicaragua is huge.  But you can only really get the sense of how huge it is from the air – it really does look like an ocean.

aerial view solentiname

Approaching Ometepe, the internal instruments of the plane quite clearly showed the two volcanos and we were below the summit of both as we jumped around the sky due to the thermals.  Ometepe airstrip basically heads straight towards Volcán Concepción and is one of very few strips in the world that has a public road cutting across it.

ometepe airstrip

It was a bumpy landing but what an incredible flight!  It’s the first commercial flight I’ve ever taken where I was wishing it would last a lot longer.


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