Island of Ometepe

The Island of Ometepe was formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua in the Republic of Nicaragua. Its name derives from the Aztec words Ome = two and Tepelth = hills, meaning two mounts. The Volcanoes, Concepcin and Maderas, are joined by a low isthmus to form one island, giving it the form of an hourglass. Ometepe has an area of 276 km. It is 31 km long and 5 to 10 km wide. The island has a population of 35,000, and an economy based on livestock, agriculture, and tourism. Coffee and tobacco are the major crops. The Two Volcanoes Concepcin volcano rose in the early Holocene Epoch and, through continual eruptions, now reaches an altitude of 1,610 m. This volcano is considered the most perfectly formed volcano cone in Central America. The volcano went through a long quiet period, but on 8 December 1880 Concepcin came back to life. This eruption was extensive, and the volcano remained active for a year. More eruptions followed in 1883, 1889, 1902, 1907, and 1924. The most recent eruption was in 1957. This eruption was extremely violent; however few of the island’s inhabitants heeded the order from the government in Managua to evacuate the island.

Tourists visiting this volcano are accompanied by noisy howler monkeys and green parrots. Maderas volcano, at the other end of the island, also arose in the Holocene Epoch, and rises 1,394 m above sea level. The last eruption occurred in the 13th century. It is considered extinct or dormant. A large lagoon formed in its crater, and was discovered on 15 April 1930 by the farmer Casimiro Murillo. It is covered with coffee and tobacco plantations and the remaining rain forest. This volcano is a perfect destination for the ecotourist. The volcanic ash has made the soil of this island extremely fertile, allowing continuous planting without fallowing. The volcanoes are visible from everywhere on the island, and life on Ometepe revolves closely around them. They also play an important part in the myths and legends of the island, which once served as an Indian burial ground. The inhabitants of Ometepe The island first became inhabited in the Dinarte phase (ca 2000-500 BC), although evidence is sketchy. The first known inhabitants were Nahuas Indians from Mexico. In their footsteps came the Niquirano Indians, who established an important settlement on the island. Their ceramics and monuments still amaze. Traces of this past can still be found in petroglyphs and stone idols on the northern slopes of Maderas volcano. The oldest date from 300 BC. After the Spaniards had conquered the Central American region in the 16th century, pirates began prowling Lake Nicaragua. They came in from the Caribbean Sea via the San Juan River. The inhabitants of Ometepe were hard hit. The pirates robbed them of their women, animals, possessions and harvest. They also erected settlements on the shore, making it their refuge. This made the local population, seeking shelter, move to higher grounds on the volcanoes. Ometepe was finally annexed, through settlement, by the Spanish conquistadors at the end of the 16th century. But French, English (such as Francis Drake) and Dutch pirates still endangered the island till the late 17th century. The most important villages on the island are Moyogalpa, with its harbour, and Altagracia on the eastern side of the island. Many traditions are kept alive. They celebrate more religious and folkloristic festivals than anywhere in Nicaragua. Today, Ometepe is developing tourism and ecotourism, with the archaeological past and the bounty of its nature sanctuary, the exotic vegetation, animal and bird life as trump cards. More recently in 2005, an earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale occurred as a result of increasing pressure within the active Concepcion volcano. Cracks appeared in the roads on Ometepe and advice to leave the island was issued. This was the first minor eruption since 1999.

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