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Ometepe Island Biosphere Reserve, Nicaragua

Ometepe Island Biosphere Reserve is located in the southwest of Nicaragua in the country’s neotropical zone. Two imposing volcanoes, Maderas and Concepcion, define the topography of the reserve. Maderas is located in the east of the reserve and rises up 1,394 metres. Conception, which is still active, is found in the northeast and rises up 1,610 metres. The volcanoes are separated by the isthmus of Istian, a strait formed by the eruption of lava millions of years ago. Ometepe Island is surrounded by Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America, while the River San Juan traverses the length of the reserve.

Designation date: 2010


Regional network:  Red de Comités y Reservas de Biosfera de Iberoamérica y el Caribe (IberoMAB) 

Ecosystem-based network:




    Surface : 53,860.30 ha

    • Core area(s):  8,299.40 ha
    • Buffer zone(s):  11,267.1 ha
    • Transition zone(s):  34,293.80 ha

    Location: 11°30' 46.15”S – 85°33' 54.6”W

    Administrative Authorities

    Ministerio del Ambiente y los Recursos Naturales, MARENA
    Carretera norte
    Managua 5123

    Tel.: (505) 2263 26 18

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    Ecological Characteristics

    The major ecosystem types on Ometepe Island are wetlands and tropical rainforests characterized by Cedrela odorata (Spanish cedar) and Guarea grandifolia (genus of evergreen trees). Additionally, the fog forests in the biosphere reserve boast the highest conservation value in all of Nicaragua. The different mountain elevations host a variety of distinctive species, while the numerous craters serve as ideal habitats for rare species. Furthermore, the humid subtropical climate and fertile soils enable the growth of rare and endemic species.

    Characteristic flora species are Ardisia costaricensis, Terminalia oblonga (Guayabón) and Picramnia antidesma (family of Picramniaceae). Fauna species of commercial use include Boa Constrictor (family of Boidae), Agouti paca (Paca) and Eira Barbara (Tayra). The Volcan Maderas National Park is home to endangered fauna species including Amazona Auropalliata (Yellow-naped parrot), Cebus Capucinus (White-headed capuchin) and Pristis pectinatus (Smalltooth sawfish).


    Socio-Economic Characteristics

    The Spanish colonized Nicaragua in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, followed by English and French pirates who invaded the area on multiple occasions. However, it is the historical influence of aboriginal tribes that makes the Ometepe Biosphere Reserve Nicaragua’s most important cultural site. Numerous mythological stories are reflected in petroglyphs found on Maderas that date back 1,700 years.

    Maderas is also renowned as a source of unique ceramic relics with approximately 2,022 examples of archaeological significance recorded in the area. Many take the form of religious statues coloured with specific patterns; for example, black and polished colours are typical of black ceramics. Specific engravings and shapes accentuate the perfection and precision of the labour. The Church of Altagracia on the island also contains several statues that portray totems and divinities.

    There are 29,684 permanent residents on Ometepe Island and approximately 40,000 tourists visit annually and take tours through the National Park. The two main municipalities in the reserve are Altagracia and Moyogalpa. Early economic activities consisted of basket weaving and the creation of sacred jewellery. Today, the main economic activities are agriculture (bananas, corn and melons), fishery and livestock.


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    Last updated: April 2021