The natural reserve, Charco Verde, is an emerald lagoon separated from Lago de Nicaragua by only a narrow perimeter of lush, tropical forest. The name, ‘Green Puddle’ in English, is derived from an abundance of algae found in the lagoon, which gives the water an opaque, jade colour. The reserve itself is a haven for plants and animals making it a great location for spotting some of the island’s most charismatic species. There is also a butterfly and orchid house within the Charco Verde refuge housing a brilliant array of technicolour butterflies and flowers.
Charco Verde is located just outside the village of San José del Sur, 13km south of Moyogalpa. It’s easily accessed by buses, leaving from Moyogalpa’s main street every hour and stopping directly outside the reserve’s entrance. A bus ticket costs $0.50 and the buses feel a lot less chaotic than their mainland counterparts. Charco verde is also easily reached by bicycle or moped. Look out for the enormous welcome sign that will lead you down the reserve’s gravel driveway.
On arrival, you will enter a small gift shop, here you can pay the $5 entrance fee that contributes towards park maintenance. On the other side of the gift shop, vibrant flowers line a grass path, you’d be forgiven here for thinking you’d just stepped into a botanic garden. This floral thicket is home to the remarkable butterfly house, entry to which is included in admission, I would however recommend saving this for the route back as to avoid the heat of the day. At the end of the path is a wooden gate, that leads into a dense woodland.
Immediately after the gate there is a trail leading up to the view point. It’s only a brief 15 minute uphill hike, but a great opportunity to spot noisy magpie jays, lazy troops of capuchins feeding on fruit in the canopy, or variegated squirrels, chasing each other through the tangled branches of the gnarled fig trees. Here, an almost impossible number of small lizards bask on the trail, darting to the undergrowth from beneath your feet. Make sure you bring plenty of insect repellant for this part of the hike. The mirador itself shows off the entire forested peninsula, with the tiny Isleta el Quiste in the bay and Maderas volcano looming, vast and magnificent, behind.
The mirador trail forms a loop which meets up with the main path. Once, on the the main path again, you’ll be led out of the forest and given your first view of the lagoon. Here, the lagoon has a generous covering of rushes and reeds amongst which many egrets search for food and red-eared terrapins lounge on deadfall. Above, zone-tailed hawks circle alongside the great wingspans of turkey vultures.
South-east of the lagoon is Playa Bancon, one of the most peaceful and secluded beaches on the island. This small black sand bay emerges from the forest with the perfect view of Isleta el Quiste and Maderas. The morning mist blocks any view of the mainland, giving the lake the impression of an immense, flat ocean. The protection offered from the bay also makes Playa Bancon a great spot for swimming and bathing. It is possible to rent kayaks from the hotel Charco Verde to explore the bay and peninsula from the water.
At the western edge of the lagoon, the gravel trail turns into a boardwalk. Keep an ear out for the sound of splashing in the stream below; wood turtles, peccary and agouti are all common here. Further along the trail are also more to spy howler monkeys and white-headed capuchins in the canopy.
A full circuit of the lagoon and mirador will take about an hour, but be sure to give yourself more time to spend at the beach.
On returning back to the entrance of Charco Verde reserve, enter the small wooden gate to the butterfly greenhouse. Immediately you’ll find yourself in a garden of impressive flowering bushes. These masses of yellow, red, white and blue petals surround a laboratory, where four species of butterfly are reared for the garden and reserve.
Next to the laboratory is the butterfly house, as you pass through the double doors, you’re met with a snowdrift of butterfly wings and the sound of soft classical music playing. The atmosphere here is very tranquil and surprisingly unpopulated by visitors, considering the scale of the facilities. The cocktail of exotic flora produces a sweet and vegetal scent, and the greenhouse is clearly impeccably maintained with lots of information available to read in both spanish and english. Towards back of the enclosure is a shallow pool full of red-eared terrapins and an orchid house with several different species growing from various tree trunks. Amongst the thousands of butterflies, there are also several types of parakeet, hummingbird and other dazzling songbirds.
A morning trip to Charco Verde is highly recommended during your stay on Ometepe Island. The lush tropical forest is a nature rambler’s paradise and with the secluded Playa Bancon and butterfly house, Charco Verde is a great location to experience the peaceful, bountiful Ometepe