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For one advanced Mesoamerican pre-Conquest cultures, Ometepe Island represented nothing less than the Promised Land. In combination with Lake Nicaragua it was the inspiration of biblical style exodus of people leaving violent central Mexico in search of peace, tranquility and justice. Some things have not changed much. Today’s seekers of a kindler, simpler place are not disappointed, but should also be aware of the rich culture and history of the island, elements for which the island natives are justly proud. Though the island culture is visually common Pacific mestizo at first glance, in reality Ometepe is unique. Whereas most Nicaraguan’s equate indigenous history and native Nicaragua culture with backwardness the Ometepinos know the truth to be quite the opposite and are uniquely proud of their heritage. This rich legacy can be seen in the archeological remains on the island, many unique oral histories and legends, the mental and material independence of the islanders and really comes to life during the annual festival in honor of San Diego in November of each year.
San Diego Festival
Altagracia and the festival in honor of a Franciscan saint is famous countrywide for a unique folkloric dance that originates here. Known as Baile del Zompopo (dance of the leaf-cutter ant), the dance can be seen during celebrations for the town’s patron saint, San Diego de Alcalá which hits stride on November 12 and climaxes on November 17. The dance comes from a pre-Christian tradition. The indigenous population of the area used to celebrate their harvest God, every November. Legend has it that one year the harvest was being annihilated by leaf-cutter ants and the local religious leaders instructed the people to pay tribute to the ants, to win them over and draw the ants away from critical, year-end corn plantations. The dance imitates leaf-cutter ant lines, with dancers holding a single branch over their heads. The original dance was not doubt a success and a unique tradition born. When the Franciscans arrived in 1613 they brought with an image of the saint of San Diego whose celebration days coincided with that of the annual celebration for the harvest God. Gradually, by careful design, San Diego usurped the native God and thanks to this historical theological morphing, today’s visitors can experience a thousand-year-old island dance.
El Ceibo Museum
Located 11 km from Moyogalpa on the road to Altagracia is the island’s finest museum. Though originally started as a monetary museum with very complete examples of Nicaragua’s monetary history, the museum also has the finest pre-Columbian collection on display on Ometepe, with more than 1,000 pieces in the collection. The exhibits are open daily from 8:00 to 17:30.
Archaeological Museum of Altagracia
Located just 50 meters west of central park in Altagracia, this is Ometepe’s oldest museum. This community museum is worth a visit for its diverse displays of everything from geology to natural history to culture and archaeology. There are also bigger basalt pieces in the back patio of the museum. The exhibits are open from 9:00 17:00 daily.
Nicaragua is extremely rich in pre-Columbian rock art called petroglyphs, the epicenter of this wealth in the Island of Ometepe with more than 73 different sites and over 1,700 panels recorded to date. While some have been sent to museums or entered into private collections, many are still in their original locale. Two of the most popular sites for visitors are the Finca El Porvenir located west of Santa Cruz and Finca Magdalena on the east slope of Maderas, just above Balgües.