Moyogalpa, on the western side of the island, is a small, quiet town with a sloping main street. The town fountain is a model of the island -- it's designed to have water spout from its "volcanoes" -- though it has not worked for years. Moyogalpa is the main port that services the island and is a hive of activity when boats arrive. Its pretty, hilltop church is at the top of the main street. It has a white facade and attractive wooden doorways and affords a beautiful view from the bell tower. The town museum Sala Arqueológica, 1 block west of the plaza (tel. 505/2569-4225; C44 adults), functions half as an artifact display and half as a handicraft store -- it sells local crafts and displays pre-Columbian pieces found by the owner. Both the museum and the shop are open weekdays from 8am to 8pm.

Altagracia is the second-biggest town on the island and a prettier place than Moyogalpa. Its central plaza, known as Parque Central, is a large patch of grass with a shop and playground. The area is famous for its vampire bats, but don't worry, they target only chickens and other small animals. This is where the boats from Granada dock, at a port 3km (1 3/4 miles) north of the town. El Museo Ometepe (1 block from the park; no phone) has some interesting ceramic artifacts found on the island. It is open daily from 9am to noon and 2 to 5pm. Admission is C40. Playa Taguizapa is a pleasant beach that's a 30-minute walk east of the plaza.

Five kilometers (3 miles) south of Moyogalpa is the long, sandy peninsula of Punta Jesús María, a tranquil beach that offers the opportunity of beer with a sunset. A cab from Moyogalpa should not cost more than C240 each way. Ten kilometers (6 1/4 miles) east on the islands' underbelly is Reserva Charco Verde. Here, the jungle rolls down on a black volcanic beach and monkeys howl from the treetops. It is excellent for some bird-watching or for kayaking around the bay or through its green lagoon. Be prepared to get your feet wet, as the wooden walkway has collapsed. Some nearby hospedajes offer boat trips and horse-riding excursions. There's a suggested admission fee of C22. From the reserve, you can hike through to an isolated cove called El Tesoro del Pirata. The two volcanoes stand on either side of this serene and peaceful beach.

However, if it is a real beach you want, you must go to Playa Santo Domingo. This 4km (2 1/2-mile) stretch of dark sand, with a green jungle backdrop, connects both islands along the Isthmus Istián. The beach can appear a little tatty in parts but, in general, is very nice and one of the few in the world that can boast a volcano at either end. It's also where the island's best accommodations are located and a great spot for bathing in the shallow waters -- the gray-green waters are choppy yet warm and inviting, and there are thatched parasols if the heat gets to be too much. A 30-minute walk up a dirt track beside Villa Paraiso is a bathing complex called Ojo del Agua (tel. 505/8664-2788;, a series of rock-lined pools fed by a natural spring and surrounded by tall trees. It can get a little crowded, but it's great fun dangling from the swing ropes and watching suicidal divers jump from crazy heights here. The entrance fee is C44.

Cascada San Ramón is a spectacular 50m (164-ft.) waterfall on the southern slopes of Volcán Madera. To get there, you must go to the small town of San Ramón, 4km (2 1/2 miles) south of Merida. It's a 3-hour hike from there to the falls, but well worth it.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.