No trip to Nicaragua is complete without visiting at least one volcano. Dormant and active peaks are scattered up and down the Pacific half of the country. The Léon region is the easiest base for volcano enthusiasts who want to hike. With a couple exceptions, most of these hikes are long and challenging, requiring an experienced guide. Using local guides is a great way to contribute to the local economy.
Here are the best volcano hikes from north to south:
- Cosigüina: The southern shore of the Fonseca Gulf, Cosigüina’s vegetation-carpeted crater lip boasts crazy views. Rest at the edge of the crater, or continue on, descending to the crater lake within.
- San Cristóbal: As the highest peak in the country (1,745 m), this is the granddaddy of volcano hikes. It’s long but the grade is moderate.
- Telica: Rising out of a beautiful valley, this volcano makes for a moderate hike with impressive views. If you’re lucky, or the light is low, you may get a glimpse of lava simmering within the smoking crater.
- Cerro Negro: The climb up is short, but the hot, rugged descent is even shorter careening down black sands on a modified snowboard.
- Momotombo: This peak rises up from the shores of Lago Xolotlán. It’s climbable, but not easy, especially when you hit the loose volcanic gravel that comprises the upper half of the cone.
- Masaya: This is one of the most visibly active volcanoes in the country. From one of its craters, you may glimpse incandescent rock and magma. The park contains several short hiking trails through lava formations and scrubby vegetation.
- Mombacho: Every bit of cool, misty, cloud forest higher than 850 meters above sea level is officially protected as a nature reserve comprising a rich, concentrated island of flora and fauna. The longest trail (3 hours) is a loop with several difficult climbs that lead to a breathtaking viewpoint.
- Concepción: Large parts of the hike are treeless, rocky scrambles. As you reach the volcanic cone, the wind buffets you until you reach the crater lip, where the volcano’s hot, sulphurous gas pours out—a stark contrast to its dormant neighbor on Ometepe.
- Maderas: Ometepe’s more accessible option is still no easy feat. You’ll be rewarded at the top with a forested lagoon within the crater.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.