Each volcano along this chain is unique and offers a different sort of adventure. Start early and bring a minimum of three liters of water per person. None of these hikes should be attempted without a guide because unaccompanied tourists have gotten lost and injured. Luckily you won’t have any trouble finding a local guide since community tourism projects are growing at the base of many of these volcanoes.
1,300 meters, 8 hours round-trip
The quintessential cone-shaped volcano, Momotombo rises up from the shores of Lago Xolotlán in a particularly menacing posture, and history has proven that the menace is real. Momotombo is climbable, but it’s not easy, especially when you hit the loose volcanic gravel that comprises the upper half of the cone. Your triumphant reward will be one of the best views possible of Lago Xolotlán without use of an airplane. From the Ruinas de León Viejo, head out of town to the main highway and turn right (north) along the highway. Follow that to the geothermal plant, where you’ll have to convince the guard to let you through to hike. They’re sensitive about people traipsing across their installation, so honor whatever promises you make.
1,061 meters, 5-7 hours round-trip
Despite its tendency to spew ash over its namesake town, Volcán Telica makes for a good climb. Take a bus from León to Telica, then follow the road to the community of La Quimera and keep going until the road disappears beneath your feet and becomes the volcano. Alternatively, access the volcano from Santa Clara, the town adjacent to the Hervideros de San Jacinto.
675 meters, 2 hours round-trip
This is the most frequently active volcano in the chain (its last eruption was August 1999). The lowest and youngest of the Maribios, Cerro Negro rises like a black-sand pimple from the landscape, completely free of vegetation and scorching hot when there is no cloud cover. A road leads from León to the base; from there, follow the makeshift “trail,” part of which will have you scrambling over awkward rocks and fighting surprisingly strong wind. The trail loops around the steaming crater, which the brave may enter at their own risk. If the gaseous wind blows across your path, move fast to get out of it. You can also descend into the second crater accessible from the summit, again at your own risk. Getting out of this one is much harder and much hotter, so make sure you are in good shape. Going down is easy: run, skip, and hop down the backside or zoom down on a board. There are a number of approaches; the most common heads due east from León, near the town of Lechecuago. Leave early in the morning to beat the heat and avoid the afternoon thunderstorms. The metals in Cerro Negro attract lightning better than the taller volcanoes nearby, so don’t test it.
1,745 meters, 8 hours round-trip
This is the granddaddy of volcano hikes in the Pacific region. It’s long but the grade is moderate and even easy compared to some of the other volcano hikes. You’ll need a guide to help you wend your way through the myriad fields, farms, and fences that obstruct the path upward (and which change every planting season).
860 meters, 6 hours round-trip to edge of crater, 11 hours round-trip to crater lake
Literally, it’s a walk in the woods and then you’re at the vegetation-carpeted crater lip with crazy views. Start walking from Potosí, or rent horses. Head back along the road toward the community of La Chacara, where the slope of Cosigüina is most amenable for climbing. From the edge of the crater, you can see across the Gulf of Fonseca into El Salvador. For those up to the extra challenge, there are some tours that can take you down into the crater lake, such as Padre Ramos Tours. To do so you will need to use ropes. Since the hike is longer, it can be broken into a two-day camping trip. Be careful: Hikers have died on this volcano.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.