Top Ten Nicaragua Adventures

Hike an Active Volcano
By Joshua Berman & Randy Wood
Mist-shrouded volcano
A hard day's work, dead ahead (Randy Wood)

The volcanoes that form the island of Ometepe are an irresistible temptation for travelers to the island, many of whom climb one or both while visiting. The two peaks, while nearly the same height, are radically different in personality.

Climbing Volcàn Concepción (1,610 meters) is popular among travelers who like physical duress—it's not an easy climb, particularly the last third of the way, which is treeless and rocky. However, those who reach the summit are rewarded with the unique thrill of knowing they're perched at the razor's edge of the maw of an active volcano (in the middle of an island in the middle of a lake in the middle of Central America). You will be buffeted by a cold lake wind all the way up the slope until the moment you reach the crater lip, when the blast of hot sulfurous air rushing out of the bowels of the earth will strike your face. It's that mixing of hot and cold air that forms the almost permanent cloud cover at the top of the volcano, but should you reach the top during one of the few days a year when the clouds clear, you will be rewarded with an unparalleled view of the island, the lake, and the volcano's stony interior. Keep in mind Volcàn Concepción is an active volcano that nearly erupted in 1957.

Volcàn Maderas (1,394 meters) is the more frequently hiked of the two Ometepe volcanoes. There's a trail starting at the Finca Magdalena that leads to the crater lip, then down into the crater to a mist-swept turquoise lake straight out of Tolkien. You can hike it yourself without much difficulty, but both Magdalena and the other hotels offer guide service, which can be quite worthwhile, especially for the final descent down to the crater lake, which requires a rope descent. The trail, unfortunately, has seen better days. Lack of appropriate maintenance has made a mud pit out of much of the upper stretch of the trail. Allow four hours to go up and two or three to come back down, and count on spending an hour at the crater lake (59 minutes of which you'll spend deciding whether or not to jump in the icy water). If you're not staying at the Finca Magdalena you must pay a trail fee to enter and pass through the coffee plantations. You'll pass a petroglyph or two on the way up.

Text © 2003 by Joshua Berman and Randy Wood. Used by permission of Moon Handbooks. All rights reserved. Book is available through local bookstores and online booksellers.


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