Who says adventure can only be found in Costa Rica? Climbing volcanoes in Nicaragua might not be in many Central American itineraries, but it should be.
Not only is CR’s neighbor cheaper, but it's also less crowded: two main ingredients for a successful backpacking trip.
Whether you are new to hiking or a seasoned trekker, there’s a Nicaraguan volcano and trail for you.
Volcano Cosigüina: Easy to Advanced Hike
A day trip to Volcano Cosigüina is an off-road and hiking adventure combo. While you may opt to do the entire eight-hour jaunt on foot, most tours cover the first half of the volcano crater trail using 4×4 transportation.
Cosigüina is usually an easy climb, as its slopes are not too steep. However, the terrain can be unpredictable, so the usual one and a half hour hike can take longer. The total time is highly dependent on road conditions and how far your vehicle can go.
Once at the top, you’ll be graced by the sight of one of the most beautiful crater lakes in the region.
It’s best to leave from the sleepy beach town of Jiquilillo, but if you are not staying there, a longer excursion from Leon is possible. I did this trip from Monty’s Beach Lodge, and while that hotel is one of the closest ones to Cosigüina, we still had to leave by 5 a.m.
Alternatively, you may overnight in Potosi, but there’s not much to see there, which is why I chose to stay on the coast.
Volcano Cerro Negro: Intermediate Hike
An easy day trip from Leon, Cerro Negro is probably one of the shortest volcano climbs in Nicaragua. Don’t let its height fool you, however. It may only be 500 meters high, but the one-hour ascent is steep and hot when the sun is out.
Additionally, you are climbing an active volcano: making the hike that more daring.
As Cerro Negro is frequented by thrill junkies, local operators came up with a brilliant idea: “sandboarding” down its slopes. Known locally as volcano boarding, you must wear what I call “an astronaut suit” before jumping on your sled.
Why, you may ask? Well, in case of an accident, the volcanic terrain would surely leave some scrapes.
Volcano Concepcion: Advanced Hike
One of the toughest hikes in Nicaragua is along the slopes of another active volcano: Concepcion. The beautiful, near-perfect stratovolcano is on the Island of Ometepe, a unique ecosystem in itself.
Concepcion's location within Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest lake, makes the view from the top one of the most spectacular on this list.
You will walk past plantain, bean, and coffee plantations along its steep, fertile slopes. Pick between two major trails: the four-hour hike to the viewpoint or the entire jaunt to its crater (nine to ten hours).
I did the latter with Ometepe Secret Adventures and was so exhausted I couldn’t fathom going to the top. I had a great guide though, patient with my slow sorry self and teaching me a lot about the flora and fauna in the process.
Still, my advice to you is to venture there only if you are very fit. Pickups are available at either Moyogalpa or Santo Domingo.
Volcano Maderas: Advanced Hike
Another top hiking attraction in Ometepe is climbing Volcano Maderas. It might be the smaller of the two volcanos on the island, but it’s still a towering 1,400 meters.
What’s most interesting about it though is that its climate is different from Concepcion’s; it possesses a cloud forest, which restricts the views and makes the hike quite humid.
You can choose from several trails, depending on which side of the volcano you wish to climb. They start at Balgüe (North) and Merida (South); with operators offering Moyogalpa pickups as well.
The side you climb will depend on your fitness level.
A shorter trail directs you to the viewpoint which, weather permitting, affords spectacular views over Lake Nicaragua and Volcano Concepcion (four hours minimum).
Alternatively, if you decide to go for the top to see the mysterious, misty crater lagoon, expect the tough hike to take a minimum of seven to eight hours—more if walking at a slower pace.
Have you climbed a volcano in Nicaragua? Tell us about it in the Comments below.
The author received a complimentary climb of Concepción volcano by Ometepe Secret Adventures and a free tour around Granada by Va Pues. All tips and recommendations, however, are her honest opinion and based on her experiences.