We spent our first night in Nicaragua parked on a street in León outside of a hostel. For $3USD we could use their bathroom and wifi, no showers unfortunately as they were privy to people who reserved rooms. We grabbed some dinner nearby at Sundance Grill, but still chose to get salads. Something about rabbit food is really calling to us. We slept peacefully in the van without any unexpected distractions.
The next morning we filled up on water, which we realized we hadn’t done since Mexico! Without cooking many meals in the van (since it’s cheaper to eat at a Comedor than buy our own cooking ingredients), our 5 gallon water jug lasts a while. Our next stop was Masaya Volcano, where we would be able to drive right up to the crater – very different than hiking Izta or Acatenanga.
Managua is the major city in Nicaragua just before reaching the volcano when heading South from the border of Honduras. Traffic became hectic but wasn’t as bad as Guatemala City or Belize City. We skirted around the outside of the city but did notice how many billboards and taxis caught our attention. Soon, we were able to enter the park. To drive to the crater rim and hike, we each paid 180 Córdoba ($5 USD). We drove on a paved road through hardened lava flows that were old enough that trees and shrubbery were growing out of cracks in the rocks.
Masaya Volcano is a shield volcano, unlike Izta (the one we climbed in Mexico) and Acatenango (in Guatemala) which were stratovolcanoes. From our casual observations, Masaya was at a much lower elevation and didn’t have the classic steep, conical shape like the other stratovolcanoes we visited. It was also different in that we could peer down directly into the caldera which was active! In fact, Masaya continuously emits sulfur dioxide gas from one of its active craters, the Santiago crater. Apparently, volcanologists (pretty cool occupation) study this volcano to not only better understand how volcanoes behave, but also evaluate how acid rain impacts health of flora and fauna.
We visited the crater during the day, so we could only see the smoke billowing out but apparently at night you can see the lava pools deep within the crater. An article from earlier this year mentioned that this volcano was considered one of the mythical nine gates of hell. It did look ominous. First, we hiked up to an overlook just above the active crater and were amazed at how our breath was taken away from the sulfur dioxide. On our way up, we read a sign that recommended spending no longer than 5 minutes at the overlook, we now understood why. It was a barren landscape cloaked with a heavy, thick atmosphere. We took in the sights and quickly turned back once we felt the tightness in our chests, I don’t think we lasted the 5 minutes.
Next we hiked a trail that circumnavigated one of the dormant volcanos. The flora was a bit different than the lowlands, but I was hoping and waiting for a view inside the crater. As we hiked, we were able to get a bird’s eye view of another inactive caldera that had turned into a freshwater lagoon, pretty cool! Eventually, the trail wrapped around to the top and we had a view inside of the long dormant caldera. So dormant, that a forest had completely taken over inside.
We returned to the main, active caldera and walked over to the other side to peek in. From the opposite side of the parking lot, we were able to see deeper into the crater and noticed two major volcanic vents. I wondered just how hot it was down there.
After our share of the volcano and a heavy dose of sunburn, we headed towards a hostel outside of Managua where we planned to spend two nights and one full rest day. We grabbed a big lunch on the way at a grill and each ordered a 9 oz. churrasco (grilled steak) with rice, salad, and fries. Once we finished our plates, we felt like we could not possibly eat anything more that day. We drove another 5 minutes to Paradiso Hostel and arranged to park in the lot for $8 USD for each night with access to the bar/restaurant, beach, showers and bathroom, wifi and free coffee in the morning. Today we lounged, swam a bit in the reserve of Laguna de Apoyo – a lake occupying the caldera of an extinct volcano. The water was really warm and clear, and tasted a bit like sulfur. Tomorrow we will continue heading South, and probably within a day or two cross into Costa Rica.
Andre’s post on Nicaragua, here!
Campsites, here 🙂