Tag Archives: lava

How to get up Volcanoes the easy way

Always fancied seeing a volcano up close but don’t fancy the sound of a strenuous two-day hike? Or scared of risking injury by having to slide back down on a plank of wood? Well don’t worry – Nicaragua have a volcano to suit every taste…

Volcan Masaya

Hiking in tropical temperatures with a huge backpack to see an active crater isn’t for everyone – so handily enough the Nicaraguans have built a road that goes all the way up to the crater of Volcan Masaya, with a car park right on the rim. Never mind the fact that the last eruption destroyed a few cars and injured one person, the chances of it happening while you’re there are probably pretty small. The active crater is nearly as impressive as the one at Telica (although admittedly not half as satisfying knowing you’ve sort of cheated)…although there was no lava on show while we were there.

Volcan Masaya Crater Nicaragua

Not guaranteed to be the safest place in the world to park your car

Masaya does have one relatively rare feature that can be explored – lava tubes. These are “natural conduits through which lava used to travel beneath the surface of a lava flow, expelled by a volcano during an eruption. When the lava flow ceased, the rock cooled and left a long, cave-like channel.” What this means in practice is a very long, narrow cave. Adrian & I got wander down with a guide (and torches, obviously) for several hundred metres, disturbing big groups of bats along the way. When we turned all the lights out, it was completely pitch black – with no light at all your eyes don’t adjust, with just the eery sounds of bats to deal with. Spooky.
Inside a lava tube at Volcan Masaya Nicaragua

Deep inside the lava tube

On the way back down we stopped off in the colonial town of Masaya, famous for having the best markets in the country. I have to say the main tourist market was rather disappointing, despite being in a beautiful old building – it’s very much run for tourists, and feels very sanitised compared to other Latin American markets I’ve been to. Much better was the chaotic and huge new market – which sells a similar range of goods (as well as pretty much everything else, including kitchen sinks no doubt) but is busier with locals and far more atmospheric. It’s a shame we didn’t get to spend more time in the city itself (our guide was in a rush to get back – if you go on a tour from Granada it’s worth insisting on spending a bit of time exploring the city, as it looked rather charming in a slightly run-down sort of way).

Volcan Mombacho

Scared of the dark? Worried about the risk of an eruption? Then perhaps Mombacho might be up your street. The volcano dominates the horizon of nearby Granada, and like Masaya there’s no need to hike – instead, from the entrance to the park, a great big trucks drives you up the very steep slopes to the top, from where you can go on a nice, gentle walk around the extinct crater. Being extinct, it’s a very different proposition to the other three we’d visited, as the whole volcano is very lushly forested, with a wide variety of beautiful orchids growing amongst the trees. Allegedly monkeys hang out there too – but unfortunately we didn’t get to see one (much to the disappointment of Adrian who hadn’t seen one in the wild before). You also get great views over the city, and across Lake Nicaragua (one of the largest in the world).

Ziplining on Volcan Mombacho

Upside down zip-lining - only mildly terrifying

The real highlight of Mombacho though is on the way back down – where we had the chance to have a go at the “canopy tour”, which is a posh way of saying a series of ziplines flying through the trees way above the ground. Over the course of 16 lines I think we must have managed pretty much every way of travelling – forward, backawards, upside down, flying superman-style amongst others – and it was absolutely fantastic.

Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo

Fancy a swim in a volcanic crater?

If even any kind of walking (or ziplining for that matter) sound a bit too much like hard work, then the Nicaraguans have one more volcano up their sleeve with would perfect for even the most lazy. Another short drive from Granada is the seven kilometre wide Laguna de Apoyo, which is a crystal clear lake in the massive crater off another extinct volcano. We were lucky enough to be staying in the lovely Hostal Oasis in Granada on the day their sister hostel by the lagoon, Paradiso, opened – and they provide a handy shuttle service to take you there. The Paradiso has a few rooms, a little restaurant, and best of all a lovely black-sand beach. We had a wonderfully relaxing day there, chilling out on loungers by the water’s edge, swimming in the lovely warm water, and even exerting ourselves a little with a gentle paddle out into the crater on the free kayaks they provide. It was the perfect way to end a fantastic two weeks in Nicaragua.
Kayaking on Laguna de Apoyo

A much more relaxing way to enjoy a volcano than hiking

You can see all of my photos of Masaya & Apoyo here

Getting close to the lava

If there was an active volcano in the UK, you wouldn’t be allowed within a mile of it, let alone be able to climb it.

Lava flow on Volcan Pacaya

Lava flow on Volcan Pacaya

So when I found out that Antigua had one on its doorstep, that you could not only climb but also get really close to the lava, I didn’t have to think twice. I wasn’t going to let anything put me off, even the fact that so far I’d met two people who’d climbed it, and both had manage to injure themselves – both by slipping on the loose rock and cutting their legs on the very jagged rocks, one of whom so badly that he needed stitches. I’m very glad I met them though, as they both advised me not to ignore the little kids who hang around at the bottom waiting to meet climbers so they can hire them sticks for a very reasonable price, which are very handy for providing an extra means of support.

I’m becoming increasingly accustomed to early starts (I think I’ve been up at 6am or earlier more times the last few months than I have done in years), so it was no surprise that we had to be picked up at 6am, to make it up the mountain before the rains came, and after a couple of hours’ driving we found ourselves at the foot of the trail.

After the extreme exertion of climbing Volcan Santa Maria in Xela, I was hoping for an easier ride this time round, and I was not disappointed. The trail wasn’t too steep at all compared to my previous experience, and it took far less time, as the volcano itself is much smaller (being relatively young). We were lucky enough to be in quite a small group, and all of relatively similar fitness, so we made it up through the treelined lower slopes of the volcano pretty quickly and soon emerged at the dried lava fields that surround the active vent.

That’s where the tricky bit begins – the dried-out lava is extremely sharp, and very very uneven. Much of it is in the form of loose rocks, meaning your footing is likely to give way at any moment, and I could quite see how my friends had managed to injure themselves. So we very carefully made our way across the path towards the vent, being very glad of the sticks we’ds hired at the bottom (especially when we saw a German woman fall, cutting her leg so badly she couldn’t walk any more and had to wait for a horse to make its way up the mountain to carry her back down. Others had less trouble, most notably being the local dog that appeared to live on the mountain (and whose fur had taken on a really golden-orange colour, presumably from all the sulphur in the air).

Volcanic dog

Volcanic dog

The lava runs in various pipes close to the surface, and has several vents, so having a guide to make sure you don’t end up walking in the wrong place was crucial – as it is, in several places you could feel the heat on the rocks as you leant on them, knowing fresh lava was running just beneath. Finally we made it to the main lava flow – and it certainly wasn’t a disappointment. Watching red hot molten lave running down the hillside just a couple of feet away from me was truly one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever felt. It was also one of the hottes, unsurprisingly enough. We were lucky enough most of the time to have the wind behind us; on a couple of occasions it turned to blow towards us and it was like standing in a furnace.

The lava vents

The lava vents

The final ascent (which took a bit of queueing) took us up to see the vents themselves – right next to each other, two openings in the ground where the lava pour out of the ground. The lava is so hot that there were people toasting marshmallows over it – and it took just a couple of seconds for them to blacken, and that’s with the stick a few feet away.

Toasting marshmallows

Toasting marshmallows

Experiences like these are really one of the reason I love travelling – I could never do anything like that back home, and it’s given me a memory I’ll never forget. You can see all of my photos of Volcan Pacaya and the beautiful colonial city of Antigua here.