It’s been a while since my last travel post. Life got busy with school, the new career start, an unexpected move across the country and probably other stuff I can’t quite get my head around right now. No matter what, I finally got a chance to book a 10 days trip to Central America, after almost a year and a half not leaving the country (!). My partner and I decided to take a well-deserved vacation down to Nicaragua for our Christmas vacations.
Considering the short amount of time we had, we decided to book in a few strategic areas depending on the activities we wanted to do. His request was simple : hike/see an active volcano, and go diving. Mine was simple : I wanted to finally get back into surfing after my last knee injury that took me away from most of my activities for the last year. So here I went and did what I do best – trip prepping fun!
We started our trip with a missed connection in Houston, due to a bad snowstorm in Montreal on Christmas day. In the end, we arrived at destination about 12hrs later than previously planned, after a not-so-good sleep on the airport floors. That said – will never book again an 1h layover connecting flight in the winter (we did took a chance on that one).
We arrived in Nicaragua at Managua, our driver waiting for us. As usual, I had booked a shuttle with our hostel to come and pick us up at the airport. Because we are splitting all the cost in half, we decided to treat ourselves to some privates rooms and a few more private transports to lose less time as well with transportation. Two other travelers that were also delayed with their flights joined us at the last minute, and we shared the cost with them (score!).
We headed straight to Leon, where we decided to start our trip as a base for exploring volcanoes around. We stayed at Hostel Sonati in Leon – where they offer a lot of tours as well as educational workshops on environment for students and youth in Nicaragua. We booked our first activity for the next morning, and we used our first day to rest, relax, and get ready for some camping.
With our hostel, we paid 45$US per person for the Telica volcano camping tour. This included 3 meals, water, gear (we only had our backpacks, but used camping gear provided by the hostel), a guide, transportation from and to the hostel and overnight stay on top of an active volcano. We left the hostel just around 9am and walked across town to the local chicken bus terminal. “Chicken buses” are what the old school, transformed yellow school buses used for public transit in Nicaragua are called. They get their names from the local people at the market who get in the bus to sell products before the bus starts its ride – food, items, drinks… even chickens.
After a 30min crowded ride, we managed to get out of the bus and make our way at one of the trailhead towards the volcano. There are a few entrances for this trail, one including a shorter hike for Sunset tours as well as another one going through a national reserve park ($). The path we took starts in the bed of a dry river heading towards the base of Santa Clara’s volcano (right next to Telica). After about one hour walking on this dry, sandy path, we reached the beginning of the real volcano trail. They say there is about 3 levels of steepness on this trail – the first level being gentle, second one warming you up real good, and the 3rd one just getting all the energy left in your body used for the last ascent to the campsite.
Coming from -25C in Montreal to a 1000m elevation gain hike in 35C, you can imagine (well, at least, if you know me) how much I sweat. We carried about 6L of water per person in our packs for the 2 days, and we drank it all. It took us about 5hrs to hike to the campsite from the bus stop. Once you reach the campsite, you can choose a nice spot to put your tent, and you will even be offered a beer by one of the locals coming up to collect camping fees (90 Cordobas per person, which is roughly 3$US). We had lunch and got ready to hike up to the crater.
This is the closest I had ever been to an active volcano crater – literally peaking down the 150m deep crater, trying to avoid inhaling the sulfuric fumes when the wind changed in our direction. The view of the region and the other volcanoes is also really impressive and rewarding after the hot and sweaty day hiking up. On the right side of the crater, there is a well-marked path leading towards a cave where we could observed tons of bats. It was just before sunset, so most of the bats were awake and busy flying around doing their business.
As the sun sets around 530pm, we made our way back to the left side of the crater (from campsite) to enjoy the sunset fully. Finally, we hiked back up the crater in the dark to observe the magma at the bottom of the crater. It was interesting to see and a bit more crowded, as the Telica Sunset Tours arrived just in time for this part of the hike (they drive up most of the volcano on the other side and hike a short trail up to the crater…). This was probably the most special moment of this hike – as we could feel the heat, smell the fumes, see the bright red in the dark and hear the noise of the magma just next to us.
After dinner, our guide prepared a huge bonfire with marshmallows, as we observed a massive scorpion hanging around. For me, it was camping rules overwrite: make sure your tent is completely closed to avoid any insects coming in (including nasty scorpions), leave EVERYTHING in your tent so the horses don’t eat it (what do you mean, there are no bears coming to eat your food at night?)… but still do get up at 450am to hike back up and watch the full sunrise. Our guide Enrique actually got stung by a scorpion as we were hanging out watching the view early in the morning – he stayed so calm about it and didn’t seem too bothered, so we learned that this specific type of scorpion wasn’t too dangerous after all.
After having a good breakfast, we packed everything up and hiked back down. It took us about 3hrs to hike all the way back down, in the heat again. Timing was right though, as we ran into a private transport from another tour company coming to drop off passengers for the day as we hiked out on the sandy road. On their way back, they offered us a ride all the way to town, saving us from the trip back in the chicken bus.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing, sleeping and making sure we stay well hydrated (this is my big downfall in Central America – I get dehydrated very quickly from the heat and my heavy sweatiness!!). My next post will describe a bit more our last day and evening in Leon, as we enjoy the city before starting the “lake and beaches” portion of this trip!