For our Nicaragua volcano hike we chose Volcán Maderas (Maderas Volcano), a dormant volcano with a rare cloud forest. It’s the smallest of two volcanoes that make up the hourglass-shaped volcano island, Isla de Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. The volcanoes are visible from all angles of the island and are woven into its myth, culture and way of life. Maderas volcano and its half of the island are a nature preserve. Volcanic ash makes it ideal for growing crops, such as beans, coffee, plantains and wheat.

Nicaragua Volcano Hike Level: Difficult (by difficult I mean not able to walk the next day)

I wanted some exercise and my hostel friend wanted to check “climb a volcano” off the list. After hiking / climbing / bouldering / falling from and in roots, ravines and slippery mud for eight hours, we concluded that Maderas was a challenging hike. We postponed travel the next day to recuperate. Plenty of water, proper hiking shoes, pants and a layer for when reaching the top are imperative.

Hire the Right Guide

Note, hiring a guide is mandatory. Ask around as they’re not created equal. Ours was often out of eye shot and while my friend and I speak Spanish, we failed to engage him in spite of a number of attempts. Others at our eco farm hostel spoke warmly of their guides who pointed out flora and wildlife, such as monkeys. We heard the monkeys but never saw one.

The Mystical and Misty Crater Lagoon in the Clouds

Summer excluded, it’ll be muddy. Expect your socks to be wet, your shoes to be caked with mud and to lose traction. We made it to the top and elected to go about 10 minutes further to a the crater lagoon. This was the most challenging part of the climb but a perfect place to spend 20 minutes resting and eating a snack before making the 4-hour climb down.

Optimizing the Hike

If an aggressive hike isn’t your speed, you can enjoy a Nicaraguan volcano hike by:
1. going during the summer season (January – March) when it’s dry and there will be a visible view from the top.
2. hiking two hours to a “mirador” or lookout and then turning around at this point.
3. hiking an hour or so to the entrance of the forest, where you will pass fields of beans, plantains, wheat and yuca and see a magnificent view of the active volcano, Volcán Concepción and Lake Nicaragua, as well as prehistoric petroglyphs.