In June, on assignment with Aire—Aeromexico’s inflight magazine—Lanee went to Nicaragua. She traveled there for two reasons: 1. to cram as many excursions on volcanoes as she could into five days 2. to understand why this Central American was the ‘new Costa Rica’ for U.S. tourists and expats.
Here’s her story, originally published on Yahoo! Travel Explorer:
In 1866, author Mark Twain described the volcanoes on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua as, “two magnificent pyramids, clad in the softest and richest green, all flecked with shadow and sunshine, whose summits pierce the billowy clouds.”
Reading his Nicaragua travelogues, published the following year in a San Francisco newspaper, is what shaped my reason to visit: lofty encounters with as many of the country’s 70 volcanoes that I could pack into five days. My first, of course, had to be Twain’s first as well…
A Hiker’s High
On a blustery day in June aboard the one-hour ferry to Ometepe Islands, I saw the very same dramatic landscape play out on the horizon—exactly as Twain described—nearly 150 years later. And I was just as smitten with the scenery as the adventurous author was.
Arriving in Moyogalpa, the largest and most developed town of the islands, I met Luis Carlos Argenal, a park ranger and local tour guide of Cox & Kings, the luxury tour operator that organized my trip. Most visitors that flock to the islands come for the high. High, as in summiting the epic volcanoes—Concepción and Madera—that require a healthy bout of stamina for the eight to 10 hour round-trip trek.
“If you want adrenaline and a challenge, hike Concepción. If you like wildlife, such as monkeys, wild turkey, and even boa constrictors, do Maderas,” says Argenal, who has led treks on both volcanoes for over 10 years.
Since I was there only for a day, I made a mental note to return and conquer the active, 5282-foot Concepción. At the moment, I’d have to settle for gawking up at Maderas’ cerulean blue peak shrouded in puffy clouds as I tucked into a lunch of plantains, grilled guapote (fish native to Lake Nicaragua) and cogollo—local moonshine made of corn or rice—in a hippie beach community called Santa Domingo.
Other unique stops we made that day included Ojo de Agua, a fresh water swimming pool—an ideal respite from the humidity— and a peaceful walk in Charco Verde, an ecological reserve with an emerald green lagoon and plenty of Howler monkeys playing in the mango trees overhead.
Masaya in the Moonlight
Santiago crater, inside Masaya Volcano National Park, is where early Spanish explorers discovered native people practicing the uncivilized act of throwing virgins into the volcano as human sacrifices to the gods. Ironically, it’s now the most civilized; it is one of the only active volcanoes in the world where can you drive to the peak and view the voluminous, white fumes spewing into the atmosphere from the comfort of your car.
“On our left is the visitor parking lot, on our right is a gassy, active volcano,” joked Gustavo Guevara, the guide arranged by Cox & Kings during my stay in Granada.
For the most dramatic photo opportunities, opt for the nocturnal tour. Watch green parakeets that have adapted to the toxic, sulfur fumes swoop in to roost, summit the top of the San Juan crater for panoramic views of Lake Masaya, explore an underground lava tunnel that’s home to hundreds of bats and witness the fiery, red glow of lava visible only at nightfall. Night excursions are at 5 P.M, by reservation only.
Cloud Forest Frolicking
Like Masaya, Mombacho Cloud Forest Reserve is an easy day trip from Granada offering a vastly different volcanic encounter. From sampling a cup of joe at Café Las Flores coffee plantation to zip lining through the verdant fauna to strolling around the rim among wild orchids, Mombacho is a great option for all ages and fitness levels.
The most extreme adventure is the ride up the steep two-mile road to reach the top! Some choose to brave it on foot, but if you’re short on time (or breathe), take the park’s four-wheel drive shuttle up.
My favorite encounter on Mombacho was this adorable tree frog.
“Lean back and let it rip!” shouted Miguel Garcia, my ‘surfing’ instructor. I held my breath, picked up my feet and held onto the narrow, wooden board’s handle with a death grip. Suddenly, I was zooming down Cerro Negro’s ash slope, black pebbles pelting my goggles and face. Twenty seconds later, I reached the bottom of the hill, limbs still intact. Although I didn’t break the 95-kilometer speed record, it felt like I had.
“That was brilliant! If I lived here, I’d do this once a week,” I overheard a twenty-something-year-old Irish tourist exclaim as she skidded to a stop in a trail of black dust.
It was nothing short of brilliant. Cerro Negro, located roughly an hour outside of Leon, is the world’s only active volcano that you can board down—be it sitting or standing. The hour hike to the top is also breathtaking. Scrambling up the trail of sharp, black porous rocks as far as the eye can see, it feels like you’ve been kidnapped by aliens and plunked on the moon.
After non-stop, high-voltage volcano action along the western coast of Nicaragua, I was ready to lay low. And when serenity and seclusion is what you want, Mukul—the country’s only uber-luxury resort that opened in 2013 on the Emerald Coast—delivers it in style.
And it’s about to become even more exclusive. In November, the new Costa Esmeralda airport is slated to open, available for private and commercial planes. Instead of a two to three hour drive from Managua—now the hidden retreat will only be 20-minutes away.
Settling into my bohio, a fancy, treehouse-style palapa, I cracked open a bottle of complimentary Flor de Cana rum, poured myself a glass over ice and slipped into to the private plunge pool to revel in the staggering Pacific Ocean views. The next morning, adhering to my volcano-themed trip, I booked a massage and a volcanic clay body scrub at the hotel’s spa. Mukul, which means ‘secret’ in Mayan, specializes in offering guests the ultimate discretion (it’s no wonder celebrities like Michael Douglas and Halle Berry stayed here) and its spa is the pinnacle of privacy. Having a treatment in one of the six uniquely themed ‘temples’—private suites with a steam shower, plunge pool, lounge chairs—is like having the place to yourself, making it one of most unique (and lavish!) spa experiences I’ve had to date. Hot tip: For epic ocean views, request the Ancient Sanctuary suite.
Although my Nicaragua volcano adventures were complete, I was tempted to purposely miss the flight to stay a few more days at Mukul, with toes nestled in the sand, rum in hand.
- 7 Active Volcanoes (Source from Leon tour guide, Miguel Garcia)
- 698 Species of Birds
- 566 Miles of Coastline
- 1821 Year Nicaragua Became an Independent Republic
- 1502 Year that Christopher Columbus Landed in Nicaragua
- 13 Age that Nicaraguan Poet Ruben Dario Published His First Poem
How to Book Your Own Volcano Adventure
For 255 years, Cox & Kings has been designing luxury, experiential vacations in destinations around the world. And they are incredibly proficient and expedient in organizing a trip.
In my case, they arranged all my hotels, tour guides and transportation with a week’s notice! To boot, my guides were extremely knowledgeable and adept to my specific, and sometimes strange, requests.
From snooping out local moonshine to finding the best leather goods in Granada, Cox & Kings’ tour guides had the inside scoop. www.coxandkings.com 6 days/5 nights: $3900 per person, based on double occupancy, meals not included.