Ometepe Island’s Two Volcanos
Ometepe Island was my second stop on my 10-day trip in Nicaragua. Situated in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, this island is just about a 1 hour drive and short ferry ride from Granada. There was so much that I wanted to explore on this island (link to more about this adventure below), but mostly I wanted to tackle a hike up one of the island’s two volcanos; Maderas and Concepcion.
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These two volcanoes really make up the island and are connected by an isthmus. Volcano Concepcion is a higher elevation (approx. 5300 ft) and active whereas Volcano Maderas is slightly lower elevation (approx. 4600 ft) and extinct. However, because you can climb down into Volcano Maderas, the net elevation climb is about the same between the two.
How To Choose Which Volcano To Hike
When choosing which volcano to ascend, there are different factors to consider, including:
- Amount of shade
- Transportation to/ from the trailhead
- Trail Conditions
Let’s be honest, both volcanoes are going to offer killer views and both are reasonably challenging hikes. What is unique about Volcano Maderas is that it’s far more shaded and, because you’re in the clouds for a good portion of the hike, it’s fairly cool. It’s important to note that this also means that it rains frequently on the trail making it quite muddy.
Volcano Maderas has a crater lagoon at the top that you can climb down into and, weather permitting, actually swim in. On the day that I hiked, as you can see in the photo above, it was incredibly muddy and cloudy. Somewhat making up for the cloudy conditions, all along the trail you can watch Howler and Capuchin monkeys swinging in the trees.
Transportation to and from the trailhead is a big thing to consider when choosing which volcano to climb. If you choose to hike a volcano on the other end of the island, it can take close to an hour to get there! The trail for Volcano Maderas left from the back of the property of La Via Verde Organic Farm and B&B, where I was staying, so transportation was not an issue.
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Hiring a Guide
One of the reasons I stayed at La Via Verde is that the owners, Darrin and Eileen, were incredibly proactive and helpful in arranging my activities and hiring my private guide for the hike.
My guide for the day was Dimas, who was thirty years old and lived his entire life on Ometepe Island. He hiked up one of the two volcanos every day of the week during busy season and at least four days per week the remainder of the year. For a 7-9 hour, muddy, steep hike he would make just $25. I was so thankful to have a him as my private guide. It’s clear that the man knows what he’s doing. If we ran into a big group, he knew a way to walk around them (assuming my lungs and legs could keep up).
The Hike Up Volcano Maderas
I definitely underestimated how steep and rocky this hike would be. Dimas immediately noticed that I didn’t bring hiking poles. He searched along the trail for a walking stick for me to use and chopped one down to size. It was very helpful, but it was fairly heavy so if you can bring hiking poles I recommend it. Your knees will thank you.
The hike is steep and I don’t say that lightly. There are portions of the trail where I had to climb up rocks with my hands and feet. The majority of it was more like bouldering than hiking.
Because the hike is so steep and about 4 hours to the top, stop often to drink water and replenish some of the calories that you’re burning. At the advice of the B&B owner, I had arranged for a packed lunch to be delivered the night before and it was a lifesaver. Also, along the trail you can find fresh passionfruit to snack on!
Once at the top, you descend down into the crater lagoon. This is where we stopped and ate our lunch and just relaxed for a bit. It was nice to sit down and recharge before heading back down.
An Unexpected Detour
On the return hike, Dimas asked if I wanted to stop at a lookout point. Now, in full transparency, he could’ve asked me to stop for just about any reason and I would’ve taken him up on it, but of course I wanted to see the lookout.
So, he took me on a detour to his friend’s bean farm which was on the side of the volcano. They were harvesting the beans by chopping pieces of the bean plant and placing them onto a plastic tarp which they then beat with a stick. This caused the beans to fall off of the stems and onto the tarp. These three men did this all day long for what I can imagine is many weeks of the year.
It just so happened that the view from their bean farm is amazing. You have a clear view of Volcano Concepcion and Lake Nicaragua. It was the perfect place to recharge.
Monkeys and the Long Hike Back
As we headed back into the forest to hike down the rest of the way, we were surrounded by monkeys. Dimas knew how to call them. I could’ve watched them for hours, swinging and howling through the trees right above my head.
It was around this point that the seven hours of high impact was taking its toll on my knees. Not ideal because we were 1-2 hours away from La Via Verde still. Dimas took my hand and helped me down the entire rest of the way, while playing disco and Justin Bieber on his phone. My role was to try and explain the lyrics but let’s be honest, there’s no explanation for Funky Town or any Justin Bieber lyrics so we mostly just sang as best we could.
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Life On Ometepe
Obviously, we had a long day together so had a lot of time to talk. Dimas shared with me that each night he gets home in time to wash the mud out of his clothes and shoes, eat dinner with his girlfriend and daughter and go to bed so he can get up and hike again the next day.
We talked about his upcoming birthday and what he typically does to celebrate. He explained to me that for him, having a meal with meat is really special so that is typically what they do for a birthday. It was humbling to think that something I take for granted was such a special treat for him.
Tips For the Volcano Maderas Hike
- Bring 3 Liters of water and a packed lunch.
- Bring trekking poles if you have them, if not grab a walking stick on the way up. It’ll save your knees.
- Wear hiking boots and clothes that can get dirty. The trail is naturally very muddy and in the clouds with plenty of boulders to navigate.
- Expect to get wet, so pack your daypack accordingly.
- Hire a guide. The trail is not obvious, so it’s well worth the $25 to hire an individual guide (or less if you join a group). Also, my guide was able to point out poisonous plants, call the monkeys and show me unique views of the island!
- Take the time to enjoy the monkeys and the views!
For more great tips on what to pack for a volcano hike in a similar climate, check out this helpful post on hiking Mt Rinjani in Indonesia.