Tag Archives: volcano

Leon, Nicaragua

After Managua, Leon is the largest city in Nicaragua with a population of approximately 145,00 people. It didn’t feel like a busy city, though the city vibe was more buzzing than Granada.

We stayed in Leon for several days, left and then returned for another day or so. Leon is a good central point to use as a base for a short while. From Leon there are loads of cool activities to do, some of which we enjoyed and others we would have done if we had more time.

Catedral Basilica de la Asuncion in Leon

Our Stay in Leon

As with any city my ideal way to explore is on foot, take random streets, wander and get lost.  The city of Leon is wonderfully charming, it is full of  bright colours and colonial architecture, peppered with grand cathedrals and green parks, with volcanos and forests in the distance.

The revolution museum is a place I heard good things about and would like to visit if I were ever to go back.

Aside from some exploratory wanderings around the city,  most time spent in Leon was doing tours.

Free Walking Tour

To get to know a bit about the city and the history we did a free walking tour. It was roughly 90 minutes exploring the inner city,  and learning the history through the political murals painted in various places. The guide Sebastian was from France but had been a Leon resident for quite some time, and while the accent was a little hard to understand, he had a true passion for sharing the history of culture of this beautiful colonial city with a rather turbulent past.

The tour starts in a small office near the NW corner of the cathedral, opposite the park with the huge mural.

Catedral Basilica de la Ascunsion

Rooftop views from Catedral Basilica de la AscunsionThe main cathedral of the city is the size of a full city block and faces Parque Central. It was built to survive earthquakes and so far has held true to construction as it is the only church to have remained in tact during several earthquakes over time. It is perhaps the largest church in Central America and is a beautiful old building that is free to visit.

The most fascinating aspect of the cathedral are the five doors on the cathedral floor. These do not lead to a basement, crypt or cellar, rather they are escape tunnels leading to other churches. The were constructed during the time of pirate raids to help preserve life during pirate attack.

In addition to exploring the interior of the cathedral, I would recommend a visit to the rooftop. Tickets are USD$3 and purchased from a random door found outside at the back of the church. Entrance to the rooftop is from the NW corner. The cathedral rooftop has a beautiful display of domes to wander around and and offers spectacular views of the city and to volcanoes in the distance.

Quetzaltrekkers

Quetzaltrekkers is the name of one of the many adventure tour operators in the city. We booked our adventures activities with this company as they have a safety first attitude and a community focus. All profits feed directly back into the community to fund education and rehabilitation programs for the children.
All guides are volunteers.
Note: Quetzaltrekkers discount if you do multiple tours.

Telica Sunset Hike

Looking over the rim of active Telica VolcanoTelica Volcano is one of the tallest volcanoes in Nicaragua, and it is where you can hike directly to the rim at 900metres and peer into the belly of the volcano. We did the sunset hike up Telica to see it both during the day and at night, with a spectacular sunset in between. Unfortunately there were so many sulfur clouds we could not see the lava, but walking the rim of an active volcano was really quite the experience.

The hike up was relatively short, approximately 45 minutes. We spent some time at the crater edge before walking further away to have a better view of the full volcano. Before sitting on the side of the volcano enjoying a packed dinner, watching the sun set in the direction of the ocean. One of the most beautiful sunsets of my life!

Sunset from Telica VolcanoWe ended our hike with an attempt to see the glowing lava in the volcano after the sun had set, but the billowing clouds of sulfur weren’t working with us. We hiked to the base of the volcano by torchlight and bumped our way back into town in the 4WD.

The Telica volcano is absolutely beautiful. Being so close to the rim, looking in to the belly of the beast so to speak, is pretty amazing!

The tour cost USD$45 per person (cost varies on group size). The full excursion is approximately 6.5hours and includes transport, water, snacks, dinner and a free t-shirt.

Volcano Boarding

Cerro Negro is a young and active volcano a short drive out of Leon. It’s quite a small volcano, only 500-600metres high, with a wide open top consisting of two craters and a very steep hike up. An eruption spewing fine ash enabled the creation of a new activity Volcano Boarding.

Cerro Negro in Nicaragua is, to my knowledge, the only place where volcano boarding exists as an adventure activity. As such, this activity has been on my bucket list for some time.

The hike up to the crater edge is reasonably challenging with a volcano board strapped to your back, hot weather, a steep climb and high winds. I actually found the last stretch along the rim of the crater quite scary. However the hike is worth the effort. At the top you can see into the crater, feel the heat in the ash and see spirals of sulfur escaping the hot ground. After taking in the wonderful view and active volcano experience it’s time to suit up and go over the safety talk.

With clear instructions the group split into two and lined up behind the ‘lanes’, one by one on the signal of our guide we took turns on our volcano board sledding down the side of the active volcano. The speed is dictated by you, using your body position and feet to control acceleration. As a bit of a chicken I went reasonably slow, I found the experience a little bit frightening but incredibly exhilarating and fun!! So much so, that I opted to risk the scary, windy, walk up for a second ride.

There’s nothing quite like sledding down the side of an active volcano, with wind and volcanic ash in your hair. WOW!

The tour costs  USD$30, and is approximately 6 hours. Quetzaltrekkers are the only company who allow the group to make two rides down the volcano. Included in the cost is transport, all protective clothing, equipment, water, snacks, lunch and a free t-shirt.

Food

Taco food truck in central LeonI didn’t really have any outstanding meals in Leon. Though I can still manage three recommendations.

The taco truck parked on the street 1ra Av. NO between Calle de Ruben Dario and 1ra Calle NO.

Comedor San Benito also on street 1ra Av. NO is brilliantly priced buffet style local food. We ate there numerous times, the food quality and quantity was great. We ate with the locals, and with such a busy location the food was always incredibly fresh.

Antonino’s had some great pizza at a reasonable price. It’s certainly not typical Nicaraguan, but nevertheless tasty, good food.

Accommodation

We had two stays in Leon, three nights and later one night.

We spent three nights at Hostal El Jardin. Location was good, prices were reasonable, some staff were great and others less so. We were very unimpressed with the cleaning. Our private room was not cleaned for our entire stay. I consider this unacceptable since all toilet paper is thrown in an open trash can in a room that is poorly ventilated and close to 30 degrees celsius. Also we used the laundry service for our clothes and we received them back just as dirty as we sent them in, though smelling mildly better.

Our single night stay was at Blue House Hostel when transiting through from northern Nicaragua to Managua. Blue House was also very well located, staff spoke fantastic english. Rooms were better ventilated than at El Jardin and were more spacious. The hostel had quite the party vibe, which didn’t bother us too much as it was only one night.

Getting There and Away

We travelled to Leon from San Juan del Sur, via Rivas and Managua; then we travelled north to Matagalpa before heading back south to Leon and then Managua.

Connecting between Managua and Leon the UCA buses depart from Mercado Israel Lewites Oeste and cost 61 Cordoba. The trip is around 2 hours.

Between Leon to Matagalpa, we travelled with an expreso bus, for 83 Cordoba. You need to buy a ticket and you are given an assigned seat. The ride takes approximately three hours.

Leon, Nicaragua

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Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo is a lake inside the caldera of an extinct volcano. It is in the provinces of Granada and Masaya with the province border crossing through the lake.

About Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo
It’s a fresh water lake with a volume of approximately 2.58 cubic kilometres, and surface area of just under 21 square kilometres. It is 6.6 kilometres in diameter and 175 metres deep.

Laguna de Apoyo was declared a nature reserve in 1991, and is a popular place for people to visit for both day trip and a few days away. Many people with limited time visit as a day trip from Granada, but those with more time tend to stay a night or two.

Our stay at Laguna de Apoyo

Arriving in Managua at 10pm, we had organised an airport pickup to take us straight to our accommodation at Laguna de Apoyo, and we started out vacation with two days on the side of the lake.

Sunrise at Laguna de ApoyoThis was a brilliant way to switch from work mode to holiday mode. We arrived at night time, tired from travel, and we woke up to blissful calm. We watched the sunrise; easing into the day listening to the birds chattering, the howler monkeys howling in the distance and the wind lightly rustling through the leaves of the trees.

No matter where you stay by the lake, all accommodations provide kayaks and inner tubes for enjoying time on the lake. Some accommodations have a pontoon to which you can swim out and then enjoy the sunshine. The accommodations also typically have hammocks and beach chairs, some also have barbecues and picnic tables at your disposal.

We had a great time paddling around in the kayaks and lazing on the pontoon.

In addition to enjoying the water activities, you can walk along the waters edge to check out other accommodations, restaurants and quiet spots to soak up the scenery. I believe there are some hiking trails in the area and that the view from the crater rim is spectacular, but we didn’t get to either of these things. For those who dive, there is also lake diving.

 

Accommodation

There are several accommodation options by the lake and on the crater rim. We chose to stay on the Granada side of the lake, by the water at a place called The Monkey Hut.

The Monkey Hut is a great spot for peace and quiet, there weren’t many guests there and it was a very relaxed place to be. A dorm bed cost USD$16.10 per night, and includes coffee, tea, purified water and the use of kayaks, inner tubes, pontoon, hammocks, beach chairs. I made the booking via email and WhatsApp.

We loved the Monkey Hut for the peace and quiet, but if you are travelling solo or are a bit more social, then neighbouring Hostel Paradiso would be my recommendation.

The only downside of The Monkey Hut was the food. They did have a restaurant, but it was not on site, food was delivered plastic wrapped and the price/quality wasn’t amazing. Paradiso however was fantastic, with a huge range of options. It was a 3-5 minute walk between the two sites. At Paradiso we were able to get a day pass for free in order to make use of the restaurant (if you want to use the swimming facilities – kayaks etc. then you need to buy a day pass for USD$6)

Getting There and Away

We travelled to The Monkey Hut direct from Managua airport with a private transfer organised by Monkey Hut for USD$40 fo two people.

On their website Money Hut have directions for how to get there by car, taxi, shuttle or bus from Managua, Masaya and Granada.

Making use of the daily shuttle from Hostel Paradiso, we paid USD$3 per person for the ride to Granada. The shuttle goes between 3-5 times daily. Their website also provides some transport directions.

Laguna De Apoyo

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Avenue of the Volcanoes

Quilotoa Volcano Crater Lake

After 19 months of continuous travel, I finally ran out of money. My last hurrah before moving to The Netherlands to get a ‘real’ job, was a four day flying visit to Quito.

Despite having spent quite some time in Ecuador, I have still seen so little of a country I truly love. My biggest regrets from my previous visit were not having been to Quilotoa Volcano Crater Lake or Cotopaxi Volcano, so these were my Must Do activities for this fleeting visit.

Quilotoa and Cotopaxi are both found in a region referred to as Avenue of the Volcanoes. There are over twenty active and extinct volcanoes in Ecuador. Of these  volcanoes there are approximately ten, including Quilotoa and Cotopaxi, which are considered to be major volcanoes.

Due to time restraints I chose to visit them both on day tours from Quito. I booked both tours through Community Hostel. Quilotoa costs USD$50 and Cotopaxi normally cost $55. As there were only three of us on the Cotopaxi tour, it was run as a private tour and cost $80 each.

Doing the two consecutive day tours I was lucky to get the same guide both days. Omar is a Quito local who has been climbing mountains and going on outdoor adventures since he could walk. He is extremely knowledgeable about the area, has a passion for adventure and has a good sense of humour; being on tour with him was a blast!

Quilotoa Volcano Crater Lake

Toachi River CanyonOn the way out to Quilotoa we made a brief stop at the small town of Pujili to check out the local market and grab some breakfast. Continuing on, the drive to Quilotoa through the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” was spectacular to see. In addition to the mountains, volcanos and canyons is the Toachi River Canyon, which may or may not be a fault line. It was a beautiful spot to snap a few photos.

Quilotoa used to be a full volcano, reaching a height of 5900metres. The story I heard regarding the origin of the name are that it is derived from the Indigenous Quechua/Kichwa terms Quilo and Toa. Quilo means teeth and Toa was the name of a regional princess. So I guess it is the Princess’ Teeth, or something along those lines.

The volcano itself collapsed approximately 800 years ago, whether it received the name Quilotoa before or after the collapse I am unsure, though to me it would seem more fitting after due to the jagged teeth of the remaining caldera.

At this point in time the crater walls are at an altitude of 3935 metres, and the lake within the crater walls is at 3521 metres, a variation of 414 metres for the eager hikers to hike down and climb back up. The rim of the crater has an 11 kilometre diameter, where the lake surface has a 3.5 kilometre diameter.  The water is roughly 150 metres deep at the deepest point, and is a super chilly 12 degree temperature. I believe swimming is not officially permitted but is regularly done, however if you want to get out into the lake then kayak rental is a recommended option.

Quilotoa Crater Lake with a native Andean Flower in the foregroundOn arrival at the crater, Omar gave everyone on the tour some suggestions for how to spend their time at the crater.  Based on my fitness and interests, he had a challenging suggestion for me. Together the two of us ran down the main path to the lakeside viewpoint, we took some photos before running along the lake’s edge for a stretch, before a very steep ascent (I admit, some of this was a piggy back ride for me!), we finished the loop by walking along the crater rim back to the starting point. (GPS record of my small Quilotoa Loop)

I really wish I had the time to hike the full crater loop and explore the nearby region, because it really is a beautiful part of the world. However, with my time constraints, I am simply grateful to have had the opportunity to see this stunning natural wonder with my own eyes.

Cotopaxi Volcano

Cotopaxi is an active volcano in the region, it closes regularly due to volcanic activity, but I was lucky to visit soon after it had been reopened.

Hiking Cotopaxi VolcanoAgain the name is said to be from the Quechua/Kichwa terms Coto and Paxi. Coto means neck and Paxi means moon. Once per year, at full moon, the moon appears to rest on the top of the volcano.

Cotopaxi is 5987 metres high, and is said to be one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. We drove to the car park at 4600 metres and then hiked to the refuge at 4864 meters. With a flu and hiking at altitude, I admit I moved very slowly (GPS Record of my ascent)!

The landscape was spectacular, walking through the dusty fine ash, seeing the haphazardly positioned volcanic rocks and the the snow-capped volcano peak.  Surprisingly the colours were quite vibrant, the grey and red of the volcano contrasted against the bright white snow and occasionally crystal blue sky.

I enjoyed quite some time sitting at the refuge, enjoying some Ecuadorian maracuya (passionfruit) flavoured chocolate, breathing in the mountain air and just soaking up the stunning surroundings.

Getting ready to cycle down the volcanoEventually it was time to go, I took a last look at the majestic Cotopaxi before running back down through the ash to the car.

We drove a short stretch, passing the worst parts of the rough road, before jumping on mountain bikes to cycle down to the lagoon. I enjoyed riding for a short while before I hit a soft patch of dirt and fell off my bike at low speed. I scratched up my hands and knees, but with my general flu, exhaustion and inclination to pass out any time there’s blood involved, I barely managed to get myself off the road before I passed out. Omar the ever gracious guide, managed to bundle me up into the car, patch my wounds and at my request, left me there to sleep for the drive home.

My two days of volcano visits were absolutely fantastic, and I look forward to seeing and hiking more some day!

Quilotoa & Cotopaxi

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