Climbing Volcanoes in Nicaragua: A Brief Guide to 4 Popular Hikes

Volcano Concepcion

Volcano Concepcion (photo: David Lee)

Who says adventure can only be found in Costa Rica? Climbing volcanoes in Nicaragua might not be in many Central American itineraries, but it should be.

Not only is CR’s neighbor cheaper, but it’s also less crowded: two main ingredients for a successful backpacking trip.

Whether you are new to hiking or a seasoned trekker, there’s a Nicaraguan volcano and trail for you.

Cosigüina, volcano climbing in Nicaragua

Volcano Cosigüina crater lake: much more impressive in person

Volcano Cosigüina: Easy to Advanced Hike

A day trip to Volcano Cosigüina is an off-road and hiking adventure combo. While you may opt to do the entire eight-hour jaunt on foot, most tours cover the first half of the volcano crater trail using 4×4 transportation.

Cosigüina is usually an easy climb, as its slopes are not too steep. However, the terrain can be unpredictable, so the usual one and a half hour hike can take longer. The total time is highly dependent on road conditions and how far your vehicle can go.

Once at the top, you’ll be graced by the sight of one of the most beautiful crater lakes in the region.

It’s best to leave from the sleepy beach town of Jiquilillo, but if you are not staying there, a longer excursion from Leon is possible. I did this trip from Monty’s Beach Lodge, and while that hotel is one of the closest ones to Cosigüina, we still had to leave by 5 a.m.

Alternatively, you may overnight in Potosi, but there’s not much to see there, which is why I chose to stay on the coast.

Cerro Negro, volcano climbing in Nicaragua

Cerro Negro volcano boarding (photo: by

Volcano Cerro Negro: Intermediate Hike

An easy day trip from Leon, Cerro Negro is probably one of the shortest volcano climbs in Nicaragua. Don’t let its height fool you, however. It may only be 500 meters high, but the one-hour ascent is steep and hot when the sun is out.

Additionally, you are climbing an active volcano: making the hike that more daring.

As Cerro Negro is frequented by thrill junkies, local operators came up with a brilliant idea: “sandboarding” down its slopes. Known locally as volcano boarding, you must wear what I call “an astronaut suit” before jumping on your sled.

Why, you may ask? Well, in case of an accident, the volcanic terrain would surely leave some scrapes.

Concepcion, volcano climbing in Nicaragua

Volcano Concepcion from Ometepe’s port

Volcano Concepcion: Advanced Hike

One of the toughest hikes in Nicaragua is along the slopes of another active volcano: Concepcion. The beautiful, near-perfect stratovolcano is on the Island of Ometepe, a unique ecosystem in itself.

Concepcion’s location within Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest lake, makes the view from the top one of the most spectacular on this list.

You will walk past plantain, bean, and coffee plantations along its steep, fertile slopes. Pick between two major trails: the four-hour hike to the viewpoint or the entire jaunt to its crater (nine to ten hours).

I did the latter with Ometepe Secret Adventures and was so exhausted I couldn’t fathom going to the top. I had a great guide though, patient with my slow sorry self and teaching me a lot about the flora and fauna in the process.

Still, my advice to you is to venture there only if you are very fit. Pickups are available at either Moyogalpa or Santo Domingo.

Maderas, volcano climbing in Nicaragua

Volcano Maderas from Playa Santa Domingo (photo: Ometepe Secret Adventures)

Volcano Maderas: Advanced Hike

Another top hiking attraction in Ometepe is climbing Volcano Maderas. It might be the smaller of the two volcanos on the island, but it’s still a towering 1,400 meters.

What’s most interesting about it though is that its climate is different from Concepcion’s; it possesses a cloud forest, which restricts the views and makes the hike quite humid.

You can choose from several trails, depending on which side of the volcano you wish to climb. They start at Balgüe (North) and Merida (South); with operators offering Moyogalpa pickups as well.

The side you climb will depend on your fitness level.

A shorter trail directs you to the viewpoint which, weather permitting, affords spectacular views over Lake Nicaragua and Volcano Concepcion (four hours minimum).

Alternatively, if you decide to go for the top to see the mysterious, misty crater lagoon, expect the tough hike to take a minimum of seven to eight hours—more if walking at a slower pace.

Have you climbed a volcano in Nicaragua? Tell us about it in the Comments below.


The author received a complimentary climb of Concepción volcano by Ometepe Secret Adventures and a free tour around Granada by Va Pues. All tips and recommendations, however, are her honest opinion and based on her experiences.


Lima Travel GuideDave's 160-page, all-original Lima Travel Guide is now available for Kindle and PDF.

The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Obsessively (Part 1): The Gear

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Free martinis, fold-flat massage seats, and champagne bubble baths at the hotel might be the norm for Warren Buffett and the 1%-ers. But the rest of us are lucky to survive our trips without strangling a flight attendant. With pay-toilets on the airplane, $30-a-day hotel Wi-Fi, and this lady at the check-in counter … these days, travel can royally suck.

But it doesn’t have to. You just need to retake control of your travel destiny. Call it: “being a control enthusiast“. In this three-part series, we reveal our favorite tips for doing just that …

“Better travel through technology.” That’s my personal motto. These days, there’s a gadget, app, or gizmo for almost everything. I mean ev-er-ee-thing. And when you’re a control enthusiast, that means being able to claim your personal travel space like a boss. Here are my favorite bits of kit for obsessive travelers looking to leave home without ever leaving all the comforts of home.

Keep It Tidy with a Real Seat Back Organizer


You like to control your personal space, to keep things neat and tidy. Everything from your underwear drawer and medicine cabinet, to the change tray in your Volvo … so why not the seat back on your next flight? Stay organized like a pro with a proper seat back organizer (or seat back valet if you’re a dandy), preferably something with at least 60 pockets so you can alphabetize your necessities by color, size, and level of usefulness. If you’re a real executive, splurge for an Executive TRAYblecloth Airplane Tray Organizer so the world knows you’re not messing around.

Leave the Suitcase, Pack the Vest


Checked luggage is for rookies. And, honestly, carry-on bags are too. Just leave the suitcase at home and pack it all into the Rufus Roo BIG POCKET Travel Jacket. Imagine everything you need for a weekend away, neatly organized, and within arm’s reach. Shoes, passport, iPad, shirts, a parka, wine bottles, firewood … everything. This way there’s no potential for lost luggage or anyone messing with your stuff unbeknownst to you. And the best part is that it’s available in Stealth Black so no one will see you comin’.

If You Must, Pack Luggage That’s (Probably) Smarter Than You


If you absolutely must pack a proper suitcase, leave the tattered Samsonite at home. Upgrade to a suitcase that would make James Bond proud — one that constantly checks in with you and lets you know where it is at all times. Check out Bluesmart: the “world’s first smart, connected carry-on”. It’s a high quality uber-suitcase that features location tracking, a Bluetooth lock, USB battery charger, integrated smart scale, and its own trip data app. It probably even has more Twitter followers than you.

Less Humans, More Travel Apps


Travel would be so much awesomer if it weren’t for all those other people. Thankfully, there’s a mobile app to replace most human interaction these days. Every major airline worth its salt offers a free app to ensure all your flight info is in one convenient place. Many offer mobile check-in so you can skip the ticket counter and any unnecessary chit-chat. Ditto for major hotel chains.

And with rental car apps like National’s, not only can you bypass the check-in counter entirely and head straight to your car (a perk offered to all National Emerald Club members), you won’t have to dig around for your confirmation number or small talk with Tammy, the over-caffeinated, way-too-bubbly “Associate Guest Reservation Specialist Supervisor” … just show up and be on your way.

Organize Your Packing + Itinerary


… and that list of travel apps includes serious essentials to help organize your obsessive packing routine and keep your travel plans in check. TripIt Pro puts all the details of your itinerary in one easy-to-read app, meaning there’s never a question about your flight, hotel, or car reservations. The Packing Pro app lets you create, customize, and organize your packing lists so you can rest assured that you’ll never forget a single toothbrush cover or your favorite Hello Kitty dress socks.

Stay Dry Under Any Conditions with the Ultimate Umbrella


It probably rains in other parts of the world. But real control enthusiasts don’t worry about such things. They don’t get wet because they don’t have to – especially with the ultimate umbrella. The Senz original storm umbrella can survive 100 km/h winds so it has you covered in any weather conditions. No matter if you’re visiting Bora Bora in monsoon season or BASE jumping in a drizzle, your wrinkle-free khakis and perfectly coiffed hairdo will remain so.

Get Perfect Joe on the Go


Everyone knows it’s hard — nay, impossible — to find good coffee away from home. You don’t wanna be stuck in, say, Colombia without access to a reliable Starbucks. No worries. Just throw the hand-powered Minipresso Portable Travel Espresso Coffeemaker into your Rufus Roo Travel Jacket and you’ll never be without the perfect macchiato again. As long as you have access to mini espresso pods, piping hot water, a cleaning brush, your Peppermint Mocha creamer, and a hand, you’re good to go.

The post The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Obsessively (Part 1): The Gear appeared first on Vagabondish.

Top 5 Public Transportation Systems in South America

The Transmilenio in Bogotá

The Transmilenio in Bogotá

This amenity ranks near the top of my list for ranking a city, an amenity found in the city I live in today and the two before that.

I’m talking about good public transportation.

What I’ve been surprised to learn is how great it is in some of South America’s more modern cities, because, well, even many U.S. cities that could use it don’t have it, either because of corruption involving contracting, or a lack of political will to push through one of these initiatives. (I used to be a journalist that covered growth and development so I’m quite familiar with all this.)

That’s fine. I don’t plan to live in the states again. I’m happy in Bogotá, where I don’t need a car.

But is Bogotá one of the top 5 public transportation systems in South America? I have traveled extensively throughout the continent and feel I can make a fair hypothesis on the topic.

Here’s what I need:

  • An extensive system: This is the most important factor, more so than anything else because the point of public transportation is to get to as many places as possible, as quickly as possible, without a car. At least it is for me.
  • A modern system: Rapid transit buses are a minimum requirement. Ideally, there will be a Metro or Subway system.

That’s it.

I don’t care about cleanliness or crowding because I’ve dealt with both so often in New York and Washington, D.C.

I care about safety, but I’ve seen police so often at the public transportation systems on this list, I don’t think much about it, other than protecting myself against pickpockets, something I do everywhere.

And cost isn’t really a factor either, because it’s almost the same at all of them, usually somewhere around $1.25, give or take 50 to 75 cents, prices cheaper than the D.C. Metro or New York Subway and cheaper than a taxi in any of the cities these systems serve.

In the words of four-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Belichick, we’re on to the list!

Santiago Subterraneo map

Santiago Subterraneo map

1. Subterraneo

Santiago, Chile

Santiago might be one of the dullest big cities I’ve ever visited, but when it comes to public transportation, it has no equals.

The first Subterraneo line opened in 1975 and today the system is extensive and modern, a primarily underground maze of trains that serves more than 6 million people, and it works great. I used it often when I was there.

As I said earlier, I don’t care about cleanliness as a factor for these rankings, but I am impressed when I see it, and the Subterraneo in Santiago has it.

It’s quite the contrast from what you see above ground, where a layer of smog gives the city a hazy carapace of pollution.

Buenos Aires Subterraneo map

Buenos Aires Subterraneo map

2. Subterraneo

Buenos Aires, Argentina

This is a close second.

The Subterraneo in Buenos Aires has everything Santiago does except modern train cars. But I still enjoyed using the system.

Its first section opened just over a hundred years ago, in 1913, and today it covers quite a bit of the Buenos Aires area, which is home to almost 13 million people.

Riding the Subte, as it is often called, felt like using the New York Subway: it’s old and dirty but gets you where you need to go.

You just need to learn the map. For me, using the Buenos Aires Subte was easier than crossing Avenida 9 de Julio, the 14-lane thoroughfare — 18, if you count the two-lane access roads flanking each side of the avenue — that is the widest in the world.

Bogotá Transmilenio map

Bogotá Transmilenio map

3. Transmilenio

Bogotá, Colombia

I’m going to catch hell for this from some readers when they get to No. 4. But I’ll worry about defending it in the next section.

Here I’ll tell you why I like the Transmilenio.

First of all, it’s extensive. It covers a broad area of Bogotá, where a cacophony of car horns blare in the streets because this metro area of more than 10 million people tests everyone’s patience.

Second, it’s relatively modern. The Transmilenio is a series of rapid transit buses, most of which have their lanes, so they don’t have to fight through the same traffic that provokes so many drivers to hit their steering wheels.

Only the Septima line runs with the other vehicles on the road, but that’s fine. It’s worth the sacrifice to ride to the Usaquen, Bogotá’s prettiest neighborhood.

Medellín Metro map

Medellín Metro map

4. Metro

Medellín, Colombia

For the pro-Metro readers who are aghast now over its ranking below the Transmilenio, let me explain.

I’ll start with the good stuff. I love how modern the system is, with its above-ground trains, rapid transit buses, cable cars, and soon, a tram east of downtown. All of that is great.

It’s a lot cleaner than the Transmilenio as well. But remember, I don’t care about cleanliness.

I just need to get to as many places as possible without a car, and the Transmilenio covers a lot more ground than the Medellín Metro system.

Maybe someday, as Medellín grows, and more additions are completed in the system, I can move this up.

Recife Metro map

Recife Metro map

5. Metro

Recife, Brazil

Yes, I’m taking Recife over Rio de Janeiro for the same reason I picked the Transmilenio over the Medellín Metro: extension.

The Recife system is nothing special, but it seems to serve more people than the system in Rio, where the system is basically one line — albeit a very long line — but I can’t imagine one line is enough for a metropolitan area of more than 12.5 million people.

In Recife, there are three lines: one that runs north-south, two that run east-west, one of them that veers off to the intercity bus terminal.

I’ll admit, I have yet to go to Rio, but I’ve talked to friends who are from there or who have been there, and it just doesn’t serve as big an area as it should.

At least the folks in Rio can say one thing: they’re better off than São Paulo.


Lima Travel GuideDave's 160-page, all-original Lima Travel Guide is now available for Kindle and PDF.

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