After taking it easy at the retreat in San Juan del Sur, I headed north about 5 hours to León, the second largest city in Nicaragua, after Managua. It is a Spanish colonial city with lots of character and a colorful history. It is known as the political and intellectual center of the nation, housing the second oldest university in Central America. León was the original capital in 1839. The capital then shifted between León and Granada until 1852, when Managua became the permanent capital.
On my first day, I signed up for a free walking tour, which was a great way to learn a bit and get a lay of the land. We visited several of the historical churches and schools, street murals, and the market where we tried some of the traditional foods and drinks. After the tour, I went to the art museum which was amazing. There were several historical buildings filled with everything from religious art to modern contemporary art. What a treat!
Nicaragua is blessed with 19 volcanos strung along the west coast, both active and dormant, which are part of the Ring of Fire. Many of the volcanos are near Leon, and seeing their beauty all around the city, I had to get closer. After a quick lunch, I found the Volcano Day tour office to inquire about the volcanoboarding my friend Vera had told me was a “not to miss” adventure as well as see what else they had to offer. I decided on the volcano boarding at Cerro Negro Volcano the following day, and then an overnight hiking/camping trip to Telica Volcano after that. As I was headed out, feeling happy with my plan, I was approached by the guide who does the history tour with sunset views from the highest point in the city, so I jumped on board with that for the evening. YOLO!
The history tours from the locals are interesting, and definitely give a different perspective than what we learned in school. I’m happy to discuss more if anyone is interested. This tour took us to Cárcel la 21, a prison that housed political prisoners, and is a symbol of terrible torture that took place here. Every year July, there is a reenactment march to free the remaining prisoners. It was a pretty dark place to be.
Volcanoboarding at Cerro Negro (the completely black volcano): We piled in the back of the truck with our gear and boards and headed to Cerro Negro about 45 minutes away. When we arrived, we unloaded the truck and received our boards and packs with goggles, gloves, and protective suits. The hike up the 728 m/2,388 ft volcano through the lava fields was about 45 minutes and the views were stunning. We could see many other active and inactive volcanos all around and had the luxury of a bit of cloud cover and breeze thankfully! At the top we geared up, got our instructions, and headed down the hill. It was a fun, dusty ride down, and well worth it!
Telica Volcano Camping: When the day came for my camping trip, me, a guide, and two volunteers, loaded up our packs with tents, sleeping bags, 6 liters of water, and our personal stuff (about 30 lbs/13 kg), and headed out in the truck with another couple and their guide/volunteer who would join us for the hike and sunset piece. The roads to the volcano were pretty bad as there was a huge downpour the night before, so we had to reroute a couple of times to reach the trailhead. The hike in through the jungle and up the 1,061 m/3,480 ft volcano to the crater was about 3 hours and very hot, rocky, and sweaty, but beautiful and well worth the energy. When we reached the top we were rewarded with a beautiful veggie baguette sandwich that the guides prepared. The man who works at the monitoring station had a cooler of beers for sale as well. It was so delicious and much needed!
After lunch, we hiked down below the crater to the camping spot and setup the tents with the cows and horses watching closely. There was a bit of thunder and a few sprinkles, but it quickly passed, and we were blessed with a nice night. We played a game of cards and had a quick rest before heading out to see a couple of viewpoints, and a bat cave before returning to the crater for sunset. The crater is huge and really something! The ground around it is very hot, and steam rises from the cracks and the giant crater smelling of strong sulfur. It was such a great evening to relax and watch the sunset. Once dark, the hiking group left, and we stayed up top to watch the lightening storm in the distance beyond the crater. It was surreal with the steam rising from the earth and the skies flashing every few seconds. I’m so glad I did this!!!
We hiked down to camp with our headlamps and as the guide made a fire, we prepared our dinner which was also delicious…a fresh veggie mixture with beans, avocado, cucumber, beets, corn, smashed chips and wrapped in tortillas. After dinner we even got to toast marshmallows! Amazing!
The horses and cows munched the grass around our tents most of the night, and when I got up to pee, found about 30 of them surrounding us in the field. It was so funny, they were all just chilling, and keeping an eye on us.
We got up at 4:30 am, packed up, and headed back up to the crater for sunrise and breakfast (oats, granola, cinnamon & honey with water and a smashed banana). It was breathtaking watching the sunrise over the volcanos as the clouds rolled in and the steam rose from the craters! Afterwards, we took the shorter route down (about 1 hour) to our pickup spot to return to town. Back at the office, the volunteers allowed me to use their shower before I grabbed lunch and got a ride to Las Peñitas, a small beach town, on the coast about 30 minutes west of León. More on this later!
Until next time, cheers, hugs & love! Michelle