If you do not enjoy:
- unbelievable heat
- stifling humidity
- drowning in your own sweat
- steep inclines
- using your arms/hands as much as your legs/feet when you hike
- getting muddy
hiking Volcán Maderas on the Island of Ometepe is not for you!
Started out at 8am (much later than I would have wanted, but that was the schedule) with 19 year old Orbin as my guide. We took off from Finca Mystica on the Merida access at what I thought was a fairly fast pace (I was a little worried for what this meant when we got to the steep part), and after about 20 minutes came to another example of the island’s petroglyphs.
Very cool one I thought – in the bottom left you can see the concentric rings that seem to indicate the two volcanoes the make up the island of Ometepe, top middle (and a little hard to see in the photo I admit) is an outline of the Maderas Volcano as it appears from this spot, and just below that to the right is what we could assume might be a picture of the crater lake that you can see from the top of the Volcano.
It didn’t take too long for the path to start to incline noticeably, but the nice thing was that when it did, at least it was almost completely covered in cloud forest. It was still incredibly hot and the sweat was pouring off, but at least the sun wasn’t beating down as well.
Orbin and I were talking ten-to-the-dozen for the first part of the hike but when it really started to get steep, my talking noticeably dropped off… Thankfully Orbin (who does this hike often) was of the firm belief that it wasn’t a race to the top and chattered away happily telling me about his life, his hopes and his dreams, as well as snippets about Volcán Maderas itself. For example, how the adults fled to the upper reaches during the times of Somoza and their children used to hike the volcano twice a day to bring them food.
There were a couple of decent views on the way up, and the last 1/3 of the way to the top was really much more of a scramble than a hike. Here’s where it started to get muddy, and the going was a lot slower as you had to spend more time looking for ways to pull yourself up over roots and boulders. Well I did – Orbin it turned out was half mountain goat!
I actually prefer this type of hiking rather than just an uphill slog on a reasonable path – I find that the constant figuring out of how I’m going to get up to the next set of obstacles distracts me from the fact that my heart feels like it is going to leap out of my chest. The Brewster’s Hut hike in New Zealand was very similar.
Finally, after 4 hours, we made it to the very small clearing at the top of Volcán Maderas. To the south was the view of the crater lake (now much reduced because of the drought). Apparently on a clear day you can the Solentiname Islands, but unfortunately there is such a lot of smoke haze around at the minute from all the fires we couldn’t see that far.
To the left, a view across the whole island of Ometepe to Volcán Concepción – the active volcano that makes up the other half of the island (and which you can also climb). That’s Playa Domingo in the middle on the right – one of the more popular tourist destinations on the Island. Remember, this is an island in a lake, not the ocean. It’s just a very, very, very big lake!
Had lunch admiring the view and when we decided to head down, I asked Orbin whether there were other tracks leading to the summit. He said that there were 2 others and if I wanted, we could descend the Santa Cruz side and then catch a bus back to Merida. Absolutely!
This side was equally steep and much, much muddier and again, the top 1/3 was more a climb down than a walk down.
I ended up getting extremely muddy, Orbin only marginally so, but at least I was able to pick up my end of the chatter again now that I wasn’t sucking in such deep breaths. We covered a lot more ground including families, relationships, importance of education and food (amongst others) – he really was a fabulous hiking companion and wise beyond his years. Again, have I mentioned how wonderful it is to be able to speak spanish 🙂
As we got to the lower slopes of Volcán Maderas and the number of tracks increased, we had an ongoing “tease” about whether or not we were actually lost. He’d only descended this side of the volcano a couple of times and ended up calling one of his mates (who hikes this side more regularly) at least twice to determine exactly which of the numerous tracks we should take. We did eventually make it to the road and celebrated with an ice cold “Fresco” (lemon soft drink) while we waited for the bus to take us back to Merida.
Bus arrived about on time (old US school bus of course) and to travel <10km it took more than 1/2 hour – the world’s slowest bus ride. Then it was another 15 minute walk back along the road to the Finca and the end of our journey.
Really awesome day – but make no mistake – hiking Volcán Maderas is hard work! Orbin was really fabulous and I highly recommend him as a guide (he also speaks English).
Time required: 7-8 hours. We reached the summit in 4 hours, spent about 45 minutes at the top eating lunch, and took 3 hours to come down the Santa Cruz side. About an hour extra waiting for the bus and the bus trip back to Merida.
Cost: US$30 because I was the only person hiking. If there are more people in your group the cost goes down enormously.
Recommended place to stay: If you are after a peaceful and “remote” place to stay on Ometepe away from the main tourist crowds – I can highly recommend the Finca Mystica. Their staff are amazing! Both this volcano hike and the horseback riding I did was arranged through them and the guides were local people. I stayed in the Communal Cob (got the whole thing to myself because I was the only guest at the time), which is very cheap. It’s an extremely large room (not like a regular cramped dorm), and the shared bathrooms (which are just outside) were also large and very clean. The food is also incredible (best pineapple and passionfruit smoothie I’ve had in Nicaragua) and included things like Thai soup and Indian curry – fabulous if you have been in Central America for a while and are hankering for something a bit different to beans and rice! They also offer 2 vegetarian options each night. Or you can walk the ~25 minutes into Merida for other food options.