Tag Archives: volcano

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Hiking Ecuador – Fuya Fuya

Along with Volcán Pasachoa, the other mountain that for some reason I desperately wanted to climb while living in Ecuador this year was Fuya Fuya.  It was actually for this reason that I decided to base myself in Otavalo for a week – the Cascada de PegucheLaguna Cuicocha and the Día de los Difuntos were just bonuses 🙂

Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to find other people who want to hike to the summit of a 4,200m mountain, especially when it turns out that Otavalo is very quiet outside of the two main market days (Wednesday and Saturday) and very, very few tourists actually stay there (they tend to do day tours from Quito).  So in the end, I sprung for the whole taxi fare to take me to the trail-head and hiked on my own.

Maps.Me screenshot with markers indicating the route I took while hiking Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Maps.Me markers showing the route I took while hiking Fuya Fuya

I started out early, hoping that I could reach the summit of Fuya Fuya before the clouds obscured everything and the rain came. 40 minutes later, the taxi had delivered me to Laguna Caricocha, which is one of the Mojanda Lakes and the starting point for the hike. 

One of the Mojanda lakes - Laguna Caricocha under very grey skies. At the start of the hike to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

The weather was looking pretty grim upon arrival at Laguna Caricocha, one of the Mojanda Lakes and the start of the hiking trail to the summit of Fuya Fuya

From there, I took a straight shot up a very steep hill, which turned out not to be the main trail after all.

The very steep hill I climbed at the start of my hike up Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

In fact, I was about 2/3 the way up to the summit of Fuya Fuya (not the top of this first hill) before I managed to make my way across to the main hiking trail.  And although I probably made things way harder for myself by bush-bashing through the páramo, it was all good – I was heading in the right general direction.  

As always, the views  were stunning.

Paramo scenery while hiking to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

And were made even more special when I starting coming across wildflowers in the steep upper reaches of the climb.

Wildflowers and Paramo scenery while hiking to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Fuya Fuya actually has two peaks, and I’d been told to make sure I took the right hand route (which is slightly lower) once I got to the saddle point.  This is because there is a tall rock that needs to be scaled if you take the left hand route.  I ended up hiking along the ridge to the left-hand side just to see, but the infamous rock was very visible and very obviously not doable without equipment (or a death wish).

View of the highest of the Fuya Fuya peaks from the saddle. Near Otavalo in Ecuador

So I backtracked and headed for the right hand peak, which itself had a smaller rock that needed to be scaled and which I admit gave me a brief pause.

The slightly lower Fuya Fuya peak as seen from the saddle point. Near Otavalo, Ecuador

Yes, you climb straight up to the top

But the views were totally worth it!

Panorama of the view from summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador. Includes the Cotocatchi, Cayambe volcanoes and Laguna Caricocha

The valley to the north and Laguna Caricocha from the top of Fuya Fuya

Panorama of the view from summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador. Includes the Cayambe, Antisana and Cotopaxi volcanoes and Laguna Caricocha

The view to the east from Laguna Caricocha to the other peak of Fuya Fuya. Obscured in the photo (but visible in real life) are the snow-capped volcanos of Cayambe, Antisana, Cotopaxi.

As you can see, the weather improved enormously while I was hiking and by the time I got to the summit, it was absolutely incredible.  I pulled out another wonderful App I have called Peakfinder, and could see Cotocatchi, Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi, with a glimpse of the Chimborazo volcano on the horizon.   All the snow-capped volcanoes were a little disguised by the background cloud, but their peaks were clearly visible when I first arrived.

It was so beautiful, and such a lovely day, that I ended up finding a rock to stretch out on and just stayed up here for a couple of hours admiring the view.   Really – it doesn’t get much better than this!

View Laguna Caricocha from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Laguna Caricocha and the Cayambe volcano (just to the right of the lake) from my perch at the summit of Fuya Fuya.

Me relaxing on a large flat rock at the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

This is the life!

Eventually the wind picked up and the clouds started to come over, so I decided to make my way back down the other trail.  Apparently this is actually the main route to the top – the one with the signs (well, sign) I’d read about on the internet.

The only trail sign I saw on the hike up Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

A few more of these would have been helpful

This whole hike is just spectacular páramo scenery.

The main hiking trail descending Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

The descent was also incredibly steep, and, just like on Pasochoa, I ended up grabbing fistfuls of páramo grass to help me descend.  However, at some point I realised that the route I was taking looked like (and was as slippery as) a giant, grass slippery dip…   And so yes, I actually decided to slide, rather than walk down 🙂

The very slippery main trail descending from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

The descent from the summit of Fuya Fuya – exactly like a slippery dip!

I ended up with hiking pants and undies full of páramo, but I also managed to find $5 – undoubtedly dropped by someone else who had had the same idea!

The $5 note I found on my way down from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Bonus!

From there it was an easy hike back down the actual trail to the Mojanda Lakes.

The main hiking trail as it climbs to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

My original plan was to hike all the way around the Mojanda lakes as well, but given that I ended up spending so much time stretched out on the rock at the summit, I didn’t have time before my taxi returned to collect me.

I did, however, manage to do a quick hike along the road out to the base of Cerro Negro and the turnoff to Laguna Chiriacu before having to turn back.

View of Cerro Negro on my hike along the shore of Laguna Caricocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

Looking up at Cerro Negro – an alternate hike in this area

Overall, it was an incredible hike and I’m so grateful for the amazing weather I ended up having!  Definitely a highlight!

Recommendation

If you like hiking, this is a great acclimatization climb that is not technical at all (well, except for that rock).  Especially if you have good weather!  In order to also hike the Mojanda Lakes after climbing Fuya Fuya, I would suggest you ask your taxi driver to pick you up at the end of the road near Laguna Huamicocha, rather than where he drops you off near Laguna Caricocha – that way you don’t have to back-track.

Cost:  I just used a taxi arranged by my hostel for USD$30.  He collected me at the hostel when I asked, and returned to collect me at Laguna Caricocha at the requested time for this price.

Time: To climb Fuya Fuya takes about 3 hours.  I spent about 6 hours out here and wished I’d stayed 8.

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Hiking Ecuador – Laguna Cuicocha

Most people come to Otavalo for the enormous Saturday market on a day tour.  They catch the bus up from Quito early in the morning or the night before, shop, and then catch the bus back, without ever stopping to explore the surroundings.  Which is a shame, because Otavalo is ringed by volcanoes and there is a lot of great hiking to be done.   

One of the easiest hikes (if you can call doing anything between 3,100m and 3,500m easy) is the 14km circuit around the rim of the crater that contains Laguna Cuicocha (I also hiked to the summit of Fuya Fuya, which is much more difficult).  Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem like many people do this – I only came across one Ecuadorian family who had carted a portable BBQ and boxes of food (!!!) up to the highest point for a picnic, and a group of older North Americans who had also only hiked part of the way around (and the not-so-interesting part at that!).

Which is bizarre – because it is a beautiful hike!

I had managed to convince my Argentinean hostel room-mate to do the hike with me to share the cost of the taxi out there (one of the hardest things about hiking in Ecuador is actually getting to the trail-head).  She was up for a 9am leave-the-hostel, but I convinced her it would be better to leave at 8am 🙂  We arrived at 8:40am to a beautifully still lake and almost perfect reflections. 

Almost perfect reflections in Laguna Cuicocha as seen while hiking the crater rim near Otavalo, Ecuador

I’ll never understand why people don’t want to start out as early as possible given the possibility of seeing something so amazing.

We then set off on the hike in an anti-clockwise direction.

My Argentinean room-mate hiking the the trail around Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

Given it is an eroded crater rim, there are plenty of ups and a few downs, especially for the first half, but the trail is extremely obvious and very well cared for.

Images of the well-maintained trail around Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

There really isn’t too much to say about the hike itself – nothing spectacularly interesting happened along the way, nor were there any real challenges.  It was all just about the changing views of the lake.

Various views of Laguna Cuicocha, taken while hiking the crater rim near near Otavalo, Ecuador

And the views to the surrounding volcanoes, particularly Volcán Imbabura, and Volcán Cotocatchi, which towers above it.

Views of the surrounding volcanos while hiking the rim of Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

Volcán Imabura (top) and Volcán Cotocatchi (bottom) from the the rim of Laguna Cuicocha

The name Laguna Cuicocha means “Lake of the Guinea Pig” in the Quechua language, possibly named after the shape of its largest island – Teodoro Wolf (the smaller island is called Yerovi).

Wide view of Teodoro Wolf Island in Laguna Cuicocha while hiking the crater rim near Otavalo, Ecuador

The shape of Teodoro Wolf island perhaps gave the lake its name

And although I didn’t see any guinea pigs, there were the last vestiges of what must have been an amazing bloom of flowers and orchids about a month before!

Many different flowers that lined the hiking route around the rim of Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

All up, I took about 4.5 hours to hike around the rim, but that was with a couple of long stops to chat, and taking lots of photos.  For me, the first half (going anti-clockwise) was the most rewarding, as the last third basically tracked along a road.  Though I admit there were great views across to Volcán Cotocatchi.   

Volcán Cotocatchi as seen from across Laguna Cotocatchi while hiking the crater rim near Otavalo, Ecuador

I didn’t end up calling into the tourist enclave at the end, but my understanding is that boat trips on the lake only cost a few dollars if you don’t want to hike.  However, you would be missing out on the best part, as you really need the height that the rim provides to have the most spectacular vistas.

Recommendations

Do this hike!  It is beautiful and well worth the effort.

Time:  about 4.5 hours

Cost:  USD$12.50 each (USD$25 for the taxi).  I was lazy and just got the taxi provided by the hostel, given I could split the cost.

 

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Hiking Ecuador – Volcán Pasochoa

There are several hikes that are within reach of Quito on a day trip, but the main issue is getting to the trail-heads on public transport.  Given that I’d already hiked to the summit of Rucu Pichincha last year, the one I particularly wanted to do was Volcán Pasochoa, but it seemed like it was going to be difficult or expensive to get there on my own. Plus I really would prefer not to hike by myself (I’ve been trying to find a hiking group ever since I arrived).

So imagine my elation when I saw an event for climbing Volcán Pasochoa come through one of the expat Facebook groups I’m part of.  I immediately deposited the $10 in the bank account (why doesn’t Ecuador use PayPal??!!) and was in!

Of course, the day of the hike turned out to be the worst day weather-wise since arriving in Ecuador 3 months ago.  Usually the days start out with brilliant sunshine, and then the clouds come over by about lunchtime.  But to start with rain… It didn’t bode well!

Still, at 6:30am I headed to meeting point at the Universidad de las Américas (UDLA), hoping that by some miracle it would suddenly clear up.  I was just about to send a message to Nicolas saying I was piking and going home, but ended up sticking it out and heading off in the school bus with 10 other intrepid souls.  Turns out I’d gatecrashed the UDLA Outdoors club!

The UDLA minibus that would take us to the trail head of hike to Volcán Pasochoa, just outside of Quito, Ecuador

Yes, we went in a school bus

It took about an hour to get to the trail-head of Volcán Pasochoa, and the weather still looked pretty ordinary.

View from the start of the hiking trail to Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

View from the start of the trail – Volcán Pasochoa

Nicolas started us off with a warm-up – we each had to introduce ourselves, say a little about ourselves and then choose a warm-up exercise to get our bodies prepared for hiking.  I was the only non-Latino in the group, which I get the feeling was a bit of a novelty.

Hiking companions warming up before starting along the trail to Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

Warming up and introducing ourselves

Introductions made and warm-up done, it was time to start the hike.  The first part was not very steep, though doing any form of activity at 3,200m always give the lungs and heart a good workout.

Hiking companions starting up the trail to Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

We passed through (squeezed through in some areas) a small forest 

Hiking companions following the trail through a small forest on the way to Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

and emerged to a welcoming party of cows … who were not at all keen to let us pass.  They specifically came running towards us to block our path!

Cows blocking our hiking route to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

These cows thought they were trolls … guarding the route to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa

After negotiating half of a ladder

Hiking companions negotiating a fence along the hiking trail to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

the climb began in earnest though the páramo – Ecuador’s high grasslands.

Hiking companions climbing through the Páramo on the way to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

The weather was not improving as we climbed higher, but at least it wasn’t raining … yet!

The group hiking through fog and the Páramo, en-route to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

The fog kept rolling across, but we could see the summit of Pasochoa when we weren’t too far away.

Summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador. As seen from the hiking trail below.

The summit of Volcán Pasochoa is at the top

And I was very, very happy to finally see the “classic” view of the ridge-line (at least) of the volcanic crater on our way up.

Ridge-line of the crater as seen from below while hiking to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

The classic view of Pasochoa

I can only imagine what the view must be like on a clear day … a volcanic crater that drops away suddenly with vistas to the even taller volcanoes of the region.  But I did find the fog-filled crater really compelling – moody, and very, very mysterious.   Despite not being able to see much, this view was spectacular, and made the hike totally worthwhile.

Crater ridge and crater filled with fog, while hiking to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

My favourite image from the hike

We had a fairly quick lunch at the summit (4,200m above sea level) as the fog socked in around us

Me at the very foggy summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

Here I am at the summit of Volcán Pasochoa. I include my location and altitude on Maps.Me, just in case you don’t believe me…

before starting the return journey.

2 of my hiking companions following the ridge lining the fog-filled crater of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

It did actually start raining on the hike down, turning the already very slippery mud track into an absolute nightmare

The very muddy and waterlogged trail we were hiking along while descending from the summit Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

Thank goodness páramo grass isn’t blade grass, because the only way to ensure you didn’t slip and fall was to grab handfuls of it in order to anchor yourself as you very carefully took the next step.   Of course, with the rain, the páramo was constantly wet, which in turn froze our hands and soaked our pants to the point where we couldn’t get any colder or wetter if we tried.

Wet Páramo grass with beads of moisture along the hiking trail to Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

Despite the less-than-stellar weather, I had an awesome time with the UDLA group, and I’m trying to arrange my schedule so I can do a few more hikes with them in January.  Wish I’d found these guys 3 months ago!!

Oh – I also discovered that at least several of the group spoke good English, though we spoke in Spanish the whole day.  I did suggest at the summit that because we’d spoken Spanish all the way up, we had to speak English all the way down – but they out-voted me.   I really didn’t mind 🙂  Great practice for me and I look forward to our next adventure together!

Recommendation

This was a beautiful hike, despite the fact that we didn’t get to see very much. I imagine it must be spectacular on a bright sunny day!  Another great acclimatization hike if you can figure out how to get to the trail-head.

Cost:  It cost me USD$10 to do this with UDLA, including guide and transportation

Time:  We took about 5 hours to hike to the summit and back.  It was another hour each way in the minibus from and to Quito

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Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia – Part 2

Day 2 of our trip through the Salar de Uyuni had us exploring the Tunupa Volcano.   This was the bit that turned the regular 3-day trip into a 4-day trip and I was super-keen to get out and do a bit of walking again.

We first of all visited the mummies of Coquesa – with a short tour by a local guide who was actually very difficult to understand.  These mummies date to around 700 AD and have been preserved by the cold, dry climate.

Coquisa Cementery - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Then we headed up on a short hike (not difficult at all) to the two viewpoints on the Tunapa volcano.   Actually – there is a higher mirador as well, but you needed a specialised guide for that one.

Tunupa Volcano - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

From these viewpoints you get an amazing view out over the Salar, and a decent idea for how big it actually is.  It is absolutely enormous!  And to be honest, the photos don’t do it justice!

View from Tunupa Volcano - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Of course, you also get an amazing view of the super-colourful Tunupa volcano.  In my opinion – this was much more impressive and colourful than the Rainbow Mountain outside of Cusco in Peru.  And I didn’t have to get up at 3am to do it!

Tunupa Volcano - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

From there we headed south across the Salar towards Incahuasi Island but, rather than joining all the other million tourists having lunch at the island, we decided to have lunch out in the middle of nowhere on the salt flat.  A much better idea 🙂

Lunch - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Lunch on the Salar – served out of the back of our 4WD

There was also a point as we were driving along where the heat haze made some reflections that vaguely approximated the awesome reflections that are possible when the lake is full of water.  I had to jump out and take a picture of the “floating island”, even though it was not a patch on what I’d seen in 2001.

Floating Island - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

We ended up with 2.5 hours to explore Incahuasi Island, which is famous for its large amount of enormous cacti (Trichocereus pasacana according to Wikipedia).

Incahuasi Island - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Given the island is pretty small, this is actually a lot of time.  So I headed up the main track to the top of the island and then did a bit of a choose-my-own-adventure to try to find a place where I couldn’t hear the impromptu concert put on by a visiting school band, and could sit in silence and contemplate the landscape.  Eventually found it on the far side of the island, well off the beaten path and in an area that was full of fossilised algae and coral.

Fossilised Coral and algae - Incahuasi Island - Salar de Uyuni -Bolivia

From there we headed across to the western side of the Salar and, just before leaving the salt flat, stopped and waited to watch one last sunset across the Salar.   Cold thanks to the wind that was howling a gale, but absolutely stunning!

Sunset - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Stayed in another Salt Hotel this night in the small town of Aguaquiza, and headed out to the Galaxy Cave as a night excursion.  To be honest, this was a little underwhelming – the cave is very small though I do admit the structures in the cave were the most delicate I’d ever seen.   What was fantastic was how excited the guy who found them was about showing them to us and to relate the tale of their discovery 🙂

Cuerva de Galaxias (Galaxy Cave) - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Very delicate structures in the Cuerva de Galaxias. Can you spot the elephant in the top image?

He then took us to another cave that was full of ancient tombs.   Nothing in them (all looted long ago) but really quite impressive the sheer number of them in this one small place.

Tombs near Aguaquiza - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Then it was up onto a platform to freeze to death while looking at the stars.  Unfortunately, it was fairly cloudy so this wasn’t exactly the success it could have been, and I admit I became an impromptu guide as I pointed out various constellations to the group, and expounded the virtues of visiting SpaceObs in San Pedro de Atacama if they were heading that way.

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Quito’s Teleférico and Volcán Pichincha

One of the things I had been ummming and ahhhing about doing since arriving in Quito was going up the teleférico and climbing Volcán Pichincha.    What finally decided me was a) signing up to do the 3-day Ecuadorian Inca Trail hike (I figured some hiking preparation wouldn’t hurt) and b) an invitation from Charlotte.

So off we headed at 9:30am to join the queue at the teleférico.  This is an enclosed cable-car that whisks you from ~2,950 meters above sea level to 4,050 meters above sea level in about 10 minutes.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait very long (only about 1/2 hour), though waits of up to 2 hours are not unusual – best to get there early!

Quito teleférico

The teleférico delivers you to Cruz Loma – a wonderful viewpoint over Quito with a couple of cafes to keep you snacking.  If you are lucky – you can also see several of the large Volcanos near Quito – again, try to get there as early as possible to have the best chance of seeing them before the clouds roll in.  We were only semi-lucky.

Quito teleférico view

View over Quito from Cruz Loma. Volcanos starting to be lost in the clouds in the background.

Getting to this point satisfies the majority of visitors.  However, on the day we visited (Ecuadorian Independence holiday), there were not an insignificant number (most of them locals) who decided do the 3 hour climb to Rucu Pichincha.

Volcán Pichincha trek

Rucu Pichincha – that’s the path going up the right.

Now, normally when a hike is advertised as 3 hours, I can usually expect to make it in a faster time.   Not this one!  It took every minute of 3 hours to do it (even though I was semi-acclimatised) and, in the immortal words of Egg Chen in “Big Trouble in Little China” it “wasn’t easy”.

(yes, those that know me very well know this is one of my favourite movies and one of my favourite quotes from it 🙂 )

It is a seriously, seriously steep climb starting at 4,050m above sea level.   For the first couple of hours you struggle up a very obvious track, stopping every so often because you just have to take another photo of the gorgeous view (not because your heart is pounding out of your chest and you can’t breathe).

Volcán Pichincha trek

But then the fun really starts!   The path suddenly stops at a rock, which you have to climb (with a very steep drop off to the other side) in order to continue.

Volcán Pichincha trek

Where did the path go? The first rock obstacle to be overcome on the climb to Rucu Pichincha

This is where Charlotte had to turn back – her vertigo finally got the better of her – and I have to admit it was extremely tempting to forgo the rest of the pain and return with her.

But I decided I would regret it if I didn’t make the top (especially given that I had to be much fitter than many of the people I saw descending the mountain – ok admittedly some of them were in tears – really!), so onward and upward….

Volcán Pichincha trek

The path skirts the side of the volcano with a fairly steep drop-off – that’s Quito down in the valley.  These guys are actually descending as I’m ascending

If anything, it just got worse.   The path degraded into a track and then into nothing but a sandy 45-50 degree slope that you somehow had to get to the top of.   I could see where people were clambering on the rocks above me near the summit, and aimed for that general direction.

Volcán Pichincha trek

The 45-50 degree sand climb to the top, with Quito in the valley far below. These guys were descending as I was ascending

Finally made the top of the sand, and then climbed my way up through the rocks  (some signs would have been really helpful), and ultimately stood on top of Rucu Pichincha at 4,696 metres above sea level.

Volcán Pichincha summit

I have to admit, the views were absolutely spectacular!   And I was fortunate enough that the clouds stayed away until after I’d started descending so I could see clear across to Guagua Pichincha – the active part of the Volcano.

Volcán Pichincha summit views

Top: View towards Quito; Middle: view towards Guagua Pichincha; Bottom: view to the right of Guagua Pichincha

It’s quite cold and windy at almost 5,000m so stayed at the top for only about 20 minutes and then the fun began again – trying to get off the mountain without actually falling off!    Initially at least, this involved lots of bum-sliding to descend the rocks to arrive at the top of the sandy descent.

Volcán Pichincha trek - descent

Fortunately, the sandy descent was much more fun than the sandy ascent – you could essentially run down the sand freely without much fear of falling because the sand was quite deep 🙂  Then it was back along the narrow path, around the rock and then back down the wide path that cost so much energy going up.

Met up with Charlotte at the cafe and celebrated with this fabulous reward 🙂  No, I didn’t eat all of it – turns out Charlotte loves fairy floss too!

Pichincha reward

Then it was an hour in the teleférico queue before coming back down to Earth in Quito.  Thank you to the silver fox who gave us a lift back to the Ecovía!

For those of you who have been following my volcano climbing exploits, I still can’t figure out whether this hike was tougher than the hike up Volcán Maderas on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua.  They were both really tough – but for different reasons 🙂

 

Recommendations if you want to hike to Rucu Pichincha:

  • try to take the teleférico as soon as it opens to have the best chance for great views
  • make sure you are reasonably fit and relatively well acclimatised if you want to enjoy any part of it.
  • think twice if you suffer from vertigo, as you will most likely only get 2/3 the way to the top

Cost:

  • Taxi= ~$5 from old Quito
  • Teleférico ticket = $8.50 (more if you want to bring a pet, bike, etc)
  • Trek to Rucu Pichincha = free (though costs a lot of effort!)

Time:

  • Teleférico = 10 minutes ascent, 10 minutes descent.   Depends on number of people how long you have to wait in line, but up to 2 hours is not uncommon
  • Trek to Rucu Pichincha = 3 hrs ascent, 2 hrs descent.
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Biking Dutchman – mountain biking Ecuador

What is the most obvious thing to do when you’ve spent 1 day at altitude in the last 18 months, haven’t been on a pushbike at all for about 9 years and have never mountain biked?   Do a 3-day mountain bike tour of the Ecuadorian altiplano with the Biking Dutchman of course!

I came across the Biking Dutchman website while I was rapidly planning my first few days in Ecuador once I finally had internet access again in Cancún.  They had a 3-day trip to Cotopaxi – Quilotoa – Chimborazo starting the day after I arrived in Ecuador and I figured it would be a really great way to get out in the countryside, get some exercise and see some of Ecuador the slow way.   Acknowledging I hadn’t done that much exercise in about a month, and having not spent a lot of time at altitude, I knew this was going to hurt me, but I figured what the heck 🙂

Day 1: Cotopaxi

There were 3 other people on the 3 day trip:  Mark from Malaysia, and a couple: Sean from New Zealand and Rachel, originally from Wales, as well as Luke from the Netherlands who was only with us for the first day.   Esteban, our guide, rocked up with the Land Cruiser all ready to go with the bikes on top and off we headed towards our first sector – Cotopaxi – Ecuador’s most famous volcano.

Biking Dutchman - mountainbiking Ecuador

It’s about a 1.5-hour drive to Cotopaxi and there is no mucking about getting to altitude.  Our first stop was the Laguna Limpiopungo at 3,800m where we did a “warm-up” hike around the lagoon.  Unfortunately, the weather was not the greatest and we didn’t have the most spectacular views of Cotopaxi, but it did eventually peak out briefly.

Laguna Limpiopungo Volcan Cotopaxi - Ecuador

From there it was helmet and gloves on and time to get on the bike for the first time.  After some instruction on braking and gear changing (almost exclusively for my benefit – it turned out Sean and Rachel did a lot of mountain biking in New Zealand and Mark commuted each day on a bike), we started off riding along the dirt road towards Cotopaxi.  Turns out, sandy dirt roads are actually a little nerve-wracking for a novice mountain biker who hasn’t ridden at all for 9 years, and an adrenaline rush doesn’t help your heart-rate when you are exercising at 3,800m.   Fortunately, I managed to keep my seat and slowly got used to being on a bike again.

Volcan Cotopaxi - Biking Dutchman - Ecuador

Riding towards Cotopaxi, which is peeking out from behind the clouds

Esteban was really fabulous and led us off-road after a while and through a gorgeous meadow with flowers (the other bikers we saw just stuck to the road).

Volcan Cotopaxi - Biking Dutchman - Ecuador

New challenges here were crossing dry creek beds and our first “downhill”, which looked pretty daunting but I managed to navigate successfully.

Volcan Cotopaxi - Biking Dutchman - Ecuador

We didn’t ride down the bit in the middle – we came straight down the steep part on the right hand side!

We rode about 7 km to the north gate of the Cotopaxi National Park and then loaded up the bikes again to drive to the next biking route.  Unfortunately, Cotopaxi has been more active than normal recently and we couldn’t actually do part of the regular trip because parts of the park were closed.  So we drove down to the main entrance, had lunch and then got back on the bikes for a downhill along the paved road to the main road.    There were plenty of signs to remind us that we were biking down an active volcano, and Esteban again took us off on a short “secret” route through the pine forest to break up the tarmac section!

Volcan Cotopaxi - Biking Dutchman - Ecuador

The great thing about this trip (and all the different options the Biking Dutchman offers) is that there is very little uphill and, if you are really struggling, the 4WD follows along as a support vehicle so you can jump in and take a break if you want.  Fortunately, none of us had to take advantage of this during the 3 days.

Support Vehicle - Biking Dutchman - Ecuador

Once we reached the bottom, we loaded up again and drove for another 2 hours to reach Quilotoa where we would begin the next day’s adventures.    Actually, we stopped a little before there in Zumbahua because there was a whole-of-community party happening and everyone was out and about and rolling drunk.   Traditional music on the stage, lots of indigenous people dancing and drinking, and a couple of enterprising guys who came and asked Rachel and I to dance.   The problem with traditional music is that the “songs” never end – they kind of all just roll from one to the next without a break, so Rachel and I danced for about 10 minutes and then pleaded off that we had to continue on our journey 🙂

Party in Zumbahua

Arrived quite early at Quilotoa (given we couldn’t do one of the biking legs at Cotopaxi), walked up to the viewpoint to have a look at the gorgeous crater lake, and then headed indoors (yes, it is freezing cold at 3,800m!) for some pizza and Canalazo – a hot drink made of passionfruit juice, naranjilla juice, cinnamon, sugar, and a local sugar-cane alcohol which is served on the side.   We all quickly became fans of the Canalazo (both with and without alcohol) and ended up scoffing probably way too much sugar thanks to this fabulous drink.

7:30pm was dinnertime at Hostal Alpaka – a set meal of potato soup and popcorn (you put the popcorn in the soup – it actually works!) with the main dish of chicken with rice and vegetables.   We asked for extra helpings of broccoli for me – it was soooooo good to have broccoli after the dearth of vegetables I’ve been suffering!   Sat around the wood fire for a while before heading to bed – ready for Day 2 of the adventure!

Total distance biked:  28km (normally about 40km)

 

Day 2: Quilotoa – Urbina

After a fairly restless night for all of us (altitude often affects sleep), it was up at 7:30am for breakfast and then off for a hike into the Quilotoa crater.   Mark wasn’t feeling well and Esteban had to wash up the lunch gear from the day before, so Sean, Rachel and I headed off.   The trail starts at the top of the crater (3,930m) and descends very steeply about 400m – it was going to hurt walking back out!   It was a cold and dusty descent thanks to the really strong wind, but some gorgeous views of the lake that changes colour to a deep jade when the sun is out.

Laguna Quilotoa

Sean braved the cold water and went for a (very quick) dip and then we started the hike out, determined to not take one of the donkeys from the bottom and at least match what Esteban had claimed was a good-paced time – 45 minutes.   I ended up doing it in 50 minutes – but then again – I had to stop to take photos!

Back at the hostel it was onto the bikes for the first ride of the day – downhill on the paved road from Quilatoa to Zumbahua, where the party was yesterday – admiring the scenery and stopping off at the Cañon del Río Toachi.

Mountainbiking from Quilotoa to Zumbahua

Esteban prepared lunch in the back of the 4WD and then we drove for about ½ hour to somewhere in the middle of nowhere (Kilometre 25) at 4200m for our next downhill along a dirt road to Latacunga.

Preparing lunch - Biking Dutchman

Esteban preparing wraps for lunch in the back of the 4WD

This road descended through rural areas with amazing views over the valley to Cotopaxi (had it been clear in that direction).

Middle of nowhere to Latacunga - Biking Dutchman

There was a sandy, holey diagonal that we took and that I successfully managed to navigate without falling off – getting more confident.  Esteban decided to follow us in the 4WD and then showed us another “secret” sandy road to keep us off the main drag until the town.

4WDing

We then drove for another 2 hours to Urbina near Mount Chimborazo, stopping along the way at Salcedo, which is famous for its icecreams.  This one is the traditional one, but I can attest that the coco one is just as good as the Sarita Cocos of Central America 🙂

Helado de Salcedo

More Canalazo and a meal of Locro soup (one of the best soups I’ve ever tasted) and beef stew with more broccoli in front of the wood fire before turning in for another night.

Total distance biked:  40km

 

Day 3: Chimborazo – Ambato

Drove for about an hour to arrive at the entrance to Chimborazo – Ecuador’s highest (6,310m) Volcano.   First up was a Mate de Coca tea before heading out on the hike from Refugio Hermanos Carrel at 4,800m to the highest refuge in the world: Refugio Edgar Whymper at 5,014m.

Volcan Chimborazo

Looking at Refugio Edgar Whymper (5,014m) from about 3/4 the way up the path from Refugio Hermanos Carrel at 4,800m.

Although this walk was significantly higher, it wasn’t as difficult for me as the hike out of the Quilotoa crater yesterday (though Rachel really felt the altitude difference), and in the end Sean and I climbed further to the Laguna Condor Concha at 5,100m.   Really gorgeous views!

Laguna Condor Concha - Volcan Chimborazo

Once we were all back at the lower refuge, we were back on the bikes for the 8km downhill along the dirt road to the entrance to the park.  It really does help to hit those corrugations at speed 🙂

Volcan Chimborazo - mountainbiking Ecuador

We then drove for about another ½ hour and descended into drizzle on the Carretera Vía Flores.   This valley is as green as you can imagine and absolutely gorgeous, even in the wet – it must be truly spectacular with bright blue skies!

Had lunch in the back of the 4WD out of the cold and wet and then back on the bikes for the descent through the valley to the city of Ambato.   The first part of the valley is absolutely gorgeous – really, really beautiful – but it becomes drier and more populated the closer you get to Ambato.  You also get to ride through quite a few eucalypt groves … I was breathing deeply, drawing in the scent of home (not because I was out of breath 🙂 )

Carretera Vía Flores - mountainbiking Ecuador

Loaded up the bikes one last time and then it was 2hrs back to Quito and the end of the trip.

Biking Dutchman - heading back to Quito

It helps to have a small group!

Had a really awesome time with a great small group.  Thanks to Sean and Rachel for their patience with me, and a million thanks to Esteban for being a fun guide and helping me with everything from slipped chains to complicated bike helmets!

 

Recommendation:  I really, really, really loved this trip with the Biking Dutchman!   A really fantastic way to explore some of Ecuador’s most popular volcanos while getting a bit of exercise at the same time.  Would do it again in an instant.

Cost:  US$280 + ~$20 for dinners and other snacks.    The cost of the trip includes accommodation, 2 breakfasts and 3 lunches.  You have to have your breakfast before you start the first day and pay for the 2 dinners while on the trip.

Time:  3 days.   Check the schedule at the Biking Dutchman website for trips that already meet the 2 people minimum requirement.

 

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Antigua’s Volcanos – Guatemala

Antigua in Guatemala really is a gorgeous city.  The entire place is UNESCO protected, it has been really well restored, and although it is very touristy – it actually works (this coming from a person who doesn’t generally go in for really touristy places – hello Granada, Nicaragua).   It also has a really lovely climate (I escaped the heat finally!) and is surrounded by 3 amazing volcanoes.

The most photographed of the three would have to be Volcán de Agua, simply because the city sits right at its base and you can get a shot like this through the Arch – one of the most famous landmarks in Antigua.

Volcan de Agua - Antigua, Guatemala

The other two volcanos are Volcán Acatenango (right) and Volcán de Fuego (left).

Acatenango and Volcan de Fuego - Antigua, Guatemala

Acatenango is the most popular volcano hike in the area (no, I have stopped climbing volcanos for the moment because the views are not great at this time of year during the rainy season) as it has the best view of the very active Volcán de Fuego next to it.   When I come back to Guatemala (hopefully next year) I’ll come at a different time of year and do the overnight camping trip to Acatenango.

A couple of days after I took the above image, the view looked more like this:

Acatenango and Volcan de Fuego - Antigua, Guatemala

Yes, Volcán de Fuego had put on a spectacular show the night before, gushing fresh lava, ash and sundry.  As luck would have it – that was the night I decided to hang out on the rooftop terrace of the Airbnb I was staying at (highly recommend staying with Evelyn at Taanah) – and I even captured a lightning strike to top it all off  🙂

Volcan de Fuego - Antigua, Guatemala

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Volcán Santa Ana – El Salvador

The main reason most travelers come to Santa Ana in El Salvador (apart from staying at the best hostel ever – Casa Verde) is to visit Cerro Verde National Park, the starting point for hikes up Volcán Santa Ana and Volcán Izalco.

If you don’t have your own car and/or if you don’t want to pay for your own private guide, you have to leave Santa Ana on the 7:30am bus (fortunately only a few blocks from the Casa Verde) in order to join the once per day hike up Volcán Santa Ana.  Now normally chicken buses in Central America leave from a dusty dirt lot in the middle of a swarming marketplace, so you can imagine my surprise when I turned up to find a proper terminal and waiting room!

bus terminal to Volcán Santa Ana

The trip out takes about 1.5 hours which gets you to the National Park (US$3 entry) at about 9am.  Having done the calculations back in Santa Ana, I made sure I took a book so I wasn’t bored while I waited around for 2 hours for the tour to start – turns out there isn’t really that much to see around the parking lot.   Made some good progress reading Clive Cussler in spanish while I waited and hoped that the thick fog that I was sitting in would dissipate before we set off.

There ended up being 8 of us hiking the volcano on this day (6 gringos and 2 El Salvadoreans) and after a short spiel and payment of another US$1 to Cecilia, the guide that would accompany us, we set off into the mist with our 2 policemen protectors.

No, it didn’t clear 🙁   and although this meant that we didn’t get any wonderful views of the Izalco Volcano, it did make for a nice and moody hike that was a little cooler than normal.    We also got out of paying the recently introduced US$6 to do the climb because the guy who should have been there to collect it was nowhere to be seen!

Volcán Izalco from Volcán Santa Ana

Best view we had of Volcán Izalco (just visible behind the clouds) on the way up Volcán Santa Ana

The walk itself is actually relatively easy (though the El Salvadorean girls turned back after about 10 minutes) and it only took a little over an hour to get to the top.  Word of warning – the guides tend to think it is a race and will set a cracking pace!   In the upper reaches of the walk you cross quite barren landscape that is the result of the most recent activity of the volcano.  But there are plenty of desert-like plants to add interest.

Volcán Santa Ana

However, the reason you climb Volcán Santa Ana (apart from walking off some of the pupusas you ate the night before) is for the view of the spectacular turquoise crater lake.  It really is amazingly beautiful and fortunately the clouds didn’t spoil our view of it.

Volcán Santa Ana crater lake

We could even see areas of the lake that were bubbling and gasses rising off the surface thanks to the ongoing activity in the volcano.

Volcán Santa Ana crater lake

We hung around at the top for about 1/2 hour to eat (I bought my lunch with me) and admire the view, but then it was time to head back down – partially because the guide and policeman were keen to get going and partially because we were suddenly beset by bees!

Volcán Santa Ana

Not much of a view beyond the crater of Volcán Santa Ana this time

I spent the walk down chatting with one of the policemen about everything from El Salvadorean food (yes, this is a common theme with me) through to politics.   Glad there weren’t any panoramic landscape views to be had as I was engrossed in our conversation and otherwise only paying attention to where I was putting my feet so I wouldn’t fall over.

Got back to the main road and then it was a bit of a trudge back up to the carpark where the bus would leave from.  Then another hour sitting around waiting for the bus (seriously, take a book with you) and then back to Santa Ana.

Volcán Izalco next time!

 

Recommendation:  Its definitely worth hiking up Volcán Santa Ana, especially since the walk is relatively easy.  Bring a book or something with you to do as there is a lot of waiting around if you use public transport and join the 11am tour.   Also bring snacks/lunch to eat on top of the volcano.

Booking:  Just show up before 10:45am in the carpark of the Cerro Verde National Park.

Time Required:  About 3-3.5 hours for the actual hike, but depends on how fast you walk and how long you stay at the top.  To do the trip using public transport – you leave at 7:30am and return at 5:30pm.

Cost:  The bus is US90 cents each way.  US$3 to enter the National Park, US$1 for the guide, US$6 for the hike.

 

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Jiquilillo and Volcan Cosigüina

After another week in León (how I love that place!) I started heading towards El Salvador.   Although I’m not a beach person, I decided to spend a couple of nights at Rancho Esperanza in Jiquilillo.   It is basically a surf spot and a gateway to the Padre Ramos Reserve – one of the most important mangrove estuaries in Central America.

jiquilillo

Surfing Jiquilillo

I actually didn’t do anything while there (most guests come to surf) except read my book, hang out with some awesome people and watch the sunset. Yet again, the Rancho Esperanza fostered that community spirit that I love so much.

jiquilillo

Horses at sunset – Jiquilillo

Then it was on to Potosí, which would have to be the dirtiest town I’ve been to in Nicaragua.  There is rubbish strewn absolutely everywhere!   And it is seriously hot!  I had hoped that by staying at the Hotel “Brisas del Mar” (Seabreeze) it would live up to its name, but no.  Well, not unless you count the hot breeze you get if you sit directly under one of the many fans in the restaurant!  I really don’t know how people live here.  And realistically, I had to stay at “Brisas del Mar”.  There are only 2 places to stay in town, both right next to each other and owned by the same family.

The reason I was here was twofold.  I decided to tackle my third volcano ascent in Nicaragua – Volcán Cosigüina before catching the boat across to El Salvador – I figured all my other border crossings will be by bus or plane, so take the opportunity to do something different.  Cosigüina used to be the tallest volcano in Nicaragua at more than 3,000 metres, but in 1835 it exploded in what is considered to be one of the 3 biggest recorded eruptions (ash travelled as far as Mexico and Columbia, the sky was obscured for 3 months and one of the rocks ejected is big enough to form its own island in the Gulf!), and is now only 872 metres above sea level.  It also has a really pretty crater lake 🙂

Headed off with my guide, Bismark, at 5am to beat the worst of the heat, which meant we got to see a beautiful sunrise over the Golfo de Fonseca (Gulf of Fonseca).  This is the Gulf that is borders Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador and from Volcán Cosigüina you can see all three countries.

Volcán Cosigüina

Despite sweating like there is no tomorrow because of the humidity and heat, it’s actually a pretty easy hike, infinitely easier than hiking up Volcán Maderas on Ometepe!  It’s really only the last 10 minutes that feels like a bigger effort.  We hiked up directly from Potosí (9km from the crater), which meant a 3-hour ascent and 2-hour descent.  There is another trail though where you can drive the majority of the way with a 4WD (or ride a horse) and only walk the last half hour.

The other advantage of leaving before dawn was that there were plenty of birds around and Bismark was great at spotting and identifying them.  Turns out the vegetation on the volcano is pretty open so great for birdwatching. In addition to my old friends, the Mot-mots, the Chocoyos (parakeets) and the Woodpeckers, we saw: Common Pauraque (nocturnal bird), Violaceous Trogon, Elegant Trogon, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Streak-backed Oriole, Thicket Tinamou and the Plain Chachalaca.  It was brilliant!

The volcano was also used during the civil war in the 70s/80s to keep an eye on boats coming from Honduras.  This lookout was on our way up and apparently there are 2 more like it at other points of the volcano.

Volcán Cosigüina

The view from the top of Volcán Cosigüina is fantastic and the crater lake is beautiful.  The crater is 2km across and there is a path around it but it takes 5 hours to complete – you’d have to camp at the campground just below the summit to do that one (or be crazy)!

Volcán Cosigüina

And although it was very hazy (definitely going to have to come back to Nicaragua in Nov – Feb for the water in the Río San Juan and the good expansive views), it was possible to make out El Salvador, Honduras and the prawn farms, the Pacific coast and Volcán San Cristobal in Nicaragua.

Volcán Cosigüina

El Salvador (top left), Honduras (top right) and Volcán San Cristobal and the prawn farms of Nicaragua (bottom)

Hung out up the top for about an hour and then started the descent accompanied by the constant scurrying of lizards in the undergrowth.  It was incredibly hot and I was very grateful that I was not one of the two tourists + guide we passed heading up the volcano in the heat (they still had 2 hours to go to the top)!   Bismark spotted a Mexican Porcupine (bit of a blob in the tree), squirrels and a family of 3 Coatis (really great view – unfortunately I didn’t have my long lens with me) as well.

Glad I took the time out in Potosí to do the hike, despite the heat and humidity!

 

Time required:   From Potosí, it is a 3 hour hike up and 2 hours to come back down Volcán Cosigüina.  Leave at 5am!

Cost:  Bismark is part of a local cooperative of guides in Potosí and cost US$25.

Volcán Cosigüina

Mi amigo, Bismark

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Hiking Volcán Maderas – Ometepe

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!

Volcán maderas ometepe

Volcán Maderas from the access road to Finca Mystica

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.

volcan maderas 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.

Maderas Volcano

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!

Volcán Maderas

One of the many, many sets of obstacles to negotiate on the hike/climb to the top of Volcán Maderas.

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.

Volcán Maderas crater lake

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!

Volcán Maderas view from top to Volcan Concepcion

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.

Maderas volcano Ometepe

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 🙂

Maderas volcano Ometepe

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.

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