Though we loved exploring our temporary home base of Granada (despite the fact that I could have fried bacon on its sidewalks), it didn’t take long before we were itching to get outside the city and experience some of Nicaragua’s natural attractions. After all, Nicaragua didn’t earn the nickname “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes” by accident!
The two most accessible volcanoes from Granada are Masaya Volcano and Mombacho Volcano. But despite their close proximity, the two couldn’t be more different. Masaya Volcano is still very active. I’d half expect to find Frodo holding a ring over the bubbling pit of lava. Mombacho Volcano is covered by a lush cloud forest and though it’s considered active, it hasn’t erupted since 1570.
Seeing both volcanoes would have been ideal, but we only ended up having time to visit one. We chose to spend a day exploring Mombacho Volcano because I was dying to zip-line through the jungle.
Though I’m normally a super paranoid over-planner who makes reservations for everything way ahead of time (especially since our Blue Lagoon fiasco in Iceland), our hotel owner assured us in an email that we should wait to make tour arrangements until we arrived in the country.
Sure enough, we had no trouble securing same-day reservations for a crater hike and canopy tour.
A van came to pick us up outside our hotel promptly at 9:00am. We were happy that the van was both air-conditioned and nearly empty. The only other people on our tour was another young American couple from New York. (By the way, we don’t hate people, we just feel like tour groups with more than 5 people spend roughly 80% of the time on bathroom breaks.)
We arrived at the base of the volcano about 20 minutes later and were transferred from the van to a weather-beaten truck. We were given the option of riding in the safe, comfortable cab or in the unpadded truck bed. Our tour guide assured us that riding in the truck bed would allow us to better take in the scenery.
As I was gracelessly climbing into the back, I couldn’t help but think about how utterly disappointed our mothers would be by our apparent lack of judgment or concern for our well-being.
While the scenery was lovely, it was a bit hard to take in while bouncing around like popcorn. I quickly become very well acquainted with our tour companions, since every time our van hit an especially deep rut, I somehow ended up in someone’s lap.
I was a little concerned I’d arrive at the top with a bruised tailbone and no teeth.
We stopped partway up the volcano where there was a bathroom and small café. We were then transferred into a third vehicle. This one was much bigger and looked like something from Jurassic Park. It also had actual seats, which was a nice perk.
The road up to the top is incredibly steep and bumpy.
Our hike took roughly 1.5 hours. We’d chosen the shortest, least-demanding hike that anyone with two legs and a pulse could complete, but there were plenty of longer options available for more ambitious travelers.
I’d expected our guide to be some super-fit local who could jog up and down the entire length of the volcano twice before I finished double-knotting my shoelaces. Instead we had a short, plump Nicaraguan man who preferred the snack bar to the trails. We loved him.
Every so often he would stop, gasp for air, and joke that he was going to die on the spot. At least I think he was joking.
We didn’t have much luck seeing wildlife—though we were told green frogs and howler monkeys inhabit the jungle—but we enjoyed seeing all the vegetation. Our guide took particular delight in telling us about each of the plants and the various painful ways they could kill us.
We were amazed that we passed through 3 distinct climates during our brief hike. The first part was through a cool jungle, then through a hot, arid field, and finally through a dwarf forest (apparently the wind is too strong for plants to grow very tall).
From the top we had a nice view of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.
Once we finished our hike we were fitted up with a helmet and harness and taken back into the jungle for some zip-lining.
We were the only two zip-liners in our group (aside from our two guides), which meant we didn’t have to spend much time waiting around.
The guide gave us some brief safety instructions about where to put our hands so they didn’t get chopped off, how to break, and how to steer, all of which I promptly forgot in the first 3 exhilarating seconds of actually zip-lining. To be honest, it’s a wonder I finished the day with all my fingers. But after I got the hang of it, I had a blast.
The course ended with a speedy rappel off the platform.
After a brief sample of the coffee made with beans from the local plantation (Sam said it was good; I think all coffee tastes like potting soil) we began our journey back down the volcano.
As we were driving down a particularly steep section in the Jurassic Park-esque van I got super excited because I thought I finally heard a howler monkey. Then Sam told me that the loud screeching was actually coming from the brakes. Gulp. Sorry Mom.
Tour Company – Plenty of tour companies offer hiking/canopy tours. We used Buena Tours (You can check out their website here).
Booking – Your hotel/hostel should be able to help you make reservations once you arrive in Nicaragua. We simply told our hotel operator which excursions we wanted, and he took care of booking everything for us (at no additional cost).
Cost – $60 per person. The tour included transfer to the volcano (with pick up and drop off at our hotel), an English speaking guide, park entry, a 1.5 hour guided hike through the jungle, zip-lining, and a coffee sample.
How to pay – This tour was cash only, so be sure to take enough money with you. We paid in US dollars.
Time – We left our hotel at 9:00 and returned around 1:30.
Food – Food/beverages (other than a coffee sample) were not included and we didn’t stop for lunch. We recommend taking a bottle of water and some snacks with you. We did stop at a snack shop at one point during the tour, but the options were limited.
Check out a quick recap of our zipline tour:
What is your favorite zip-lining destination?
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