As I peered over the edge into the caldera of Masaya Volcano, my eyes stung from the sulfuric air, and my hair whipped back and forth across my face from the warm Nicaraguan wind. A stubby brick wall was the only thing between me and a plunge into the depths of this hellish hole, in which locals say you can see glowing lava on certain nights.
A biblical scene, indeed: Early Spanish explorers deemed the volcano "La Boca del Infierno," or "The Mouth of Hell." In the 16th century, they placed a cross on the edge of the crater to exorcise the devil.
Located in Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya (Masaya Volcano National Park) — which holds two volcanos and five craters — Masaya is transfixing, continuously emitting smoke and gases that billow up into the sky, intermittently blocking the sun and plunging the area into something reminiscent of Dante’s purgatory. The caldera’s striated, multicolored innards reminded me at once of the skin of a dinosaur, the hardened bark of an old tree and a rocky seashore.
Visitors to this mysterious setting can also meander along several trails to other views and other craters, as well as to Tzinaconostoc Cave, home to hundreds of bats. Note, however, that the park is sometimes closed due to volcanic activity, so travelers should be sure to check beforehand if they’ll be able to witness its necromantic wonders.