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Sulfur burned my eyes as I peered over the edge of Telica, one of the most active stratovolcanoes in Nicaragua. Magma lapped against the crater walls below, resembling gentle ocean waves. The scene was almost serene — save for the fact that we would be helplessly trapped should the cone release its anger again.
“Do you see that building at the base?” asked our guide with local operator Volcano Day, Daniel, while pointing to a small, dilapidated structure at the base of the volcano. “It was supposed to be a welcome center. Right after they finished construction, Telica erupted and sent a refrigerator-sized boulder straight through the roof. The volcano decided that we don’t need a welcome center here.”
As we dangled our feet over the edge, sipping beers sold by the lone merchant with a cooler, the sun peacefully set over the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes — an appropriate nickname for this hidden gem of Central America. Nicaragua is sadly overlooked by travelers choosing to instead explore the ruins of Guatemala or the rainforests of Costa Rica. However, clients who desire an off-the-beaten path adventure with few tourist cliches in sight should venture into the largest Central American country.
Nicaragua is truly a land of two defining features: peaceful relaxation and explosive thrills. While the picturesque colonial town of Granada provides swift access to the chill vibes of Ometepe Island, the sprawling coffee fields on the Mombacho volcano and an easy shuttle trip to peer into Masaya Volcano’s “mouth into hell,” thrill-seekers should base themselves in the western city of Leon for an unbelievable weekend.
Thankfully, those who are tight on time are in luck: They can check off a handful of bucket-list experiences within a few days.
Upon arrival into Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport in the capital city of Managua, travelers should immediately head northwest to Leon. When not exploring Nicaragua’s natural beauty during an excursion, they can wander this historical town while gazing at colorful murals and bullet holes that tell the story of Nicaragua’s recent revolution.
But discovering Telica should be prioritized. Below are my suggestions for an excellent adventure in Telica, based on my firsthand experience with Volcano Day.
Most visitors will have no trouble tackling the moderate hike to the top. For those who prefer a quick out-and-back journey to marvel at the sunset’s symphony of colors, they can hop on a tour with a local operator such as Volcano Day that will take them to the top and back to Leon within six hours. Clients who desire a night under the stars can sign up for a full 24-hour excursion during which they’ll camp beside the crater’s smokey cone. No matter the tour, though, a friendly local will await at the top with ice-cold Tona beer.
On day No. 2, a recommended breakfast is a heaping plate of gallo pinto, the traditional Nicaraguan breakfast of rice and beans. Clients will need all the energy they can muster for their journey north to the Somoto Canyon, one of the oldest rock formations in the region discovered by geologists in the 2000s. This national monument neighboring the Honduras border offers the opportunity to explore the wild, untouched lands of northern Nicaragua.
If horseback riding and tubing sound too tame, suggest that clients explore the canyon on foot and dive off its rocky cliffs into the Coco River below. Afterward, they can settle in for the night in Leon and dine on nacatamales, the Nicaraguan version of the Latin American tamale. They’re best paired with a glass of Flor de Cana rum or a hand-rolled cigar to relax and unwind before conquering another volcano.
On clients’ final full day, they should prepare for a thrill ride like no other: hiking to the top of Cerro Negro, a young active volcano flanked with black volcanic ash and rock, followed by rocketing down its slope on a volcano board. Daredevils can grab a hold of the board’s rope and race others to the bottom — it’s a an unforgettably unique experience only found in Nicaragua.
Last but not least, after an afternoon of volcano boarding, travelers can grab a quick 30-minute shuttle to Las Penitas beach for surfing and volleyball. On the schedule: finding a spot on the sand, watching the sun disappear beneath the waves of the Pacific and raising a glass to the incredible adventures only Nicaragua can deliver.
The DetailsVolcano Daywww.volcanodaynicaragua.com