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Climbing Volcano Maderas

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Steve Hart
Steve Hart

Ometepe Island's two main attractions, Volcano Maderas and Concepción, stand high and mighty above the vast freshwater of Lake Nicaragua like scenic monuments. Concepción, intimidatingly steep at 5,282 ft. and still prone to eruptions, is the riskier hike between the two, whereas Maderas, though smaller in elevation (4,573 ft.), lies dormant with the appeal of a crater lagoon swim.

For my fellow travelers and I, the thought of washing off our hard earned sweat in a pool of Maderas's crater water trumped the victorious feeling of climbing the steeper, more dangerous Concepción. To achieve this, it is absolutely necessary to have a guide or two, because without them you bare the risk of getting lost. Many horror stories had been shared of travelers coming to the island to conquer the volcano on their own terms, only to get terribly lost, injured or face death.

On most occasions guides can be seen lingering around local lodging areas, as ours did inside Hacienda Merida Hostel the afternoon prior to our departure. Our guides, as are most, were kind and experienced, having each climbed Maderas over 100 times without noticeable strain or fatigue. We left in the early morning with our two guides in tow and backpacks chock full of water, food and cameras.

Before undergoing the strain of climbing uphill, we were charmed by the sight of a bustling coffee plantation under the dim lighting of dawn. Some of Nicaragua's best coffee and tobacco is produced on the lands surrounding the volcanoes due to its rich and lush soil. We walked steadily along a dirt road, bordered by plantations and farms, and watched as several farmers lazily rode their horses by, leaving the scent of manure in their tracks. It was a cordial walk to the beginning of our climb, but upon entry of a scenic, tropical landscape, the hike got much more strenuous.

Maderas was more wet and damp than expected, especially toward the end of our trek. The moist ground made for a slippery hike at times, but the accessibility of tree roots or rocks made it easy to find support while climbing. The large green trees and beautiful forest landscapes that covered the sides of the volcano were the cause of limited sunlight, and the humid atmosphere produced dense perspiration and made all of our clothes sticky with sweat. The views were restricted due to the clouds that hovered over the volcano as well, and it seemed that the higher we got, the greyer it became.

When we reached the top of the volcano, and before we began our climb down to the lagoon, we took the time to acknowledge our beautiful surroundings. Thick, green trees bordered the crater on all sides and the water, dark and muddy, seemed mysterious underneath a murky fog that hovered over the lagoon like a looming storm.

The hike to the lagoon seemed to go quickly, mostly because we were so excited to take a swim. When we reached the bottom, there were people scattered about, eating lunch, talking and taking dips in the water, eager to meet the lagoon newcomers and relax before having to climb back out. Without hesitation we walked straight into the refreshing, but cold water and swam about the crater, feeling the muddy, goopy volcanic floor underneath our feet.

I loved poking my head out from the water, looking at the angelic sights around me, and feeling a sense of calm and isolation. We were thousands of feet above the ground, secluded in the middle of a dormant volcano, and swimming in water that many privileged travelers have shared the joy of bathing in. But eventually, it had to end, and the hike out of the crater and back down to our hostel seemed to go swiftly.

In total, our venture on Volcano Maderas took eight hours to complete. I would highly recommend it to anyone who visits the lovely Isle de Ometepe in Nicaragua, and, if you're brave enough, try to conquer Volcano Concepción as well.

Just make sure the top's not ready to blow.