The whistle from the ayudante (the helper of the bus driver) signals that the overcrowded bus must stop. We get off quickly, and not even coming to a complete halt, the bus drives off. A few bright red tuk-tuks, which surround us instantly, indicate in which direction to go. “Up to the park entrance, very far, cheap price, want a ride?” We are at the foot of the Mombacho volcano in Nicaragua, and we don’t want a ride. Instead, we have decided to conquer the 1344 metres of this dormant volcano, from bottom to top with our own little legs!
Past the first rather flat 1.5 kilometres, we start the steep 4.5-kilometre paved road, all the way up to the ranger station close to the first crater of four of Mombacho volcano. With our body heat rising, the air around us gets significantly cooler, as we slowly get surrounded by fog: we are entering the cloud forest. With Maderas volcano (article to be published soon – follow us to stay tuned!) on the Ometepe island, Mombacho is the only other volcano of Nicaragua being covered in cloud forest, making the hike quite enjoyable. Trees are lush and covered in mystical lichen and other epiphytes such as orchids and bromelia.
It appears to be a pretty good work-out! Once at the top, a short loop around the crater leads us to several vistas, or wannabe vistas… Indeed, with the cloud cover, they are not that impressive. Suddenly, cloud disappears as the weather clears up and reveals stunning views over Granada and Las Isletas, the 365 islands clustered in Lake Nicaragua.
The narrow passage, known as El túnel, provides even cooler air and allows us to take a close look at all the vegetation covering its vertical rocks. Here and there, patches of moss are highlighted by the few rays of sun reaching through the dense leafs and narrow tunnel.
With the clear weather, our mandatory guide starts gearing up, as it is a go for longest hike around the Mombacho craters: El Puma. The trail is fun, going steep up and steep down around the different craters on a well maintained path. We stop to enjoy the beauty of an orchid which, only blooms one day a year, and for this one, today is the day! We spot sloths, monkeys and many birds before we head down the same way, passing through coffee plantations along the fertile slopes of the Mombacho volcano.
We walk the last bits of the mountain down when my eyes catch the familiar yellow colour of an approaching school bus. We start sprinting, and the ayudante whistles: we hop on the last bus to Granada just in time! That evening from Granada, we enjoy the views on the volcano, looking at it differently now that we have witnessed its impressive biodiversity with endemic species. Feeling our muscles a little bit, we are already looking forward to a relaxing day in the Laguna de Apoyo!
- Despite what can be read on the Internet, the hike up is completely okay if you are reasonably fit. Hiking poles might be a good addition though as the road is steep.
- We fail to understand why guides are mandatory on the El Puma trail, as the track is very well marked and guides are clearly there to show the way and not as naturalists.