With twilight fast approaching, my husband Gustavo, son Nicolas and I pitch our tents in a meadow ringed by coconut palms, our sleeping bags positioned a mere 300 meters from the steaming rim. Three hundred meters downwind from the belly of the beast. For volcán Telica (Telica volcano) is indeed a living, fire-breathing dragon. Napping, thankfully, as evidenced by the rumbling of his snores. As darkness descends, only the beacons of our flashlights illuminate our path; we hike past dozens of croaking bullfrogs in a pond, leftover from the afternoon’s brief, but life-saving, deluge. A ghostly-pale wild horse appears without warning from the shadows.
We have been planning this eco-adventure for over a year. We are already fond of Central America, especially Costa Rica, so we decide to venture next door, to its neighbor, Nicaragua. Though twenty years removed from the menacing shadow of civil war, this second most-impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere still lacks the essential tourism infrastructure needed to lure hordes of foreign visitors to its shores. Instead, it remains primitive and undiscovered—a paradise of virgin rainforests, idyllic surfing beaches, and species bio-diversity second to none. Come explore Telica volcano to discover what was, for me, a definite wow moment in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua—Hiking and Volcano Enthusiasts’ Dream
Besides that, a host of geothermal attractions makes Nicaragua a backpacker’s dream destination, with nearly two dozen dormant and active volcanoes ripe for trekking. Like Momotombo, considered the most challenging at 1,258 meters, over mostly-barren rock, in full sun. Or Concepción, with a steep ascent through coffee and banana plantations. Perhaps the easily-accessible Mombacho, close to the charming colonial town of Granada. As for us, being adrenaline junkies, we have chosen an overnight camping trip on an active stratovolcano, the double crater of Telica.
Truth be told, the three of us really ‘dig’ volcanoes—the truest expressions of Mother Nature’s simmering wrath. Earlier today, I had to remind myself repeatedly that this arduous hike was my idea, as I mopped at the sweat proliferating across my brow. Despite towering Guanacaste trees, oversized ferns and strangler figs shading the sun, the rainforest humidity had been debilitating—Gustavo afflicted with leg cramps and me, near collapse from heat exhaustion. Four bottles of our 20-liter water supply had been poured directly over my head. Luckily, the crest of the volcano was only an hour’s climb further, through grass and outcroppings of rock.
We had gotten a late start, first arriving at the Los Hervideros de San Jacinto trailhead around noon. Five hours and 4½ miles (with another mile still to go) of tramping through farmland and bean fields, then over uneven, rock-strewn footpaths in stifling rainforest, had taken its toll; the last two hours had been crippling. But all was forgotten when we were finally able to straddle the ridge, facing both the Pacific Ocean and gusty winds, scanning the horizon in a 360° panorama. Cloud art—a swirling canvas of dark and light blues dappled with pink—ignited the sky. Magnifying la Cordillera de los Maribios, Nicaragua’s smoldering mountain chain, and the distant cones of San Cristóbal and Santa Clara. Gases belched from their craters, smoking like murky cigar haze from some underworldly gentlemen’s club.
Camping Alongside the Fiery Beast at the Telica Volcano
And now tonight, in the gloom of the witching hour, the jowls of hell yawn ahead. Wide open and flatulent. My family and our guide, Florian, crawl on our bellies, commando fashion, toward the edge of the pit. Rousted from sleep, the chimera cracks an eyelid open, Cyclops-style. Scoriae of red ash—molten magma—blinks inside the caldera …then disappears into blackness. Foul-smelling sulfur boils from its lair. Other than blustering breezes darting around the chasm, all’s quiet on the Vulcan front.
Not since May of 2016 has there been an eruption of significance at Telica, with a series of simultaneous explosions forming an ash plume that surged almost 1,000 meters into the sky. Geophysicists constantly monitor the seismic activity, as well as thermal fluctuations, of all the Nicaragüense volcanoes sitting on the infamous ‘Ring of Fire’. A horseshoe-shaped earthquake basin in the Pacific, which stretches from the Indo-Australian zone to the Chilean tip of South America. Even a hint of impending unrest closes the area down to hikers.
Back at camp, we curl up to the soothing sounds of nightfall: trilling insects and the crackle of embers from our bonfire. Dozing next to a dragon with a 570° C vortex of lava inside its gut. I whisper a silent prayer before I drift off to dreamland…lest the fiery brute awaken and catch us unawares.
At sunrise, crimson light plays across the dual-crater; the surrounding vegetation—climbing tendrils, naked tree limbs devoid of bark, and verdant shrubs—basks in its flickering afterglow. We strap on our rucksacks, bid adiós to the slumbering beast, and follow another six-hour circuit of descent—this time, through dry riverbed—toward the bubbling mud pots and fumaroles at El Jacinto. Toward the garishly-painted ‘chicken’ buses that will ferry us 12 miles back to Léon. Toward civilization.
If You Go to the Telica Volcano
Sonati Tours is a non-profit organization. All excursion monies benefit local schoolchildren and provide funding for environmental education.