21 March 2013

Explore Nicaragua's Masaya National Park

Located just an hour from Granada by car and about 20 kilometers from Managua, Masaya National Park is Nicaragua’s largest and first national park and home to the shield volcano Masaya, or “La Boca del Infierno” (“Mouth of Hell”), which the Spaniards named the active volcano after planting a cross on the crater lip during the 16th century in order to exorcise the devil. The Masaya Volcano National Park includes two volcanoes and five craters within a 54 square kilometer area. The volcanic complex is made up of a nested set of calderas and craters.

Both volcanoes have erupted several times throughout history, causing the local indigenous people and the Spanish conquerors to fear the volcanoes’ wrath. The eruptions have dramatically affected the landscape of the surrounding area, and rocks and volcanic ash still cover the terrain around the volcanoes. In addition, a variety of vegetation began to form after the eruptions, helping create a rough, but tranquil setting. The park is also inhabited by many different animals, including coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, deer, iguanas, and monkeys.

Although the air is overwhelmed by the stench of sulfur, which invades your nostrils and mouth every time the wind blows, the stunning views of the park and the surrounding area make this gnarly smell worth withstanding. Visitors can view the massive crater that consistently emits smoke and sulfur gas by taking a look over the edge of the Masaya Volcano.

After taking some shots at the edge of hell’s mouth, those who wish to explore the volcano can take a brief hike through the narrow trails and pathways of the volcano. Be sure to stop along the way to check out the craters and vegetation that grows in areas that were untouched when the volcano last erupted. Hikers can opt to explore the park during the day or take a night tour that begins at dusk and includes a tour of the Tzinaconostoc Cave, which was formed by lava streams and is home to over 300,000 bats.

After dark you can stand at one entrance of the cave and snap photos of these rats with wings that dwell in this underground tunnel. The hike ends with a visit to the highest viewpoint of the volcano’s mouth where flowing lava seeps through the crater opening. Looking down at the glowing, bright orange light creeping through the dark entrance of the volcano makes it easy to understand why the Spanish named it La Boca del Infierno.

Hiking trails vary in distance and can be anywhere between 1.4 and 5.9 kilometers, taking about an hour to trek. All hikes are organized by knowledgeable tour guides and aren't too strenuous or difficult; just be sure to wear sturdy shoes and comfy clothing, which can be found at retailers like Marks and Spencer. The park contains a visitors’ centre where you can get information about the Masaya National Park and its volcanoes, book a tour, and learn about other aspects of the park such as the flora and fauna that inhabit the area. Remember to check out the other volcanoes that exist in the region during your stay in Nicaragua.