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Nicaragua » Themes » Volcanoes
Nicaragua is often referred to as 'the country of Lakes and Volcanoes'. When you look at the map, you can understand why. Not only do many lakes and lagoons exist throughout the country, an impressive line of volcanoes also runs from north to south. There is a great variety among these volcanoes; some have huge smoking crater mouths whereas other volcanoes were blown away in violent eruptions thousands of years ago, leaving behind nothing more than a tranquil crater lake.
Many of these volcanoes offer some great possibilities for tourists. You can climb active and dormant volcanoes, swim in crater lakes, walk through forested slopes, and peek over the rim into the crater of a volcano. Below we listed 12 of the most interesting volcanoes and volcanic structures, listed in the same order as they appear on the map, from north to south.
Cosigüina Volcano
NameCosigüina Volcano
Coordinates12.97°N, 87.58°W
Last Eruption1859
Elevation859 m

Located in the northwestern corner of Nicaragua, it takes some time and effort to reach the Cosigüina Volcano. This is well worth it, though, because in the corner you can find one of the most spectacular volcanoes of Nicaragua. In 1835 the Cosigüina Volcano exploded with so much force that one third of the crater was blown away. Ash came down on Jamaica and in Mexico City, some 1,400 kilometers away. Soon after this violent eruption the volcano became dormant. The huge hole was later filled up with water, and nowadays a lagoon is located inside the crater.
The crater can be reached by hiking a beautiful trail on the forested slope of the volcano. This trail is accessible by car until about halfway up the volcano. This offers the possibility of hiking only the upper part, making it a relatively short walk (three hours going up and down) instead of hiking all the way (taking eight hours). Whichever hike you choose, the trail is spectacular and not too steep. Nature dominates in this area, and the views are magnificent. You will be able to see the Gulf of Fonseca, and on the other side of the bay you can see Honduras and El Salvador. You can read more about hiking the Cosigüina Volcano in our Activity Guide.
San Cristóbal Volcano
Photo courtesy of INETER. Used with permission.
NameSan Cristóbal Volcano
TypeVolcanic Complex
Coordinates12.702°N, 87.004°W
Last Eruption2004
Elevation1,745 m
The San Cristóbal is the highest active volcano in Nicaragua. This high, cone-shaped, smoking mountain exhibits all characteristics of a 'traditional' volcano. There are several volcanoes located around the San Cristóbal.
This whole area is often referred to as the San Cristóbal volcanic complex, and it encompasses five volcanic structures. These include, in addition to the San Cristóbal Volcano, La Casita, El Choncho, Moyotepe, and La Pelona. The San Cristóbal is the most active volcano of the group. Gas is constantly emitted by the volcano, and every now and then strong seisms are measured around the San Cristóbal.
Ascending the San Cristóbal is one of the most difficult climbs in Nicaragua. The steep slopes make it hard to reach the huge crater. It takes a whole day to ascend and descend the volcano, and you should be in very good condition. This climb is certainly a challenge, but the views of the area and the experience of reaching the crater are surely rewarding. Guides can be found in León or Chinandega.
Telica Volcano
Photo courtesy of Jaime Incer. Used with permission.
NameTelica Volcano
Coordinates12.603°N, 86.845°W
Last Eruption2004
Elevation1,061 m
Another very active volcano is the Telica Volcano. The most recent violent eruption took place in 1948, but other smaller eruptions have continued to take place throughout the years. The Telica Volcano emits gases and ash, and the glowing magma can be seen in the bottom of the crater. A wide area around the Telica Volcano is affected by volcanic activity. Besides the main crater there are several other craters, and the mudpots of San Jacinto are also assumed to be connected to the Telica.
With a height of 1,061 meters the Telica Volcano is not as high as the San Cristóbal Volcano, making the climb less difficult. The slopes are not as steep either, and the difficulty of the climb is mostly the length of the trail. There is no road access to the foot of the volcano, so you will have to hike for quite a while before reaching it. The dry but tropical surroundings offer amazing landscapes. The complete hike takes between 7-12 hours, and it is an option to stay around the crater overnight. Not only will it be easier if you can rest a little, this will also allow you to actually see the red magma on the bottom of the crater, which can only be seen during nighttime. More information about hiking to the Telica volcano can be found in our Activity Guide.
Cerro Negro Volcano
NameCerro Negro
TypeCinder cones
Coordinates12.506°N, 86.702°W
Last Eruption1999
Elevation728 m
ActivitiesClimbing, sand-skiing

Cerro Negro means 'Black Hill', and it is the perfect description of this truly unique volcano. The Cerro Negro volcano was formed less than 160 years ago (in 1850) and that makes it the youngest volcano of Central America. The volcano's young age and constant volcanic activity have made it impossible for trees and plants to grow on the steep, black slopes. Some slopes are covered by huge volcanic rocks, others by fine volcanic sand.
Ascending the volcano is relatively easy. There is a basic trail composed of rearranged volcanic rocks. A bit unconfortable at times, and coupled with the intense sun without any shade this makes for a short but possibly tough climb. One can be at the top within 40 minutes. Once at the top, you can walk around the crater rim and enjoy a superb view. You can observe the impressive crater as well. Going down is a lot easier, as you can run down the sandy slope and be at the bottom within 10 minutes. This slope is also used to sand-ski. More information about climbing the Cerro Negro can be found in our Activity Guide.
The most recent eruption of the Cerro Negro took place in 1999. Glowing lava violently erupted from the volcano, as well as rocks and ash. The ash caused damages in the city of León, 25 kilometers away. A new crater was formed during recent eruptions. The Cerro Negro is one of the most active and most interesting volcanoes in the region.
El Hoyo
Photo courtesy of INETER. Used with permission.
NameEl Hoyo
TypeVolcanic Complex
Coordinates12.495°N, 86.688°W
Last Eruption1954
Elevation1,050 m

El Hoyo is a volcanic complex consisting of several volcanic structures. The first volcano in this area was called El Picacho. After being active the volcano collapsed, and several other volcanic structures were formed. Nowadays, the most significant structure is the El Hoyo Volcano. This volcano can be easily recognized by the huge hole located on a slope of the volcano. Climbing the volcano is possible but not often done. The area is located in a sparsely populated area, and there are no roads to the base of the volcano. It is easiest to reach the foot of the volcano by horse.
Other volcanic structures include the Las Pilas volcano, another stratovolcano just like El Hoyo, and two maars called Laguna Asososca and Malpaisillo. Maars are flat craters formed after a violent eruption. Water often collects in these craters, forming a crater lake. The Asososca Lagoon is completely filled with water, and part of the Malpaisillo maar is also filled with water.
Momotombo Volcano
NameMomotombo Volcano
Coordinates12.423°N, 86.540°W
Last Eruption1905
Elevation1,258 m

One of the most significant landmarks in Nicaragua is the Momotombo Volcano. This almost perfect cone-shaped stratovolcano can be seen from many places, including Nicaragua's capital city Managua as well as the northern city of Matagalpa, over 100 kilometers away. The Momotombo has erupted several times in the last couple of centuries, most recently in 1905. There are several settlements close by that have been and continue to be threatened by the volcano's eruptions of lava, smoke, and ash. For more than a century the volcano has been relatively quiet, although gases are continuously emitted and the temperatures of certain parts of the volcano exceed 500°C. A geothermal plant has been set up at the base of the volcano, producing electricity from the volcano's heat.
Climbing the Momotombo volcano is a challenging task. There is no trail, the upper part of the volcano is extremely steep and without shade, and the Momotombo is one of the highest volcanoes in Nicaragua. You will have to set up camp somewhere around the summit of the volcano, because it is impossible to climb the Momotombo in one day. All in all, ascending the Momotombo is not an easy task and can only be done if you are in good condition. In return for all the hardship, you can enjoy unparalleled views, a very impressive crater, and some splendid landscapes. For more about climbing the Momotombo Volcano, be sure to check our Activity Guide.
Apoyeque Volcano
Photo courtesy of Jaime Incer. Used with permission.
NameApoyeque Volcano
TypePyroclastic shield
Coordinates12.242°N, 86.342°W
Last Eruptionabout 6400-6800 years ago
Elevation518 m
ActivitiesHiking, swimming
Located only 10 kilometers from Managua lies the Chiltepe Peninsula. This peninsula is composed of two lagoons: Apoyeque and Xiloa. The Apoyeque lagoon was formed by the Apoyeque Volcano. This volcano has erupted for the last time thousands of years ago. In 1988 the temperature of the lagoon started increasing and sulfur gases were smelled. Active fumaroles are still present in the area. Although not active, there is still some volcanic activity present around Apoyeque.
The Xiloa lagoon is located right next to the Apoyeque Volcano, on the same peninsula inside Lake Managua. This lagoon is very accessible by road and can be used for swimming and recreation. Hiking can also be done in the area. The Apoyeque lagoon, however, is separated from the Xiloa lagoon by the old crater wall of the volcano. This makes it hard to access the lagoon. Furthermore, the Apoyeque lagoon is located about 400 meters below the crater rim, making it even harder to access the lagoon itself. The views of the surroundings, including Lake Managua, are great, though. This beautiful peninsula, located close to Managua, is definitely worth a visit.
In the picture, you see the Xiloa lagoon on the foreground, with the crater walls of Apoyeque on the background.
Masaya Volcano
NameMasaya Volcano
TypeShield volcano
Coordinates11.984°N, 86.161°W
Last Eruption2003
Elevation635 m
ActivitiesHiking, museum visit

The Masaya Volcano National Park is located half an hour from Nicaragua's capital, and it is very accessible. The smoking crater can already be seen from the road. A national park has been set up around the volcano, and within the park there is a paved road that leads to the crater. This enables visitors to drive in car up the Santiago crater. The park includes in total two volcanoes, the Masaya Volcano and the Nindirí Volcano, and five craters. The Santiago crater was formed in 1852 and is the most active crater of the park.
Gas is continuously emitted by this crater, and the white plume can be seen from far. This process is called passive degassing, and it takes place in cycles at the Masaya Volcano. This last cycle started in 1993 and still continues. These gases have a significant impact on the surroundings. A constant wind carries the sulfur dioxide westward, where the prolonged exposure affects the environment. The gases are estimated to affect an area of around 1,250 km². Within this area plant life and human living conditions are affected. The affected area stretches all the way to the Pacific Ocean and includes the municipality of El Crucero. When visiting the volcano, you can also smell the sulfur gases. Short term exposure to these gases does not pose a threat to visitors of the park. Surprisingly, a colony of green parakeets is living inside the crater, apparently unaffected by the toxic gases.
In addition to visiting this impressive crater you can find some other spectacular sightings at the park. You can hike up to another dormant crater which also provides a fantastic view of the Santiago crater and the area. There is also a trail that leads to a cave inhabited by bats. Other trails bring you to panoramic viewpoints. Hiking through the reserve will also allow you to observe the spectacular landscape created by past eruptions.
The Masaya Volcano is the most accessible volcano in Nicaragua, and even people physically limited can get up to the crater and enjoy this beautiful volcano. There is also a visitor center with a little museum, providing interesting information about the park. You can read more about visiting the Masaya Volcano in our Activity Guide.
Laguna de Apoyo (Apoyo Lagoon)
NameLaguna de Apoyo
TypeCrater Lake
Coordinates11.92°N, 86.03°W
Last Eruptionabout 23,000 years ago
Elevation468 m
ActivitiesSwimming, hiking
When the old Apoyo Volcano erupted, about 23,000 years ago, it left a huge 7 km-wide crater that gradually filled with water. This lake, located between Masaya and Granada, is surrounded by the old crater wall. This spectacular lagoon can be easily reached by car, and it is a great spot for swimming and relaxing. There is still an active fumarole at the western shore of the lagoon, so the volcano is not yet dormant. There are also myths that still surround this pristine lagoon.
For more information about the activities in and around the Apoyo lagoon, you can visit our Activity Guide. The next volcano to be described can already be seen on the picture of the Apoyo Lagoon; the mountain towering above the crater rim of the lagoon is the Mombacho Volcano, up next...
Mombacho Volcano
NameMombacho Volcano
Coordinates11.826°N, 85.967°W
Last Eruptionunknown
Elevation1,345 m

The Mombacho Volcano is a huge stratovolcano bordering Lake Nicaragua, close to Granada. The islets in the lake, called Las Isletas, are thought to be the result of an eruption of the Mombacho Volcano, thousands of years ago. Nowadays, the Mombacho Volcano is quiet and dense forest dominates the slopes. Nature and panoramic views characterize this volcano.
After the Masaya Volcano, the Mombacho is probably the best accessible volcano in the country. From the main road you can get to the entrance of the volcano. A truck drives up and down from the base to the top of the volcano. This journey is impressive by itself already. You will pass several types of ecosystems while ascending this steep volcano. From tropical dry forest you will move into a semideciduous tropical forest and around the summit there grows a highly productive wet tropical forest, also called cloud forest. On the highest peaks you can also observe a dwarf forest where trees never grow tall because of constant strong winds.
These different types of vegetation make the area rich in biodiversity. There are also several animals and plant species endemic to the volcano. This beautiful nature can be observed by walking around one of the four craters. Very decent trails have been set up, offering varying possibilities for hiking this volcano. In addition to amazing nature you can also find spectacular viewpoints along the trails. For more information on hiking on the Mombacho Volcano, visit our Activity Guide.
Zapatera Island
Photo courtesy of Jaime Incer. Used with permission.
NameZapatera Island
TypeVolcanic cone complex
Coordinates11.73°N, 85.82°W
Last Eruptionunknown
Elevation629 m
ActivitiesHiking, exploring
Zapatera Island is located inside Lake Nicaragua, just as Ometepe Island. The Zapatera Island, however, measures only about 70 km² and is inhabited by a very small group of people. The old volcano does not show any signs of eruption anymore, and the island it has left is nowadays densely forested. Zapatera Island was inhabited by indigenous tribes and it houses many archaeological sites. Ancient statues and artefacts have been found in great quantities on the island, and many are still buried there. In the San Francisco Museum in Granada you can find a collection of statues from Zapatera.
The island can be seen from the mainland (from Granada), as well as from the boat that brings you to Ometepe Island. Although Zapatera offers some very attractive features (nature, archaeological sites), the island is not frequently visited by tourists. However, visiting the island is possible although it requires some effort (there is not much tourism infrastructure available).
Concepción Volcano
NameConcepción Volcano
Coordinates11.538°N, 85.623°W
Last Eruption1986
Elevation1,610 m

A true giant among the Nicaraguan volcanoes. Only slightly lower than the San Cristóbal Volcano, the Concepción dominates the western side of Ometepe Island. Just like the Cristóbal and Momotombo, the Concepción is a cone-shaped stratovolcano. The most recent violent eruption occurred in 1986, which heavily affected people living on this side of the island. The volcano continues to emit ash and gases. As recent as August 2005 the Concepción threw out ash, and seismic activity around the island increased, prompting many to think the Concepción was about to erupt. Gradually the seismic activity decreased, however, and the expected eruption did not take place.
Climbing the Concepción is another great challenge, but definitely worth the effort. You can easily reach the foot of the volcano from where you rapidly ascend, walking through banana and coffee plantations. Stunning nature and spectacular views can be expected on the way up. It is not an easy climb though, and you will have to climb big rocks that somehow form the trail and lead to the crater. Along the way you will pass different types of vegetation, including a small forest and spectacular plants. Closer to the top the views are often limited by clouds, but if you are lucky enough to have a clear sky, you can enjoy superb views. Finally, watching the sulfur smoke come out of the crater on the top of this volcano is a truly magnificent experience. Going up and down will take between seven and ten hours, and it can be done in one day. Read more about climbing the Concepción Volcano in our Activity Guide.
Maderas Volcano
NameMaderas Volcano
Coordinates11.446°N, 85.515°W
Last Eruptionabout 3,000 years ago
Elevation1,394 m

The southernmost volcano of Nicaragua, located on Ometepe Island together with the Concepción Volcano. The Maderas is a dormant volcano, sharing many characteristics with the Mombacho Volcano. Not only do these two volcanoes have about the same height, they also share an ecosystem rather uncommon in the Pacific area of Nicaragua: the wet tropical forest. Above a certain altitude, both the Mombacho and the Maderas Volcano have the same humid atmosphere. The Maderas is also covered in forest.
On the top of this volcano you can find a small but mystical crater lake. Unlike the Mombacho, there is no paved road to the crater. You will have to hike all the way up, making it much harder to reach the summit. The Maderas is less steep than the Concepción Volcano, but it still is a long trail. It will take about eight hours, and ascending this volcano is once again a truly magnificent experience, incomparable to any of the other volcanoes in Nicaragua. You can read more about climbing the Maderas Volcano in our Activity Guide.
For more information on volcanoes in Nicaragua, be sure to visit the website of the Global Volcanism Program of the Smithsonian Institute and the website of the Nicaraguan Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies, INETER (website in Spanish).

Activity at Telica volcano in May 2011

Desafío X-Treme at the Mombacho volcano

Desafío X-Treme Sand Boarding at Cerro Negro

Mountain bike speed record at Cerro Negro (1)

Mountain bike speed record at Cerro Negro (2)

View from the Summit of Volcan Concepcion

Wie is de mol? - Cerro Negro

Wie is de Mol? - Masaya Volcano

Wie is de Mol? - Mombacho volcano and coffee plantation
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