One thing that never escapes your eyesight in the beautiful colonial town of Granada is Mombacho Volcano. Every cobblestone, colorful street you walk on, Mombacho appears in the distance, jetting majestically into the skies above Granada. The first time I saw Mombacho, I knew I had to climb it. Yet figuring out how to include a climb into an already short time span of only 24 hours in Granada seemed impossible. I would have to instead settle for an organized tour of the volcano with a short hike around the crater.
I booked the tour with my hotel concierge and rose bright and early the next day for my visit to Mombaoho. I was really looking forward to exploring this magical place and also escaping the scorching heat of Granada. Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt I was ready to go by 8 am. I met my Spanish-speaking driver and road the short twenty minute drive to the entrance of the park where I’d pick up my tour.
I rambled away in broken Spanish asking Carlos about the tour. I realized that I understood roughly half of what he told me and the rest was lost in translation. That should have forewarned me that I was utterly, ill-prepared for the hike. But I just went on and on, talking and thinking excitedly about the fantastic blog post I’d be writing when I finished and all the gorgeous pictures I’d take.
Silly me, it was a lesson in humility. From the moment I arrived at the park, the first thing I noticed is that I was the only one dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. I also made the rookie mistake of not bringing a backpack and carrying layers. As I awaited my transport to the top of Mombaoho the first dreaded rain drop fell on my sun-screaned face. Rain? How on earth could that be possible? It is dry season in Nicaragua and burning hot. Little did I know, I was in for a long, freezing cold and rainy hike on top the volcano with no rain gear or warm clothing to get me through.
The ride up to the top was extremely bumpy and rough. I have honestly never taken a vehicle up a volcano before and I was stunned by how steep it was. I held on tight while trying to stay warm and praying the rain would stop by the time we reached the top. Fifteen minutes later we arrived, I was carsick and frozen cold. The entire peak of the volcano was shrouded in clouds and fog. I could hardly see a few feet in front of me and it was at that point raining sideways. Oh no! What had I gotten myself into?
I got out of the truck and ran for cover in the Biological Center that contains a very small cafe, maps and other information (all in Spanish) about the park. After a brief introduction, we were told we had three hours to explore the volcano and the truck would drive us back down by noon. Three hours? I was so ill prepared I wondered grumpily what on earth I was going to do. I could sit and wait inside the building or I could brave it and do the hike in the fog and rain wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I opted to do the hike. When would I ever be back on top Mombacho Volcano?
If I would have bothered to read my guide book before booking the tour, I would have learned that Mombacho is a cool, misty, cloud forest that often experiences temperatures way cooler than in Granada and often is hidden in fog. Getting a clear day on top of Mombacho is rare but when you do, the views of the crator, Granada and the lake are absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, I would see none of it except for in my imagination.
I gathered my nerve and finally dove out into the windy, cold rain to do a short hike. Was it worth it? Not really. I was wet, freezing cold, muddy and miserable but it beat sitting on my behind in the shelter for three hours.
There are two main hikes on top the volcano: The Sendero el Crater which circles the forest-lined crater and takes roughly 30 minutes around, and the longer, more difficult Sendero la Puma (takes three hours). On a clear day, the views are supposedly stunning.
Given the poor weather, I did a short half and I won’t lie it was pretty brutal. I was soaking wet and kept praying for the clouds to lift so I could see the crater and the stunning views but it was not in the cards for me. Instead, I tried to focus on the positive of the experience. I saw a few beautiful flowers and did see the steam vents that brought me a little bit of warmth.
I also learned a little bit more about the volcano and the reserve. The top of the Mombacho is a protected natural preserve and has a variety of rare flora and fauna to discover. The bottom part of the volcano is laced with fincas (coffee farms) as coffee grows magnificently in the fertile cloud forests.
The cloud forests of Mombacho are very important in nurturing the valleys below with water. Without the presence of Mosbacho, there would not be water and the valley below would not be so lush with life. Mombacho is also home to over 1,000 howler monkeys and hundreds of species of orchids. I didn’t see any monkeys as I assume they were all under cover but I did see lots of gorgeous orchids.
It was really too bad that it was so wet and foggy as I can imagine that Mombacho affords perhaps the best view in all of Granada. I guess I’ll have to save it for next time.
Around noon, our truck appeared and we all climbed aboard wet, muddy and cold. As we drove down the flanks of the volcano, we made a brief stop at one of the coffee plantations to have a peek. The sun was shining strong and soon my wet clothes dried. I took some lovely photos of the tropical part of Mombacho. It was amazing to me that this was the same mountain with two very different climates just a fifteen minute drive apart.
I hope to someday return to Nicaragua as it is such a beautiful country with so much to explore. Maybe someday I’ll even get to the top of Mombacho and get the view!
If you go:
The majority of guests arrive at Mombacho via a tour group however you can also do it all on your own. Check departure times for the truck transport up to the reserve. It usually departs a few times a day except on Mondays when the reserve is closed. The entire trip requires anywhere from half a day to a full day excursion if you do the longer hike. You can also stay overnight.
Oh, I’m so sorry you had crummy weather up there! Every day that I looked at Mombacho in my first few days there, it was enveloped in clouds. I did take my backpack and layers and set off in cloudy weather but lucky for me, the clouds moved off the top right as we began our hike. We did the longer one, and it was a heavenly day up there with great views. Believe me, I’m not rubbing it in – I just did a post myself on a 10-hour hike we did in pouring rain with no view at the top, so I get the disappointment! 🙁 As you said, simply a reason to go back! (And that road up was intense! I got my core workout that morning just hanging on so I wouldn’t end up on someone’s else’s lap!)
That sounds wonderful Lexi! I guess I wish I didn’t rush around to do the hike but I really had no idea the weather would be so lousy. I guess that happens some times!
What I like most is that despite being unprepared, you made decisions and moved forward – and lived! We get so many messages of OMG! that cause us to live in fear of being less than perfectly able to predict and control situations. Truth is, most of it is highly survivable. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks! Yes I did it. Have to just go for it I guess sometimes!
Thank you for sharing this story – it’s reassuring to know that even the most experienced travelers can make such rookie mistakes. The flowers are gorgeous, so for this armchair traveler your pain was worth it 🙂
Yes indeed! Glad you enjoyed! 🙂
Interesting account, and some lovely photos. See any tropical butterflies there?
Thanks! No I saw no butterflies but I think it was due to the rain. I can imagine there are many on a sunny day!
Oh, I have to chuckle at this post. Climbing the volcanoes around Nicaragua will take you through a variety of temperatures and climates. Yes, you should have dressed in layers, but it sounds like you still enjoyed the tour…well, somewhat.:-) At least when you got back to Granada, you could appreciate the cool temps at the top of Mombacho. Great post, Nicole. You will have to come back again. I am amazed at how much you accomplished in so little time.
Ha ha yes I can’t believe how silly I was! I think I just was in such a rush to do so much and of course didn’t understand anything they told me about the trip, that I just was unprepared. Makes a funny story though! 😊
I also smiled while reading this as your guide really should have forewarned you about the climate changes and microclimates that exist on Mombacho! Even though we lived in Nicaragua for six years I still always clung to my seat for that ride to the top of Mombacho in one of their trucks. Its definitely less scary by car! As it really is very steep and the trucks feel old, making one wonder if they will get to the top. It is a good view in good weather and a pleasant hike around the steam holes!
Yes, he probably did warn me about the weather but I didn’t understand him! My spanish is not that great so that is what makes it all the funnier! I bet it is a beautiful hike on a nice day.
Great post Nicole, feel like I was there with you. Shame things didn’t go as planned, Nicole but you’ll just have to go back. This time I’ve no doubt you’ll be fully prepared. Live and learn hey.
Thanks Miriam! We just got our new puppy! I haven’t slept in two days but he sure is cute!
Oh Nicole, how wonderful. It must be like having a new baby in the family. I remember those days well. Have fun!
Yes but I’m so tired!!!
I can well imagine! Lots of love but no sleep. You’re just like a new mum again. ♥♡