Lago Cocibolca Granada Nicaragua

A hike into the Cloud Forest of Mombacho Volcano

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.

Lago Cocibolca Granada Nicaragua

A distant view of Mombacho Volcano

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.

Adventure Travel Nicaragua TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

An afternoon at Fuentes Georginas

It is not possible to wake up at 4:30 am, hike a volcano and not follow up with an immediate visit to most popular natural spa in all of Guatemala.  The plan to go immediately to Fuentes Georginas proceeding my volcano climb popped into my head during the knee-aching, slippery descent of Santa Maria.  I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the remainder of the day, rewarding my tired body and soul, and soaking in one of the four hot pools of Fuentes Georginas located in the mountains nearby.

Adventure Travel Guatemala TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

The long, slippery descent down Santa Maria

View from the Top: Xela lies thousands of feet below.

“Getting to the top is optional.   Getting down is mandatory.” -Ed Viesturs climber and author of “No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks”

After my surreal experience on top of Santa Maria volcano, witnessing my first live volcanic eruption just a few thousand feet below my perch on a jagged rock, it was time to say goodbye.  Heading back is always the anti-climax of a hike, especially a good one in which you reach your peak and for that moment in time you are on top of the world.  But as I always say, all good things must come to an end.  It was time to head back.

The start of our descent….you can see terraced farmland first, followed by the town of Xela far below. 

Adventure Travel Guatemala TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

Watching a live volcanic eruption from my perch atop Santa Maria

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied — it speaks in silence to the very core of your being”.  —-Ansel Adams

Around 10:30, five hours after starting our hike up the dark and slippery path of the Santa Maria Volcano we had finally arrived at her pointed peak.  The clouds had started to form and blanket the valley of Xela thousands of miles below.  Yet fortunately they hadn’t fully conquered the peak.  There was still a spectacular view of the surrounding volcanoes and valley beneath.

As we approached our resting spot for an early lunch I was perplexed by a low humming sound.  The sound of voices, high and low, big and small, filled up the empty open space around me.  As we come closer to the noise I realized with amazement that it was a human chain of chanting.  The Mayans were singing their prayers to their gods.  The voices of their chants flowed smoothly together making a monotonous tone at times, entrancing me and captivating my soul.

Adventure Travel Guatemala TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

My 5 am climb up the Santa Maria Volcano

“The Beauty of the Mountain is hidden for all those who try to discover it from the top, supposing that, one way or an other, one can reach this place directly.   The Beauty of the Mountain reveals only to those who climbed it…” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

View of the grand Santa Maria volcano off in the distance as I was leaving Xela via shuttle on my way to Antigua. 

There are things you’ll experience in Guatemala that will stay with you forever: the smell of a freshly grilled tortilla; the assault-on-all-senses of a jungle trek; the people you bump into on the road and become lifelong friends…..In the west, a volcano looms on almost every horizon, almost begging to be climbed.  (Opening lines in the introduction to Guatemala, Lonely Planet 2010).

It was with these words, “almost begging to be climbed” that I joyously opted to skip my already-paid for Spanish class on Wednesday and wake up at the break of dawn to climb Guatemala’s fourth highest volcano, Santa Maria (elevation 3772 m/12,375 feet).  It didn’t matter that I was utterly exhausted nor that I didn’t have the right gear.  All that mattered was there was an enormously, inviting volcano begging to be climbed.  There was no way I wasn’t going to climb it.

Adventure Travel Guatemala TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking