There are a few other islands in Lake Nicaragua, but Ometepe is, by far, the largest. The two volcanoes are Volcán Concepción, which is still active, and Volcán Maderas, which Is dormant. Maderas is smaller, standing at 1,394 meters (or 4,573 feet), while Concepción towers above the island at 1,600 meters (or 5,249 feet). If you’ve ever wanted to hike a volcano in Nicaragua, Ometepe Island is the place to be.
You can hike either volcano but you must hire a local guide, which is non-negotiable. A few of the choices for hiking these compelling natural wonders are:
- Hike to the top of Volcán Concepción, a 16-km hike, extremely steep and rocky closer to the top. Approximate time: 8 hours.
- Hike to the top of Volcán Maderas, a slightly easier hike that gets steep and muddy. At the top, however, is a crater lake, which is said to be absolutely beautiful. Approximate time: 8 hours.
- Hike to the viewpoint of Volcán Maderas, a challenge in itself but not nearly as difficult as the other two hiking choices. If you are limited on time, this may be the best option as it is shorter than the other two hikes. Approximate time: 4 hours.
When I visited with a group, a few of us decided just to hike to the viewpoint of Maderas for many reasons. Since it was a slightly shorter hike and we didn’t have all that much time on the island, this was the best option for us. And then we would have enough time to enjoy the cold springs and lunch afterward. Either of the full-day hikes would have taken over 8 hours, making it the only activity we could do that day. Longer, strenuous hikes are better suited for those who have the conditioning and endurance training anyways.
Our guide was booked for the next day. The morning of the hike, we were picked up in an SUV with a driver and our hiking guide, Luis Two. He was called that because there are six Luis’ at the tour company and he was the second Luis hired. We chatted with him the entire way to the volcano – he was a wealth of information and you could tell he has a lot of passion for Ometepe Island, where he grew up. He told us he left Ometepe for a few years to go live in Granada, but didn’t like it so much and returned home. He’s an expert hiker and told us he once lived on Maderas Volcano for a week on a survival challenge. We knew we were in good hands.
Arriving at Maderas and the Hike:
Upon arrival to Maderas Volcano, the driver parked in the dirt parking lot. There was a pristine restroom we were able to use before hiking. The gorgeous surrounding area looked like we were in the middle of someone’s flower garden.
Now it was time to begin the hike. The trail starts flat and steady, with slight elevation here and there, but nothing drastic yet. We stopped by some banana trees growing, and Luis educated us about the banana trees (he knew quite a bit since he helps pick bananas during their harvest).
He showed us a termite nest on a fence by the banana trees and told us that people can eat termites which are good protein. Then he asked if any of us wanted to try. I was going to, but I tend to feel bad killing anything, let alone an ant or even a termite. But one of the women in our group gave it a go. She swallowed the first one whole and was told to try again, this time biting into it. After biting into the second termite, she told us it tasted a bit like basil.
We hiked on at a slow and steady clip for about the first hour, as it rained on and off. There wasn’t much elevation gain at this point. Luis would occasionally stop if he saw an interesting insect or tree and tell us stories along the way. One story he told was utterly fascinating. A group of hikers made it to the top and saw what they thought was the devil. As it turns out, it was actually a large snake that had eaten a deer. The antlers were sticking out of the snake’s mouth because they cannot digest antlers.
After the first hour, we quickly started to gain elevation, but because it had rained, it was both muddy and slippery. Our guide helped us along if we needed it. And, then, before we knew it, we arrived at the viewpoint. As we rested, we soaked in the scenery around us. Ometepe is quite a special place!
From this vantage point, we could really see the hourglass shape of the island and had a clear shot of Concepción, covered by clouds at the summit. Waves were lapping along the shore, but I had to remind myself that the water below was a lake and not the sea. What a breathtaking view!
The “Tree of Life”:
On the way down, we stopped to take photos at a tree Luis told us was referred to as the “Tree of Life.” I’ve never seen a tree like this before, with a massive trunk that curved and looked like it could envelop a person. Branches stretched towards the sky creating a gorgeous canopy of leaves. The tree is actually a Ceiba, native to tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas. They are known for their straight, mostly branchless trunk that culminates in a huge, spreading canopy, and buttress roots that can grow taller than a person. According to the Maya religion, the Ceiba is known as the Tree of Life because it is rooted in the underworld and the branches reach the heavens, with the middle portion existing in the human world.
Continuing our descent, I had trouble with the steep, muddy part and Luis held onto me most of the way down until we reached the flatter and less muddy part. Despite his help, I slipped and stumbled a few times so making it to the less treacherous part of the path was a welcome sight.
When we finally made it back down and hopped in the SUV which took us to see some petroglyphs on the property. Ometepe is actually known for its petroglyphs, which are shrouded in mystery. They are evidence of pre-Columbian life here. The highly stylized, curvilinear designs and animals are carved into basalt boulders. It is here at Maderas Volcano where you can see the best examples of petroglyphs on the island.
Hiking Maderas Volcano on Ometepe Island with a knowledgeable guide was an experience to remember! When you come to the island, which hike will you choose?