Avenue Of Volcanoes

Janet Grischy

The western coastal plain of Central America holds a line of active volcanoes running north to south. Nicaragua itself has 19 volcanoes, almost all of them protected in National Parks.

Volcan Masaya, located about halfway between Managua and Granada, has a road to the edge of its crater. Visitors look over a stone wall and nearly 1000 feet straight down, into a rumbling smoking caldera belching acrid fumes. Folklore describes this place as the mouth of Hell. Yet, incredibly, flocks of vivid green parrots nest on the sheer walls of the crater, safe from predation. Tours can also be arranged to see a lava tube cave beneath the volcano, where three species of bats hang, and fresh lava glows in the dark.

Cerro Negro, a volcano near Leon, is completely different. The newest of Nicaragua\'s volcanoes, it began erupting in 1850. Visitors trek through a blasted moonscape of sharp volcanic rubble. The climb is steep, but not too long; it takes about an hour to climb Cerro Negro. From the lip of the crater, the green coastal plain is laid out below, and beyond, the sparkling Pacific. A chain of volcanoes marches into the distance, including Telica and San Cristobal, often with smoke drifting from their cones.

Hikers can continue on down into the crater, where the air is sulfurous and the ground too hot to touch. If arrangements were made ahead of time, it is possible to use a board to descend from the volcano, snowboarding or sledding on the ash. Some people even run down.

Volcan Mombacho, near Granada, offers a cabled canopy tour through rainforest. There is a cloud forest here, and a dwarf forest as well, but the trail to it can only be explored with a guide. Wild orchids bloom on Mombacho.

There are many more volcanoes and many more sights in Nicaragua, all waiting to be explored by adventure travelers who want to see and experience the best of this fascinating land.