Telica & Masaya - Active Volcanoes Up Close

Telica & Masaya - Active Volcanoes Up Close

May 2023

Our next destination was the Telica volcano in the north-east of Leon, which we wanted to climb. In the small village of Cristo Rey, we found a pitch in a large meadow with palapas. The owner Ulises didn’t want any money, but we arranged to meet for lunch the next day. After lunch, we wanted to then set off for the volcano.

In the morning we woke up because of the enormous heat. As early as 8 am it was almost unbearable outside in the sun. Around midday, we drove over to Ulise’s house and the family was already waiting for us with lunch. We also got some refrescos, cold drinks that Ulise’s wife had specialised in making. There were different flavours such as cocoa, guava, tamarind and pineapple. She also showed us the different ways to prepare them. In addition to these refrescos, she also sold all kinds of other things in the small shop next door. Two of their daughters live and work in the USA and send money to the family. The little three-year-old grandson was left here with his grandparents.

Taxi transer with Ulises on his motorbike

Around half past two, we finally wanted to start walking and cover the 10 kilometers to the volcano. However, Ulises insisted on bringing us the first 2 kilometers on his motorcycle. It was hot and although the path was relatively shady, we were sweating from every pore. Fortunately, we were repeatedly distracted from this exertion, as there were plenty of Guardabarrancos to watch. Nicaragua’s national bird is widely spread here and we admired its dazzling colors and beautiful tail.

By 4:45 p.m. we had reached the end of the trail and now there were still 100 meters of volcano climb ahead of us. The closer we got to the edge of the crater, the stronger the smell of sulphur burned in our noses and the louder the rumbling became. Once we reached the top, we leaned over the edge and looked into the crater’s maw, where huge amounts of smoke were belching out. The sun was slowly but surely making its way towards the horizon and we were able to watch a fantastic sunset. In the distance, we could see several other volcanoes from Nicaragua’s volcanic chain, including the country’s highest volcano, San Cristobal, at 1745 meters.


Once it was dark, we returned to the acrid vapors of Telica. It is one of the most active volcanoes in Nicaragua, 1061 meters high and last erupted in 2015. At a depth of 120 meters, it was bubbling powerfully and it was as if we were looking into the mouth of hell. We could even see the red magma as we carefully lay on our stomachs and pushed ourselves over the edge of the crater.

Sunset at Telica vulcano
Magma inside the Telica crater

A unique experience, but then it was time to set off. We still had 10 kilometers to go back in the dark. Armed with flashlights, we found the path without any problems, but our legs were getting tired and it seemed as if we would never arrive. Suddenly we heard the sound of a motorcycle. Sure enough, Ulises and a friend had come to meet us and drive us the last 4 kilometers home. We could hardly believe our luck, as we were really exhausted. We jumped straight into the cold shower and then into bed.

As we have experienced many times, it is always hard to say goodbye to people you have only just met, but who in this short time have made you feel like part of the family. The hospitality we experienced with the family is unprecedented and although we had to use the translation app for every second sentence, we felt as if we had known them for years. When we were about to say goodbye, we were unexpectedly served another breakfast that we had not counted on. On a table two plates filled with rice, meat and a tortilla were waiting for us. We slowly got the idea that they were trying to make it as difficult as possible for us to say goodbye at all today.

In Leon, we were to meet Ralph and Nazarena again. We had met this German-Nicaraguan couple at Jürgen and Anabel’s Finca. Leon is the former capital of Nicaragua and Nazarena’s hometown where she and Ralph had rented a small apartment and where they had invited us for a cup of coffee and a shower. Many topics came up during several rounds of coffee. Nazarena speaks perfect German, so this was the perfect opportunity for us to experience more about the country and its people.

It was Eddy’s birthday and we wanted to celebrate it in town over a dinner for two. Nicaragua has gone through tough times that have kept tourists from visiting the country. While in 2018 it was political problems that locked the country down, the corona pandemic followed in 2020. As a result, no money was made from tourists for almost four years. Many restaurants did not survive this difficult period and had to close their doors. Eventually we ended up at some kind of Italian-looking restaurant not far from the main plaza. It didn’t turn out to be the best pizza ever, but fortunately the beer was cold to which we toasted to a new year.

We still couldn’t get used to the fact that it doesn’t cool a degree at night either. With our little fan we tried to create a little breeze in the back of the car, which did not necessarily mean that we came out of the night well rested. Fortunately, we didn’t have much planned for today. Romy was going to visit a hairdresser with Nazarena, which gave Eddy the opportunity to visit Leon on foot one more time.

Leon is only 20 kilometers away from the beach and the Pacific Ocean and even though we are not necessarily beach lovers, we let the next two days pass quietly by. In the village of Las Penitas we met Italian Andrea who welcomes overlanders in the parking lot of his restaurant. Sometimes life can be very simple with a daily schedule that didn’t involve much more than drinking coffee, playing with the sometimes impressive waves, lying in a hammock and having the staff put dinner on your table in the evening. For us, these were two perfect relaxing days and refueled new energy for another volcano.


That a volcano does not have to be high to qualify for a tourist attraction is proven by the Masaya volcano. It is of the most active volcanoes on the Americas. At less than 700 meters above sea level, it is probably one of the most visited volcanoes in the world. The low altitude and the fact that you can drive your car right up to the crater rim obviously help this. The evening program starts at 16:30 and after buying our tickets from the friendly park staff, we drove the last few kilometers through lava fields up to the crater rim. The volcano belongs to the Parque Nacional Vulcan Masaya, which also houses within its boundaries a number of craters that are no longer active, all within walking distance of each other.

Visiting an active volcano only becomes interesting when the sun has disappeared behind the horizon and the magma inside the crater shows its literal fire-red color in the darkness. So we first hiked to the San Fernando and San Juan craters. From the parking lot, we followed a small hiking trail on the left up to the edge of San Fernando and saw how various lava flows have changed the landscape over the past 100 years. The jagged black formations that once came down here as a liquid hot stream looked impressive, but makes the landscape pretty useless outside of tourist purposes.

We circled both craters and along the way saw the national flower of Nicaragua, known as the Sacuanjoche flower, which thrives here on the fertile soil of Masaya. That the sun was almost setting now, we could tell by the hundreds of parrots that return here every evening and apparently need to be home before dark.


In the indigenous language, the name of the volcano is Popogatepe (“Burning Mountain”), just like Popocatepetl in Mexico. The pre-Hispanic peoples worshipped volcanoes and interpreted their eruptions as a sign of the wrath of the gods. It is said that human sacrifices were also made at the Masaya volcano to appease the gods. The falling of darkness was also the sign for us to walk toward the Santiago Crater, where by now many tourists had gathered along the crater rim to witness the spectacle. 


It was almost hopeless to find a spot from which we could look into the crater. Hundreds of people squeezed in side by side, everyone wanted the best view and the best photo. It wasn’t really to our taste, but in the end we were part of the tourist crowd, too. The red-hot lava bubbled 260 meters down in the crater. The last minor eruption was in 2001, since then it has been relatively quiet. As the emitted gases are really smelly and poisonous, we soon had seen enough and made our way back to the park entrance, where we found a place to spend the night.  What an impressive spectacle again! 

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