Hiking Maderas Volcano, Nicaragua

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Here’s the second post from Guest Adventurer Fanni Bartanics from the My Seven Worlds travel blog. Fanni is currently exploring Central and South America and is now in Colombia. Read about one of her recent adventures hiking a volcano on Nicaragua’s Ometepe Island.

Ometepe is the tenth largest lake island in the world and it’s where I spent an incredibly exciting week in March this year. With its two volcanoes, Ometepe Island rises from the water like a camel, providing two great options for adventurers.

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After taking a short 90 minute ferry ride for about $1.50 from the Nicaraguan port of San Jorge, I arrived in Ometepe’s port of Moyogalpa. Despite its size, it offers a great selection of hostels not far from the ferry terminal. The longer you are willing to walk, the cheaper the accommodation is likely to be.

I decided not to book anything ahead of time and I’m glad I didn’t because hostel owners were waiting for the new arrivals with good deals. I just followed the guy who offered the best value accommodation.

Moyogalpa itself is not too exciting with its handful of bars, but the street food is excellent and cheap. Plus eating with locals is a great culture immersion.

Climbing Maderas

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After a few days in town, I journeyed to the El Zopilote eco-hostel at the base of the Maderas volcano ahead of my hike.

Maderas volcano is only 200 meters smaller than its bigger (and more famous) brother, Concepción – which many people aim to hike during their Ometepe stay. The reason I chose to do Maderas instead was because it’s not quite as steep and is supposed to take less time to climb than Concepcion. The 1394 metre Maderas with its luscious rainforest and crater lake seemed more inviting for me personally.

Together with two other girls, I headed up Maderas. We decided not to pay for a guide, but boy I have to say that was the wrong decision. The lower third of the hike is fairly easy and straight forward, but as I reached the cloud base and I could not rely entirely on sight, it became harder.

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I started in boiling heat and completely dry vegetation around me and ended up in a rich, green and wonderful rainforest. Suddenly nature was alive, and I heard and saw monkeys, tropical birds and insects all around me.

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As I was climbing, the volcanic slopes kept getting more and more humid and wet. The temperature dropped, the ground turned into mud and I started sliding where I really shouldn’t have. Focusing on directions while trying to keep warm, safe and well balanced was a great challenge.

When the wind picked up – at which point I thought was around three quarters into the climb – I was shivering. I was underprepared with not enough warm clothing, not enough water, or a guide. Only a beginner nomad does this, and so I learnt to never make these mistakes again.

I kept asking people on their way back how much further I had to go and they all seemed to have completely lost track of time as estimations varied between 30 minutes to 90 minutes. After three and half hours – when I could no longer bear the mud, wind and rain – I turned back. It made no sense to take more risks just to reach the crater when low visibility meant I wasn’t going to see much anyway.

The descent

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Going down was way more dangerous and I fell several times, twisting my ankle, bruising myself and cutting myself here and there. I was not wearing proper hiking boots and coming on this hike with running shoes was quickly added to my list of mistakes. Navigating down was a lot more difficult than going up, so sometimes I descended down a path on the right, sometimes the left, and just hoped I’m still heading in the right direction.

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Finally I got visuals again below the cloud base and I realised I was off track, so with my group we ended up walking across banana plantations and bull farms with our hands up in the air to look bigger and therefore more dangerous in case they charged. We climbed under barbed wire countless times and finished the hike an hour later than we’d planned. In total, it took us eight hours from hostel to hostel.

For the very first time I had to take not one, not two, but three showers using the scrubby part of a washing sponge to get relatively clean after being covered in mud for hours.

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Lessons learnt

Would I do it again? Of course – but I would come more prepared next time. If you do decide to climb Maderas, wear hiking boots, bring waterproof clothing, carry at least 2-3 litres of water, pack some food, and bring protection for your valuables such as cameras.

I do encourage you to get a guide. Guides usually leave early morning, but in case you are also out of your mind and you don’t book one, do the same and leave as early as you can. In the week I spent on Ometepe, the peak was mostly clear until around 11am/noon but after that it was covered with thick clouds.

Even with all the pain, cold, rain and getting lost on farms, I still had an amazing adventure. As one of my favourite travel bloggers once told me, a traveller either has a good day, or a good story.

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