The extensively forested Maderas volcano rises almost 1400m out of Lago de Nicaragua to form the southeast half of Ometepe. Although Maderas is classified as an active volcano, it hasn’t erupted in over 3000 years, allowing a substantial cloud forest to envelop the upper slopes. The foothills are dominated by coffee plantations which are harvested between November and January. Due to the ecological and archaeological significance of the area, much of Maderas was allocated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2010. Let us give you a walk-through of what you may experience when Hiking the Wild Maderas Volcano, Ometepe.
When hiking Maderas, a guide is mandatory and the day starts early so it’s important to arrange the night before. The tour company provides a comfortable minibus for the 30 minute journey to and from Moyogalpa and the northeastern foot of the Volcano, a short distance from Balgüe. Driving through the colourfully painted villages in the early morning is a great experience. With the island just waking up, the roads are dominated by herds of cattle being driven by young men on horseback. On arrival at the base of the trail, a guide will meet you to promptly begin your ascent.
The first stretch of the hike is through open, flat agricultural lands where groups of men are already hard at work in fields of corn, beans and plantains. From the sparse trees, termite nests cling and magpie jays make their distinctive call, which over the constant whirr of cicadas and crickets, create a busy clangor of early morning activity. Don’t pause to take it in for too long however, it’s a smart idea to set a good pace through this section before the heat of the day arrives. Also, after rain, the trail can become very muddy so good footwear is a necessity.
After thirty minutes of hiking, you arrive at the border of the forest and the incline begins to increase. The huge ceiba trees here can grow to be over 50 metres tall and the deep buttress roots can provide a home to fruit bats and several species of snake. Howler monkeys are very common here, and their blaring siren call makes them an easy spot in the branches above. A clearing in the dense forest delivers a mirador which provides a spectacular view of Volcán Concepción and the pinched waist of the island with Lago de Nicaragua either side.
Through a thick, disorganised coffee plantation the slope, again, pitches upwards. The berries from these bushes are ready for harvest in November and December, when farmers fill and carry heavy sacks of beans down the volcano on their backs. This is also where the trail becomes less even. Larger rocks become barriers that require circumventing and waist-high undergrowth encroaches on the path from either side. The cicada’s call here is often deafening, and with howler monkeys in the canopy and ant superhighways criss-crossing the trail, the jungle is very much alive.
Past the lush, lower forested slopes, the cloud forest begins. The temperature and noise level are both lower here but the jungle is no less dense. By now, the trail has transformed into the bed of a river, filled periodically after sustained rains. Timid white-headed capuchins, slink through the trees, only revealed by the movement of branches. Coral snakes and boa constrictors also call the cloud forest home but are typically only seen in the evenings. Occasional clearings make it possible to look out over huge areas of misty jungle and spot green parakeets above the treetops.
From the 1,394m summit of the volcano it is possible to see the Lago de Nicaragua and the mainland beyond on a clear day, but those aren’t too frequent. A more likely view is a vast jungle seen through wispy cloud which, viewed from here, gives the impression of an unspoilt, undeveloped, prehistoric landscape.
It is a 10 minute descent from the summit of Maderas to the crater lake. Once at the bottom, the vast, still lagoon, surrounded by the steep green sides of the crater resemble an enormous, living football stadium. It’s possible to swim here, and the cool water will be welcome reward after the arduous climb.
The combined ascent and descent of Maderas takes approximately 8 hours. The hike itself is challenging but the amazing scenery and wildlife encountered make it equally worthwhile. When preparing for this hike, be sure to bring three litres of drinking water per person and food to enjoy at the crater lagoon. Good footwear is also pretty essential, it can get very muddy on the trail especially on the way back down.