masaya volcano ultimate guide

Masaya Volcano: Nicaragua's Impressive Colossus

Year after year, the Masaya Volcano attracts thousands of people from all over the world, either to enjoy the breathtaking views, have an adventure climbing an active volcano or to investigate more about the myths and legends that have been scattered around this site.

Regardless of the reason, this place has a special charm that will grab you from the first moment.

This national park is a spectacular place where in addition to seeing the lava flow in some craters, you also have an unbeatable view of the departments of Masaya, Granada, Managua, and Carazo.

Let's learn more about one of the most important tourist places in Nicaragua:

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Masaya Volcano National Park

Masaya Volcano National Park is one of the most interesting and beautiful natural phenomena in Nicaragua.

As a fact of interest in Nicaragua, the Masaya Volcano was declared the first National Park in 1979, with an area of 54 km² and more than 20 km of trails and scenic roads that will take you to the surroundings of the volcano and five spectacular craters.

The Masaya volcano is an impressive spectacle of nature. It is composed of a main crater, called Santiago, and several smaller craters. One of the highlights of this volcano is its lava lake, known as "El Lago de Fuego". This natural phenomenon offers a captivating sight, especially at night when the flames illuminate the dark sky. In addition, Masaya Volcano is home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, including endemic species that have managed to adapt to the volcanic conditions.

Masaya Volcano is also known as Popogatepe, which means "Burning Mountain" in the indigenous language of the Chorotega tribe. One of its craters, El Santiago, is currently in gaseous activity and incandescent lava can be seen inside.

During your visit, you can enjoy several attractions within the park, such as the famous Santiago crater, which is the main and most active crater. Here you can witness the incandescent lava and feel the heat emanating from the earth. In addition, there are other craters such as the Nindirí crater, San Pedro, San Fernando and El Comalito, each with its own unique characteristics.

What to do in Masaya Volcano National Park during the day?

During the day, it is possible to do multiple activities at Masaya Volcano. These include:

views of the masaya volcano

1. Hike the Coyote Trail:

The Coyote Trail will take you on an exciting adventure through 6 kilometers that begin on the road to the summit and culminate at the beautiful Masaya Lagoon.

As you enter this trail, you will marvel as you cross the spectacular rivers of petrified lava. The majesty and natural beauty will envelop you, allowing you to connect with the powerful force of nature that gave birth to this incredible national park.

2. Hike the Sendero de las Pencas (Pencas Trail)

If you're looking for an even more breathtaking experience, the Sendero de las Pencas is perfect for you. This trail will guide you to the fumaroles of the impressive Nindirí Crater. As you walk along this trail, you can feel the excitement grow as you get closer to the steam and volcanic gases.

The vibrant and mysterious atmosphere will envelop you, making you feel as if you are in another world. Get ready for a truly amazing experience!

3. Visit the Tzinancostoc or Bat Cave

You can't miss the Cueva de Tzinancostoc or Cueva de los Murciélagos, located south of the Santiago crater. This place will immerse you in a gloomy and fascinating atmosphere at the same time. The strange lava formations will leave you in awe as you explore the depths of this mysterious cave.

In addition, you will witness colonies of bats that inhabit its interior, adding a touch of intrigue and excitement to your visit. Be prepared to capture breathtaking photographs and enjoy the unique beauty of this one-of-a-kind place in the world.

4. Walk the El Comalito Trail

Every step you take in El Comalito will reveal the beauty and variety of the flora that makes up this tropical dry forest. You will be able to admire majestic trees, exuberant bushes, and a great variety of plants that have found their home in this unique environment. You will also be able to appreciate how these plant communities transform and succeed each other along the trail, giving you a privileged view of the evolution and dynamics of this vibrant ecosystem.

But you will not only marvel at the variety of plants, but also at the different types of soils that you will find in El Comalito. You will observe how the composition of the soil changes along the trail, directly influencing the vegetation that thrives in each area. You will witness how the soils adapt to the surrounding conditions, creating unique microhabitats.

5. Visit the Masaya Volcano Museum

masaya volcano museum

In the Masaya Volcano National Park, you will find the fascinating Museum of Interpretation, a place that will immerse you in the exciting world of the volcano and its environment. This museum, available in two languages, English and Spanish, offers a wide range of thematic information, so you can explore and better understand this impressive natural phenomenon.

Upon entering the museum, you will find different exhibition rooms, each dedicated to a unique aspect of the Masaya Volcano.

Beginning in Room "A", you will delve into the history of the volcano, discovering its ancient eruptions and its importance in the culture and history of the region.

As you progress to Room "B", you will be able to immerse yourself in the fascinating world of geology, exploring the characteristics and formation of the volcano in an interactive and educational way.

Room "C" awaits you with everything related to volcanology, where you can learn about the internal processes that give life to this mighty colossus of fire and lava. You will discover how volcanic activity is monitored and how scientific research is conducted on this natural phenomenon.

Room "D" will give you a glimpse of the impressive nature that surrounds Masaya Volcano. Through exhibits and visual material, you will be able to appreciate the rich diversity of the flora and fauna that inhabit the area, as well as the importance of their conservation.

Finally, Room "E" will take you to explore the unique biodiversity of the region. Through exhibits and models, you will be able to understand the location and characteristics of several volcanoes in Nicaragua, immersing you in the natural wealth of the country.

This museum will allow you to tour and understand the formation of the Masaya volcano and its characteristics in an interactive and exciting way. The models and exhibits will transport you through time and space, giving you a complete perspective of this imposing natural phenomenon and its environment.

masaya volcano map

6. Take the opportunity to do photo shoots

Every step you take on these trails, you will be surrounded by breathtaking scenery that will captivate your senses. The diversity of flora and fauna, the vibrant colors and dreamlike landscapes will invite you to stop and enjoy the natural wonder that surrounds you. Don't forget to bring your camera, as every moment in this national park is an opportunity to capture the endless beauty and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Get ready for an experience full of excitement and adventure in Masaya Volcano National Park!

What to do in Masaya Volcano National Park at night?

1. Observe the lava river

One of the most exciting experiences you can have at Masaya Volcano is to visit the Santiago crater at night. The main attraction of this visit is the opportunity to witness up close the impressive lava inside the crater.

As darkness falls and the sky is painted with stars, you will enter the Masaya Volcano with a sense of anticipation and awe. As you approach the Santiago crater, you will witness a fascinating natural spectacle: the incandescent lava glowing in the darkness of the night.

The intensity and glow of the lava will captivate you, creating a magical and unique atmosphere. The reddish glow illuminates the crater and its reflection is projected on the surrounding walls, creating a striking image that will remain etched in your memory forever.

As you admire the lava in the Santiago crater, you will be able to feel the power and energy of nature in full swing. This volcanic phenomenon will remind you of the powerful activity occurring beneath the earth's surface and will leave you in awe of the grandeur and beauty of nature at its wildest.

Visiting the Santiago crater at night is an unforgettable experience full of emotions and admiration. You will be surrounded by the majesty of the Masaya Volcano and you will connect with the primordial force that has shaped this natural wonder. Get ready to live a night full of awe and contemplation at the Santiago Crater of the Masaya Volcano!

2. Stay at the Biological Station

you can stay at masaya volcano

The Masaya Volcano Biological Station offers you the opportunity to live a unique experience by staying at this simple but charming place. Here, you can immerse yourself in nature and enjoy an exceptional environment.

National visitors will be able to access these spaces for a cost of US$20 per person, while foreign tourists will pay US$25 per person. These prices give you the possibility to enjoy the facilities and services that the biological station has to offer.

One of the advantages of staying at the Biological Station is that you will have equipped kitchens, which will allow you to prepare the food you want. You will be able to take your favorite ingredients with you and enjoy home-cooked meals during your stay. This convenience adds a special touch to your experience, as you will be able to enjoy your meals in a natural and peaceful environment.

stay at masaya volcano

Staying at the Biological Station, you will have the opportunity to connect with nature uniquely. The simple, yet cozy atmosphere will allow you to disconnect from the daily hustle and bustle and immerse yourself in the beauty and tranquility that surrounds you. You will be able to explore the surroundings, hike, observe the local flora and fauna, and enjoy moments of peace and serenity.

Visit Masaya Volcano National Park

The entrance fee for nationals during the day is 50 córdobas and 150 córdobas for foreigners.

At night to see the incandescent lava, it costs 5 dollars for nationals and 10 dollars for foreigners. At night you must bring your own vehicle.

From the entrance to the top, there is a paved road in excellent condition that allows a very quiet trip, so it is not even necessary to have a 4x4 vehicle. A sedan goes up perfectly.

At the bottom, visitors have a museum with all the history of the volcano and more information about the nature of the area.

Also, on the way you can stop, appreciate, and even touch the lava flows from the years 1670 and 1772 that are on both sides of the road.

At the main cabin you can also book your stay at the biological station.

How to get to Masaya Volcano?

If you are traveling by public transportation from Managua, you just have to take a bus to Masaya at the bus terminal in front of the UCA or the Roberto Huembes market. Just tell the bus driver that you are going to get off at the entrance to the volcano, which is right on the side of the road.

In your own vehicle you should take the road to Masaya and stop at the entrance to the Masaya Volcano just before arriving at Nindiri.

Visiting Hours at Masaya Volcano

The park is open daily from 9:00 AM to 4:45 PM for regular visits.

During the night visits are made without previous reservation, from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm approximately, depending on the number of visitors at the Masaya Volcano site. (For night visits, you must arrive in your own vehicle. This can be a sedan-type vehicle since all the way to the summit is paved).

Difference between visiting the volcano during the day and at night.

For the day or night tour, when you arrive at the place, it is a five kilometers climb from the park entrance to the top of the volcano tourist spot, you can go by car or walking, but as it takes a while, and the road is steep, it is required to have the right physical conditions to perform this activity - Also, walking at night is not allowed, if you want to visit the Masaya volcano at night you must arrive in your vehicle.

For the day excursion:

Since the park is inhabited by many different types of animals. The park's wildlife includes coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, deer, iguanas and monkeys; during the hike uphill, you may be able to see these species and take pictures.

However, the weather in Nicaragua is strong, the hike can be tough due to the sun, that's why you need a good sunscreen, water, comfortable clothes and shoes, and above all a good physical condition.

The day hike allows you to identify the characteristics of the crater of a volcano, you can see the entrance and the holes made by the birds that live there.

For the night excursion:

Although you cannot clearly see the animals or vegetation, you can hear the sound of nature. The weather is cooler compared to the daytime, but dangerous because it is windier, you have to be careful where you walk, as there is no natural light and of course, have good conditions for hiking.

Night hikes make the stay at the lookout worthwhile because the dark sky and the silence of the surroundings help to fully enjoy the colorful and mesmerizing lava activity of the recent crater.

Recommendations to take into account when visiting the Masaya volcano during the day or at night

  • When you arrive at the site, wait at the main entrance on the road and listen to the precautions and explanations of the staff.
  • If there are groups of people before you, be patient and wait in line until the staff allows entry.
  • Once you have the green light to enter, head to the crater on a first-come, first-served basis and park your vehicles on the main road.
  • The duration of the visit is between 10 and 20 minutes (depending on the total number of visitors at the entrance). After this time, the guides and park rangers will ask you to leave the area and go to the main gate.

What to bring on your visit to Masaya Volcano?

  • A backpack with your personal belongings
  • A camera or your phones to take pictures of the trip (both day and night you will be able to take spectacular pictures).
  • Bottles of water and candy in case your blood pressure drops due to the cold wind, or you get dizzy during the trek.
  • Good shoes and comfortable clothes.
  • Disposable bags to deposit your garbage and not to dirty the environment.
  • Alcohol in liquid or gel form.

Visiting the Masaya volcano in Nicaragua is an unforgettable experience.

The Masaya Volcano is a natural wonder that captures the imagination and adventurous spirit of those who visit it. Its history, unique characteristics and the possibility of entering its domains make this volcano a must-see destination in Nicaragua.

Whether contemplating the lava lake, exploring the lava caves or simply enjoying the scenic beauty that surrounds it, the Masaya Volcano offers a unique and fascinating experience. Don't miss the opportunity to discover this colossus of nature and immerse yourself in its magic.

Best tours to visit the Masaya Volcano:

 

Looking for a place to stay near Masaya Volcano?

Find hotel and lodging offers in the city of Masaya; so you can quietly enjoy the wonders of the volcano.

 

The Masaya Volcano in history

masaya volcano history

In the pre-Columbian period, the Masaya Volcano was an object of veneration by the indigenous people who inhabited the area.

They believed that the eruptions were signs of the fury generated by the Gods and to calm them down they offered sacrifices of maidens and small children. During the time of the Conquest, the Spanish baptized the active volcano as "La Boca del Infierno" (Hell's Mouth).

Nicaragua's Masaya volcano was considered the gateway to hell. It caused even more fear to the colonizers when the indigenous people claimed to have learned of their arrival from the witch that inhabited the volcano. The Spaniards considered the witch to be the devil.

The Masaya volcano was the first permanent lava lake observed by Europeans, which produced a strong impression and interest in it. For more than a century there was a great controversy about the nature of this phenomenon. Some believed it was the Mouth of Hell, while others greedily saw in the lava a source of gold or silver.

Then they placed the so-called "Bobadilla Cross" (in honor of Father Francisco Bobadilla). It was placed on the edge of the crater in the sixteenth century so that the devil could not be conjured.

The Masaya Volcano was visited by Spaniards looking for "The gold of the volcano". Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, in 1529 and Friar Blas del Castillo in 1538, were among the excavators who failed; the former visited it, explored it and wrote its history.

In 1670, the ancient Nindirí Volcano had its last eruption, followed by the Masaya Volcano Eruption in 1772.

The lava expelled by this second eruption advanced as a River of Fire to the area known as Piedra Quemada. In 1852, a new crater (Santiago) was formed between the existing volcanoes. During this period, the San Pedro Crater, now extinct, was also formed.

The biggest eruption of the Masaya volcano

The event was triggered on the morning of March 16, 1772. The northern slope of the volcano had become so hot that the cattle grazing nearby fled in terror. Their instinct, wise as it is, led them to take shelter, because soon a violent tremor occurred in the bowels of the Masaya volcano, and in that part of the mountain a crack opened through which a vast torrent of lava emerged.

The incandescent mass flowed and divided into two currents. One of them reached the Masaya Lagoon, while the other, crossing the main road, continued advancing during the following days in the direction of Lake Managua, finally stopping in the area known as El Portillo (in the vicinity of what is now known as Sabana Grande).

The eruption lasted for nine days and caused great alarm in the neighboring towns of Nindirí and Masaya. People fled in panic to Granada from the first moment. The exodus was so massive that families abandoned their homes without even closing the doors, which led the governor of Masaya to order their closure, as he was aware that they would remain uninhabited for some time.

In spite of the general alarm, a small group of devotees decided to remain in the towns and carry out a penitential procession with the religious image of greatest devotion. They took it to the shores of the lagoon near the volcano. A report from those days relates the following:

"The Masaya volcano erupted in the year 1772, on Tuesday, March 16, at 9:00 in the morning, producing a roar that terrified the entire population. At about 10:00 a.m. a tremor was registered, and at 11:00 a.m. of that same day, the eruption manifested itself with the expulsion of flames of fire that headed towards this population.

The deacon Don Pedro Castrillo went into the parish, accompanied by young people, and took the image of the Assumption from the sepulcher to go to the descent of San Juan, reciting the litanies of the Virgin. They arrived at the edge of the water, which was boiling like butter due to the fire, forming bubbles. When he presented the image, a strong wind deflected the stream of fire to the north, and he continued along the shore until he reached the descent of St. Jerome.

Then, blowing again the wind, the fire went towards Nindirí, where they had the Señor de los Milagros on the shore of the beach, and it was possible to observe how the fire retreated where the eruption had occurred".

What myths and legends are told about the Masaya volcano?

The Mouth of Hell

Since the beginning of the conquest of Nicaragua, the Spanish referred to the Masaya volcano as "La Boca del Infierno" or simply "Hell of Masaya". This name also followed the tradition of the aborigines, who believed that the Masaya volcano was a god. They made offerings and human sacrifices by throwing children and maidens into the incandescent crater, sending them to "fetch water" during times of drought.

The Spaniards already knew and had heard of other volcanoes, but, for various reasons, Masaya did not go unnoticed when they settled in Nicaragua, a land of abundance in which many expectations were placed.

This volcano was the subject of numerous descriptions since, in its interior, a perpetual river of lava seemed to be both the very mouth of Hell and a melt of melted precious metals. Some tried to discover this "secret" on their own, risking their money and their lives, but died before succeeding.

The idea of finding gold or silver inside the crater was the most attractive, as evidenced by the granting of three capitulations in less than a decade (in 1551, 1557 and 1560), in which great hopes were placed and promising results were expected, both for the capitulants and for the Crown.

Along with what they called "natural causes", the chroniclers, who were mostly friars, elaborated other theories according to which the Masaya volcano could be the mouth of Hell, and exposed the reasons that led them to think so or to refute it.

Las Casas, who had seen the volcano with his own eyes, came to the conclusion that the existence of such a perpetual fire in nature clearly served "for confirmation of our faith" because it meant that there could be an eternal infernal fire to punish the damned.

The mysterious witch of the Masaya volcano

The chiefs of Masaya and Nindirí used to go down to the bottom of the crater to consult an old deity, a kind of aboriginal pythoness, who emerged from the burning crucible to announce the events of the future.

They offered sacrifices of children and maidens to placate the fury of the gods every time there were eruptions, earthquakes, epidemics and droughts. The gullible Spaniards, on the other hand, considered that old witch to be the devil himself.

The best description of the Masaya volcano is provided by the chronicler of the Spanish Crown, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, who climbed the volcano in 1529. This adventurer observed the fierce tide of lava at the bottom of the crater and showed you the first drawing of the mountain, which he sent to the king of the Iberian Peninsula, Carlos I. Oviedo y Valdés was guided in Masaya by none other than Nacatime, the cacique of Nindirí.

He told him of the indigenous people's belief in and fear of a prophetic deity who emerged from the bowels of the fire as she pleased and predicted matters of importance to the caciques who had the courage (or fear) to gather inside the crater.

The sorceress told them, according to the chronicle, the secret agenda of the volcano: when the eruptions and telluric movements were planned and she also knew the chronogram of the climate, since she exposed the droughts and other natural phenomena.

From time to time, according to the chronicle of Oviedo y Valdés, the fire witch would appear in a whirlwind of fury and the only way to appease her was to throw infants and young women into the lava.

The witch, mentioned as a kind of goddess, was described thus, in the Spanish of the time:

"The old woman was wrinkled and had her tits down to her navel, and her hair pulled up, and her teeth long and sharp as a dog's, and her skin darker and blacker than the Indians, and her eyes sunken and burning"; and in short, he painted her in his words just as the devil should be. "And she must have been the same, and if this spoke the truth, her communication with the Indians and with the devil cannot be denied."

Today she is identified as the Chalchiuhtlicue of Nahuatl mythology, goddess of water and rain, but the Spaniards were not interested in meteorological witches. For them, it was the devil, nothing more, and it served as a pretext to continue with the forced Christianization of that little piece of America. In addition, it seems that the Indians also painted images that corroborated the horrors of the Europeans.

In her last appearance, it is said that the ragged witch threatened the caciques not to see them again in their monéxicos or consultation meetings, as long as they did not expel the Christian invaders from their territories, something that, as we know, never happened.

In her last appearance, it is said that the shabby witch threatened the caciques not to see them again in their monéxicos or consultation meetings, as long as they did not expel the Christian invaders from their territories, something that, as we know, never happened.

The phenomenon of the pythoness with sagging breasts, magical powers and volatile behavior served then as an indoctrination tool, since Catholicism offered an escape valve from the horror she represented. But the proximity of Oviedo and Valdés to the cacique Nacatime also yielded interesting data about the volcano. The chronicler learned, for example, that the neighboring crater (today called San Fernando) had contained lava in ancient times, before the volcanic activity moved to the Nindirí crater.

Myths about Pactos

The stories of the Masaya volcano that speak of pacts with the devil of various characters in the region, who became rich overnight, do not escape either.

The inhabitants also tell about the presence of goblins and witches, who use this sacred place to carry out their misdeeds.

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