Volcano boarding, sinkholes and crater lakes: The El Hoyo Hike

If you can put up with a heavy pack and a lot of heat then this two-day adventure will be worth the pain. It’s volcano boarding down the youngest volcano in Nicaragua, camping under a giant sinkhole on Volcan El Hoyo, watching the sunrise over Volcan Managua and swimming in Laguna Asososca.

We booked with Quetzaltrekkers, it costs $60 or $69 with volcano boarding (which is usually $30) and all the food was included for the two-day hike. I would definitely recommend these guys for any tours you want to do out of Leon. Not only are they great guides but they also donate all their profits to locally-run projects that support at-risk children, way to go guys!

At 6am we checked out of our hostel and walked to the Quetzaltrekkers office where they briefed us on the activities for that day. We were given all the equipment, food and water we might need and told to leave our belongings behind so we could fill our packs with the new supplies. Breakfast was included, they served up an epic fry up to give us strength for the difficult day ahead.

We had a group of about 21 people plus our guides for the two days. Once we were packed and ready to go we were loaded up into the back of two trucks and driven to the base at the bottom of Cerro Negro for our first activity, volcano boarding.

Volcano Boarding on Cerro Negro

We left our packs at the base, grabbed a board (it’s a plank of wood by the way…. a very large, heavy, cumbersome plank of wood) and a small bag with our safety goggles and jumpsuit in, and off we went.

The hour-long hike to the top of Cerro Negro would be an easy one if you weren’t carrying a coffin lid, as it were we puffed and panted our way to the peak across black volcanic rock, breathing in the smell of sulfur and admiring the view during many much-needed water breaks.

The view from the top was breathtaking. You’re standing on an active volcano, looking down into the centre of the smoking crater and over the edge at the old lava flow that has eaten away at the jungle around it. We spent a while exploring, taking selfies and generally just falling in love with this gorgeous country and then it was time to kit up and ride.

We put on our very sexy jumpsuits and safety goggles, grabbed a plank of wood and lined up. It all seems pretty easy until it’s your turn and you see the black slope disappear underneath you, it’s very, very steep and you can go very, very fast.

Thanks to an earlier demonstration it didn’t take long to figure out the best way to sit (not stand) for maximum speed and before I knew it I was screaming down the side of this volcano with rocks and dust flying into my mouth. If you’re lucky, you’ll make it down in one go, if you’re very lucky you’ll get to see someone else fall off, it’s hilarious and no one got hurt.

Once everyone had made it down alive we got rid of the safety gear, brushed ourselves off and walked back to the base where we stopped for a snack of cookies and bananas. At this point, we were all a bit tired, very sweaty and not at all ready for what was up next, but we weren’t given any extra time to rest, we had a long way to go.

Image courtesy of Quetzaltrekkers

Climbing El Hoyo

The hike up El Hoyo was one of the hardest I’ve ever done. My pack must have weighed about 30kg: it had the heaviest bag of food (because I was the last one to grab one), 8 litres of water, swimming gear and extra clothes, my camera, a sleeping mat, sleeping bag and various parts of a tent. The heat was unbearable, and the humidity must have been at 100%.

It was a non-stop uphill struggle for hours until we finally reached a flat area under a tree to stop for lunch, baguettes full of cream cheese and salad. After we had finished eating it was a much easier hike, relatively flat so everyone could finally start to enjoy the view.

We eventually arrived at our destination: a giant sinkhole in the side of the volcano that looked like a gateway to hell. We quickly set up camp below the sinkhole on a flat piece of land that overlooked volcanoes and lakes as far as the eye could see, and went to explore.

Up close the sinkhole was less of a gateway to hell and much more like a big hole in the ground, but it’s strange and impressive nonetheless. We climbed higher, past an actual gateway to hell – a smoking black crack in the earth – to the peak where we sat and admired the view as the sun set, you can see why they call Nicaragua the land of lakes and volcanoes. It felt like we were on top of the world. Before it got too dark we slowly made our way back to our campsite to get the fire started, cook dinner and watch the stars shine above us.

Swimming in Volcan Asososca

The next morning we were up early to watch the sunrise from behind the massive Volcan Managua, another spectacular sight, before packing up our kit. My bag of food had all been used for dinner, I got rid of all but 2 litres of water because I didn’t need it and I didn’t want to carry it, so my pack barely weighed a thing.

What a great start to the day! And it only got better from there, it was almost all downhill into the jungle until we reached the base of the much smaller Volcan Asososca.

It was an easy and quick hike up (after taking the ‘scenic route’ for a while) and into its crater lake, full of fresh and cold water, the perfect place for lunch, delicious wraps, and a late afternoon swim to wash away the sweat and dust from the day before.

After one more steep hill to get out of the crater it was all downhill from there, through the forest and then farmland until we reached the highway where a truck was waiting to pick us up to drive us back to Leon; tired, damp, hungry and dirty, but so overwhelmed at the peaks we had just conquered.

Although it was painfully difficult to start with every step was worth it for the view and the feeling of accomplishment from reaching the top of three volcanoes in two days. If you’ve got the time, I would 100% recommend this wonderful adventure, you’ll have an amazing time and meet some great people!

What to know before you go

They do ask you to consider that it is a very challenging hike that demands a good degree of fitness before signing up. They also provide a list of things you’ll need to bring yourself or hire from them:

-Hiking boots or good walking shoes
-Sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses
-A backpack of +/- 60 litres
-Sleeping bag and sleeping mat
-Rain Jacket
-Bathing Suit and towel
-Warm clothes for the night
-Flashlight / Headlamp

You can view the full album here.

Follow the adventure on Instagram and Facebook!

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