Hiking Nicaragua's Telica Volcano
A few months ago I was lucky enough to be presented the opportunity to come to Nicaragua and build a house for a family in need. I was super excited to volunteer with FNE International again because when I went to Peru in December it was an amazing experience. I loved treating patients from the local communities and the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu was one of the best hikes I've done so far.
Naturally with another trip came another opportunity to hike in a new place. When I found Quetzaltrekkers I got really excited because not only were they a tour company that did many different hikes in the area, they were also a non-profit. Their slogan is "hike volcanoes, help kids," outlining their mission to raise money to help local children.
After a lot of thought I decided to do the Telica overnight hike. I had heard that camping beneath the crater of the volcano was really beautiful, and I was looking forward to seeing the volcano at sunrise. The day started with breakfast and a ride on a local chicken bus to San Jacinto where our hike began. Our two guides, Alex and Brynne, cooked and a hearty egg and potato meal before we departed with Luna, the resident dog. I was told that she loves hiking with overnights being her favorite, and I was excited to have a pup tag along.
When we got off the bus we entered San Jacinto and started on our way. Right near the entrance of the park was a bubbling mud pit where boiling water rose up from the ground. I had seen springs like these in Iceland, but the thick boiling mud was a great new sight. The first few hours of hiking was mostly flat through watermelon and then bean fields in the bright sun. On our left was Santa Clara, a perfectly cone shaped volcano covered in lush jungle. The sun was beaming as we crossed through bean fields, so we were all relieved when we The trails were mostly dirt with some loose scree, but even with that the terrain was pretty mild.
The last hour of the hike was pretty steep gaining about 1,200 feet in just over a mile. Normally this wouldn't be all that difficult but the sun was blazing making it sweltering. We were all carrying over six liters (about 17 lbs) of water each so our packs were really heavy. On top of that, it was extremely humid and over 85 degrees. I don't think I've ever sweat that much in my life! When we got to camp I think we were all pretty happy to be done with the hardest part of the hike. After setting up camp we had a hearty lunch or veggie burritos. I usually pack just trail mix for lunches on the trail, so having a burrito with beans and chopped veggies struck me as such a good idea. I haven't been very creative with my backpacking meals in the past so I'm always looking for more ideas in that department.
We had a few hours before we were going to leave to watch the sunset, so we all climbed a big tree and sat up there for a while. The bugs were pretty annoying on the ground but they were surprisingly absent in the tree. Later in the afternoon we hiked up to the ridge near the volcanic crater to get a better look. It was massive, much bigger than it looked from afar. Telica is 700 meters in diameter and almost 120 meters deep with steam almost always billowing up from below. It smelled so strongly of sulfur at times it made us all cough pretty violently. Looking down from the edge really put into perspective how powerful mother nature can be.
We took some time to explore a cave before heading to the sunset spot and saw hundreds of bats fluttering about. It was really cool to see them flying around in circles. The sunset was masked by dark rain clouds but luckily they didn't pass over us. We bought beers from a local man and had a nice time as the wind picked up to cool us off from the long, hot day. The views of the other volcanoes in the area were expansive and wild looking, reminding me of the island in The Incredibles. By the time we went back to camp the wind was gusting threatening to knock me off balance. Heading back to the mouth of the volcano, we did a quick check to see if we could see lava down in it's depths. Unfortunately there was too much steam blocking our sight.
When we got back to camp, women from the local community were waiting with our supper. It was great to have a hot meal after the long day of trekking. Their fresh tortillas were the best I've ever had. After some toasted marshmallows around the fire we turned in for the early wake up the next morning.
Sunrise at the edge of the volcano was very worth the early wake up. Sunrises are my favorite because they're so serene and peaceful. Watching the sun rise over the lush green forest lighting up the horizon time stood still. It may partially be because I'm still half asleep but I find that sunrises really clear my mind of stress.
After a quick oatmeal breakfast we broke camp and started the trek back to León. This took a lot less time because we took a more direct route down. The steep part was difficult because of all of the loose scree, and I even took a spill scraping up my leg pretty good. We saw some interesting trees including one that had been infected by a parasitic tree. These "strangler" trees wrap themselves around the other trees and suffocate them.
The last part of the hike was through an old river bed. There were lots of trees with the roots exposed from the river's erosion. There were many little holes in the riverbed walls where tarantulas were hanging out. This part of the hike was pretty sandy so although it was flat, the footing wasn't excellent. It was a long road walk out after the riverbed ended, but carrying less water made our packs much lighter and more enjoyable to carry.
The hike ended up being one of the most interesting hikes I've ever done. Seeing the volcanoes and lush jungle was really cool, and the guides that took us were great. I loved that it felt like I was hiking with really knowledgeable friends instead of guides, and carrying all of our own equipment was surprisingly nice. When I was in Peru, my group had guides and porters carrying most of the stuff making it a different dynamic, whereas here we all split the group load and were responsible for our own weight. It made it more difficult but honestly more enjoyable! I also loved that the Brynne and Alex were volunteers and the organization benefits children in the area. Also the 1:1 ratio of guides to guests made for a more personal experience. It was a great community of people and I feel like I came out of it with some great new friends!
Telica Volcano, Nicaragua [14.5 mi, 3015 ft, 24:30]
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