Return to Central America - Winter 2011

Full Moon Volcano Hike – 22 Kilometers on No Sleep

At 9pm my two friends and I arrived at the office of the Volcano Trekking Company. We had signed up for a Full Moon Volcano Hike that would take us up portions of three different volcanoes, and would allow us to watch the sunrise over a fourth volcano. As usual, I hadn’t really done too much research beyond the casual “So is this hike pretty cool? Can I get some cool photos? Yeah? Ok, I’m in.” As the group of 14 slowly arrived one by one for our pre-trip dinner, we began to get a few more details about exactly what we were in for.

We left the city of Leon at 10pm and headed towards Cerro Negro, the youngest volcano in Central America. Cerro Negro is a popular destination for a new extreme sport known as volcano boarding. You can check out the google results for volcano boarding to see exactly what it is and you’ll see a lot of people sledding down the side of Cerro Negro at up to 80km per hour. The main difference between the photos and videos you will see on google and what I did? We were doing this in the middle of the night by the light of a full moon.

Sledding down the side of an active volcano in the middle of the night sounded a bit intense to me, but I assumed since it was part of a tour from a reputable company it must be something that is done all the time, right? Wrong… just before we started to head up the volcano we found out we were the first ever tour from this company to do night volcano boarding. “Well, other companies have done it before though right?” “Yeah” replied our guide, “I think so.” Luckily I didn’t haul my camera up with me as it would have been completely useless with the intense wind and dark conditions, but I’m going back this coming weekend during the day and I’ll try to get some shots then.

After becoming the first group to do night volcano boarding, we trekked to the bottom of our next volcano and stopped to rest and eat a bit. We were supposed to head up our second volcano at about 1:30am, which would have left us plenty of time to grab a little shut eye at the top before sunrise, but our group was a bit slow and we didn’t start the trek up until 2:30am.

At this point, I was seriously thinking to myself, “What the hell am I doing hiking a volcano at 2:30 in the morning and why did I think this was a good idea?” A few hours later I realized why, as we reached the summit at about 5am and caught our first view of sunlight beginning to peek over the horizon and the famous sinkhole, El Hoyo.

El Hoyo at 5am

This shot above was taken just after 5am with little light except for the moon. The small lights you see on the lower edge of the sinkhole are actually the flashlights of other people from my group, which really gives you an idea of how huge this hole is. We were facing wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph at the top, so getting this photo required about 15 takes because I had to expose the shot for so long and the wind kept moving the tripod. It was quite a battle, but well worth it to have such a cool photo to remember the sight by. Looks a little moon-like doesn’t it?

After exploring the crater of El Hoyo we settled in to watch the sunrise over the nearby volcano Momotombo and Lake Managua. We had taken too long to get up and wouldn’t have time to sleep, but no one really cared at this point. We just all sat silently watching what had to be one of the most beautiful sunrises most of us had had ever seen.

View from El Hoyo at Sunrise

After sunrise we headed down the volcano to get out of the wind so that we could eat a bit easier. Here our guides pointed out our next destination, Lake Asososca.

Lake Asososca from El Hoyo

This was our view from our breakfast stop across the valley to Lake Asososca. The lake seemed so close, so we were all a bit surprised when our guide said it would take nearly 3 1/2 hours until we reached the area where we would be swimming. By this time though, tiredness was starting to take a toll on the group, and multiple members began dragging the pace quite a bit. Our 3 1/2 hours to the lake turned in to closer to 4 ½ and we had all had enough walking.

View of Lake Asososca and El Hoyo

Finally, we reached Lake Asososca and it took most of us about 10 seconds to get from the shore into the water. The view as we swam gave us a look at almost everywhere we had been over the past few hours, including a great view of El Hoyo, which you can see in the photo above as the large circle on the far volcano.

We made our way back to our private transport (aka 14 people in a modified pick up truck), bought some celebratory beers, and began the hour ride home. We were exhausted and sunburned, but we had conquered the Full Moon Volcano Hike.

  1. Jade

    Incredible! The first shot of the volcano at night seriously looks like you were on the moon or some other planet. So cool.

    1. Matt

      That is what everyone who saw it said. It seriously looks like the moon. It was very surreal. Plus we were all exhausted. Hell, I just wanted the picture so I knew I wasn’t hallucinating.

  2. Adam

    WOW, that’s awesome. That nighttime shot is absolutely incredible. Well done. Sounds like an amazing experience. This is funny because I am putting up a post tomorrow about hiking a volcano in Pucon, Chile. We didn’t do it at night, though, and I certainly didn’t get a shot like that. Good work!

    1. Matt

      Thanks! It was a hard earned shot but I’m glad I kept at it. I wish it was less blurred (when you zoom in it is pretty obvious) but there was no way the wind was going to let up for a full 30 seconds. Volcano hikes are the best. I’ve got one more planned before the end of this trip.

    1. Matt

      It is definitely something I will remember for a very very long time. Thanks for the kudos on the photos!

  3. Andrea

    Sounds like an incredible experience, if not a little scary! You got some amazing shots here. I love volcanoes =)

    1. Matt

      The only scary thing was the occasional HUGE gust of wind that would almost knock you off your feet! Not good for taking pictures either.

  4. Grace

    Love the crater photo. It looks like you are on the moon or some planet in outer space!

    1. Matt

      Most of the people I have shown the photo to have said something like this!

  5. Christopher

    Wow Wow Wow. A night hike on this volcano is now on my list.

    1. Matt

      It wasn’t on my list when I arrived in Leon but a friend of mine wanted to do it. After the experience I can say it is definitely something you should do!

  6. robin

    What a surreal shot! Incedible place by the looks of it!

    1. Matt

      Yea it really was great. We were so tired but no one could take their eyes off of the view as the sun began to come up. Truly amazing!

  7. Danielle

    What an awesome experience!! Glad you got to take pictures of it too.

    1. Matt

      Yea me too, it was kinda tough once we were up top but they didn’t come out that bad!

  8. Jeremy B

    Wow, that first photo with the stars is AWESOME!! You should submit that one somewhere. That looks like another planet! That’s also fantastic views in the morning as well with the sun rise. Guess some things are worth losing sleep over! 🙂

    1. Matt

      Yea it was definitely worth it, but damn I was tired….

  9. Migrationology

    As everyone said, great photos. Thanks for informing me about volcano boarding, I’ve never heard about that before, looks pretty extreme!

    1. Matt

      it is extreme! Just did it again today and I am hurting right now… post tomorrow hopefully

  10. Kyle Morgan

    I’m jealous! What a cool hike! I love the long exposure shot of the crater at 5am!

    1. Matt

      Thanks a lot! Not perfect but I’m happy! Something cool to look back on.

  11. glen

    Beautiful pictures; looks like a great experience!

  12. Amy

    Absolutely beautiful. That first images looks like it could have been taken on the moon. I’m always astonished what goes in other countries. Being from Canada and having also liked in the UK, there are so many rules about safety and what you can and can’t do. Since traveling in other parts of the world, I’ve come to realize that the expectation of safety doesn’t really apply in other places. I don’t ever assume that just because something is offered that it’s safe anymore … not that it usually stops me anyway.

    1. Matt

      Haha, yes, that is very true. I’m actually feeling the wrath of one of those “offered things” right now…

  13. Lorna - the roamantics

    okay, have just added volcano boarding to my must-do list! awesome first pic too! agree with jade that it looks like the moon! great post & adventure 🙂

    1. Matt

      Ugh… as I learned earlier today, and as I mentioned in a comment above, there is a little bit of caution to be had with volcano boarding. It is AWESOME, but as I experienced today and will post about tomorrow, it can have its downsides.

  14. Eric

    I am so much inspired of your courage to get out of the comfort zone just to backpack and see the world.
    The picture above is very amazing, wish I could visit there one day. Why not visiting my country on your next itinerary? like we have famous volcano in my country too like Taal, Mayon….etc.

    1. Matt

      Erc, thanks for reading. I definitely plan on visiting the Philippines sometime in the future, just not sure when. Thanks for the volcano suggestions!

  15. JB

    I did a version of this and had a blast, though it seems that your experience was even better than mine! Ours definitely did NOT include the volcano boarding, which I did a separate time and is definitely worth doing as well.

    1. Matt

      Yes, volcano boarding is definitely an awesome experience.

  16. Geoff

    Wow…volcano boarding at night must have been scary, I did it in the daytime in November and it was pretty scary, nightime must have been worse!

    El Hoyo looks fantastic too, and that’s an amazing photo – we stayed overnight on nearby Volcan Telica to watch the sunrise, and now I wish I’d had a tripod to get a photo that good

    1. Matt

      Yea it was a pain in the ass to haul it all the way up (even though it is like 2 lbs) but it was worth it for those shots!

  17. Priyank

    Hi Matt, These are beautiful pictures – I’m a sucker for nighttime full moon hikes and although I’ve done many, none of it were on a volcano! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Matt

      You should definitely try in on a volcano one day!

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