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Volcano-Hopping from León

The Maribio Volcanoes are a 60km-long (37-mile) line of black cones and smoldering craters. There are 21 volcanoes in total, and they are within striking distance of León. They afford several 1-day excursions of vigorous mountain climbing rewarded with spectacular views. It is always wise to go with a local guide or tour operator, as some of the slopes can be treacherous and access across private land difficult to negotiate on your own.

Momotombo is one of the most challenging (and can also be visited in 1 day from Managua). Rising 1,280m (4,199 ft.) in a perfect cone shape, it is the country's most famous volcano. Its upper half is made up of loose shale, which makes it hard to conquer. The volcano has erupted 14 times in the past 500 years, and the geothermal plant on its slopes provides a quarter of Nicaragua's electricity. The lower slopes are made up of dry tropical forest and hold wildlife such as iguanas, parrots, and butterflies. It has a lake known as Laguna Monte Escalante. It takes 8 hours up and down, and is best done with a local tour company, though you can get there independently by hiking beyond the ruins of León Viejo and going north along the highway. Here, you enter through the power plant, but access is often denied.

Cerro Negro is a more popular volcano hike and a little easier. That is not to say it is less exciting. This 675m-high (2,215-ft.) volcano may not look as impressive as its sister cones, but it is one of the most active in the country and constantly belches noxious fumes. It takes 3 hours to go up and down, but go early to avoid the midday heat, as there is absolutely no shade. The slopes are increasingly popular for a spot of volcano board surfing on the way down, which is great fun. Any of León's tour operators can arrange this, but make sure you have proper protective gear. To get there independently, you must jump on a bus and go east to the town of Lechecuago. Here, you will find a poorly maintained trail that takes you to the top.

Volcán Telica is one of Nicaragua's most active and is constantly throwing ash over the town of Telica. Active since 1527, the 1,061m-high (3,481-ft.) cone last erupted in January 2007. It holds a 9,000-hectare (22,239-acre) dry forest reserve on its slopes and makes for a good 7-hour round-trip trek. There are two ways to approach it. One is from Telica on the road to a community known as La Quimera. The other is from Santa Clara, the town next to the Hervidores de San Jacinto, where you can pick up a guide to show you the way.

San Cristóbal is the highest and most handsome at 1,745m (5,725 ft.), with an almost perfect symmetrical shape. It is also one of the most active and challenging to climb. Here, you'll definitely need a guide, as the access roads are complicated and ever changing. A guide can be easily found in the town of Chichigalpa, and a horse, too. Hotel Los Balcones offers hiking trips from León that include a stay on a coffee farm on the volcano's slopes. Avoid going from November to March, when the summit can be extremely windy. It is an 8-hour round trip.

Note: None of these volcano hikes are a walk in the park, especially when the wind is up. Bring plenty of water, and be prepared for a workout. It is best to go in the rainy season, as the summer months can be sweltering and uncomfortable, especially when farmers burn their fields from March to May.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.