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Chronicle: Concepcion and Maderas volcanoes hike in one single day

Jess Russell | Dec 13, 2016

Jess and Bertie on the top of Concepcion volcano. | Photographer: Cortesía/Courtesy

This was the extreme adventure of a British couple on Ometepe Island.

When we decided we were going to climb both Concepcion and Maderas in a day people kept asking - what the hell made you decide to do that? Previous to coming to Nicaragua we had planned to hike something known as The Volcano Trilogy: 3 of the Guatemalan volcanoes in 36 hours (Agua, Fuego and Ancatanaga). Sadly, 2 hours before our departure time I suddenly came down with a sickness bug. So Bertie, my husband, took on the challenge while I stayed behind in bed feeling sorry for myself, plotting how, where and when I could make up for missing out. When he returned 2 days later he was exhausted but elated, which made me even more determined to find a replacement challenge.

Our next stop on our travels was to be Ometepe Island, and so I thought - what better place? There are two volcanoes, both considered challenging, both offering something completely different. Our mind was made up: we were to attempt them both in a day. Next up, we had to find a guide. We asked around, emailed a ton of companies, all of whom said 'it's impossible', 'we can't offer that', 'no one does that', 'we can't help you'. We were slightly at a loss as to what to do; it's mandatory to have a guide and if we had a chance of finishing it we had to start in the dark, and we were sure to get lost on our own. Eventually, we struck gold in the form of Arlin, a tour guide for a non profit company set up by young guides: Asociación de Guías de Altagracia. He told us that yes, he could help, and offered to give us one guide for the first volcano and another for the second.

So, our guides were organised, our snacks were prepared and our morning alarm was set: 1 AM. We woke up and met Arlin at our hostel, setting off together and ready to take on the Concepcion volcano at 1:45 AM. Off we went, up a volcano, in the pitch black. The first few hours were tough - there were a lot of bugs, all of whom seemed to enjoy the light our head-torches emitted, thus blurring our vision and entering our mouths and there were a lot of rocks we had to climb up with our limited vision. On the flip side however it was a fun, new experience navigating our way through the dark and it was amazing looking back on ourselves to see the silhouetted hills and the lights from the towns below. We carried on until it started to get lighter and colder so we took a final break before reaching the summit. When it came to the final climb, the wind was so powerful we had to crawl up. By now we were deep in a cloud with the smell of sulphur filling out lungs. The noise of the wind filled our ears and we could barely stand up, gripping onto the floor for fear of falling over. After enjoying the sensation of being at the summit and looking down into the massive crater (that wasn't that visible through the cloud), we hiked down a bit to have breakfast. The time was 5:30 AM and we ate something, watching as the sun came in and out of view and clouds rushed up passed us - a beautiful sight indeed.

The view from Concepcion
Going down presented an entirely different experience to going up. The sun came out and with that the view appeared. Suddenly, the lake was glistening and we could see all these little islands dotted about in the water. We could also see the whole landscape below which was a wonderful mixture of trees and farmland - what an amazing island! The hike down itself was exhausting and almost harder than the hike up. By the time we reached the bottom, my legs were like jelly; I couldn't quite believe we were only half way through! We looked behind us to the view of horses grazing underneath the vast volcano and jumped in a car straight to the bottom of Maderas. We said goodbye to Arlin, who had been a fantastic guide, and tucked into a much needed meal. It was 10:30 AM by this time, and my body was weary from the climb and the early start. Our new guide, Marvin, joined us and was raring to go, so after eating and filling up our water we set off (at 11 AM).

The view from Maderas
The first few km, although flat, were excruciating as we had to keep up with Marvin who was setting a bafflingly fast pace. He was also very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna, so if we wanted to learn about them, which we did, we had no choice but to keep up. It was a great thing he did, because it got our legs going and our motivation up. The volcano is home to an amazing eco system which we got to witness the whole way up. Hundreds of beautifully patterned butterflies surrounded us, various birds sang constantly and we were lucky enough to see a host of monkeys all talking to each other, climbing the trees and glaring down at us suspiciously. This helped make the climb highly entertaining. With mud, tons of wildlife and fallen trees to navigate yourself passed, you had to focus but it wasn't so challenging as Concepcion - the legs thanked me for that!

Bertie, Marvin and the crater lagoon
3 hours and plenty of food stops later we reached the summit and wow was it amazing. There lay the crater, which was now filled with water and represented a beautiful lake surrounded by green forest - a scene that reminded me of The Land of the Dinosaurs! We enjoyed it for about 10 minutes but, with the day drawing to a close, we had to keep battling on to get down again. Sitting down was also not good for my legs, which at that point decided 12 hours of walking up volcanoes was enough. I found some energy from somewhere, and we headed down the muddy slope once more, the monkeys and butterflies continuing to keeping us company. By 5 PM we had reached the bottom but, alas, got ourselves lost in the farm land. It was getting dark by now and every path we took brought us to another bush or another fence. We climbed, bush wacked and asked the few farmers we saw. and eventually, in the dark, we arrived at Zopilote farm - our final destination. We were all exhausted, and poor Marvin had to walk another 3 km to get home!

The hike was long. The hike was hard. But our lasting memory of this day was a hike with beautiful landscape, wildlife, variation and fun. Both Arlin and Marvin were the perfect guides and helped us keep our energy up to complete it. Finally, our reward for 17 hours hiking? A very big pizza followed by a very big cake – heaven!!

About Jess and Bertie: We are a couple from England who got married last year (I and 29, and Bertie is 30). We love adventure, always have. I am a teacher at home and Bertie works for the family real estate business. We had such an amazing time exploring Canada on our honeymoon, that we decided to take a year out before having kids to travel the world.

Jess and Bertie traveling Canada