El Hoyo – This Crazy Gringa Goes Volcano Climbing

Nicaraguans must think that we’ve all lost our minds. Why would anybody strap on a 35 lb back and go climbing not only 1, but 3 volcanoes in the middle of 100 deg weather?

Jill climbs a volcano in Nicaragua

They weren’t the only one. There were times during this El Hoyo trek that I thought I must be crazy. Not only was I doing this willingly, I actually paid to do so. I blamed it on the heat. I never make good decisions when I’m hot.

Hiking El Hoyo is one of the more popular treks that people come to Leon to do. The description on Quetzaltrekker site promises:

“Three volcanoes and a crater lake, all in two days!”

Sounds simple enough, right?

The morning of the trek, I was shown the pile of communal stuff we had to put in our bag: my pile consisted of 8 litres of water and a 3 person tent. I looked at my 40L pack. I looked at ridiculously large pile. I looked at my pack again, puny by comparison. I wiped the sweat off my neck (it was 7 am and it was already blisteringly hot) and started to wonder if it was too late to get my deposit back.

But more people started coming in and my pride prevented me from bailing out so early.

I had to sacrifice my big camera (so all of the pics from this trek are taken with my Iphone) to fit everything in my pack. All of us piled into the back of 2 trucks and off we went.

A 45 second thrill on El Cerro Negro

The first volcano we climbed was Cerro Negro. It’s a volcano that you go to when going volcano boarding. What is volcano boarding, you ask? It’s when you hike up to the top of a volcano and slide down the mountain on a piece of wood. If you go fast enough, it can be fun. Just don’t get stuck on the mountain like I did.

Hiking up El Cerro Negro for volcano boarding in Nicaragua

Little did we know that the 45 min hike to the top of Cerro Negro was a mere warm up. The 1.5 hr of what followed was brutal. Our guides had warned us about this section of the trek and they weren’t exaggerating.

It was a 1.5 hour of constant uphill trudge that was relentless in steepness and heat. What made this hike extra challenging in the summer is the amount of dust on the trail. Within 10 mins into the hike, we were all caked in dust and sweat and remained so until we reached our campsite.

When the going gets tough, our guides kept encouraging us on, “Almost there, guys! It’ll be easy afterwards.” And once again, they were right. After the trail leveled off, we marched on at a brisk pace and we actually had enough breaths left to carry on conversations to get to know each other.

Whoa! This is El Hoyo!

All of a sudden, a big gaping hole appeared on the hillside to our left. This was El Hoyo, aka ‘The Hole’.

It was MASSIVE! I’d seen its picture before but I wasn’t prepared at how massive this sunken crater is.

El Hoyo, aka, 'The Hole'

Soon after, we came upon our campsite and everybody breathed a big sigh of relief. Even more so when we realised how spectacularly located it is. Just look at the view. It was quite a reward after such a hard hike.

El Hoyo Trek campsite, Leon, Nicaragua

View from our El Hoyo trek campsite
We ran down the ridge, hurried up to set up tents, and ran around taking pictures.

We hiked up to El Hoyo to peer inside, and as the sun was setting our guide took us a to ridge overlooking a chain of volcanos. It seems that the whole of Nicaragua is covered with volcanoes just waiting to erupt.

It was an awesome spot to witness the sun’s last ray as it sets behind the volcanoes.

Sunset from the top of El Hoyo, Leon

Beautiful sunset from the top of El Hoyo volcano

As we returned to the camp, I enjoyed an instant brief popularity as the only person in the group with baby wipes (the next best thing after shower on a hike!). We all cleaned up as much as could before settling down around the campfire for dinner.

Sitting around campfire for dinner during El Hoyo Trek

I knew that the next day I’d wake up with aching muscles, but for now, the campfire was blazing and I had a bowl of hot food in hand, I looked at view around me and the camaraderie among new friends and I thought to myself,

“Not bad. Not bad at all.”

What’s the hottest or hardest hike you’ve done?

Trekking El Hoyo


How to go climb El Hoyo
Quetzaltrekkers office is located in central Leon, around the corner from Bigfoot Hostel. It’s run completely by volunteers and 100% of the profit goes to the charities they support. The guides have a 3 month commitment as volunteers.

When to go climb El Hoyo
January – February are the best month: it’s towards the end of the rainy season. Less chance of rain but the countryside is still green from the rain.

Tips on climbing El Hoyo
– Bring snacks if you’re the type that like to ‘graze’ constantly during your hike
– Baby wipes for ‘shower’
– Bring something for the wind, even in the summer.
– If your hostel has a freezer, freeze 1L or 2L bottle water and bring them. They’d taste heavenly during the hot hike.

Where to stay in Leon
La Tortuga Boluuda – I stayed in 3 different hostels in Leon, and this one is the best. A fan for each bunk bed, nice lounge with good wifi, and make-your-own pancake breakfast.

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15 Replies to “El Hoyo – This Crazy Gringa Goes Volcano Climbing”

  1. I love the opening line! I have a feeling that there are a lot of locals around the world saying the same thing about us crazy travelers. Love the pictures and the prose, as much as it may be silly, sign me up for this when we make it there later in 2015!

  2. This looks awesome. I so want to do this trek The Hole looks incredible. My hardest trek was Everest Base Camp. Steep ascents at high altitude with zero oxygen can be a killer at times, but it is worth it for the scenery!

  3. Sounds like quite the experience! Good call on the baby wipes. We hiked Mount Ijen and that was an adventure I won't soon forget! We started off at midnight for the infamous and elusive 'blue flames.' The bursts of sulphur suffocating us were a bit more memorable in the end!

  4. I remember seeing El Cerro Negro from León, the hottest city in Nicaragua I believe. I'd just started my trip and wasn't even contemplating a hike, can't remember why though as I love hiking. Anyway, looks like it was a great trek. That sunset is just stunning.

  5. Wooh! High five to you for trekking it in such hot weather! I think I even sweated a little bit just reading about your experience. I like hiking, but I always go when the weather is cooler (i.e. in the spring or fall) as I can't deal with the heat. My friends make fun of me because of this… I mean what kind of Indonesian can't tolerate heat!?

    P.s. don't forget to let me know when you're in town!! 🙂

  6. Beautiful pictures! Wow!

    I'm a fervent skier (although I haven't done it in three years 🙁 ) and I'd love to try volcano boarding to check out how much difference there is (for science of course).

    +9000 for walking in such hot weather, we always skip out on stuff like that.

  7. I guess the word "stunning" is not enough to describe the scenery. I'm in love. I am a huge fan of hiking and I'm adding El Hoyo to my bucket list right now!

  8. This looks incredible! I pretty much loathe hiking (walking on flat ground is fine, but anything involving climbing or uphill movements inevitably makes me grumpy) but it looks like the rewards here would be big enough to motivate even my lazy butt! 😀

  9. I did this exact same tour. I enjoyed the views, but I thought Quetzaltrekkers was very unprofessional. That probably depends on the guides though, since they are all volunteers.

  10. Wow I can only imagine hiking in that hot hot weather! I climbed Masada in Israel in about 90 degree weather, and that was only about an hour and a half!

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