It’s my third day in Granada and I need to get out. It’s been really nice to have a place to stay, relax, not have to go out and get at it and…..I’m already a bit bored. Something might be wrong with me, or I just really like to exercise, and I can’t stop myself from wanting to GO DO STUFF. Wandering around the beautiful buildings of the city, seeing the cathedral and the shore of the lake are all nice, but not quite enough over time.
So I decided to start checking out some of the tours that are offered by the many tour companies in Granada, just to get a feel for the destinations that are around. I did absolutely zero research before coming here, so, you know, learning is a good thing to do. After mulling over the kayak tours of Las Isletas de Granada (the 300+ islands south of Granada), the trip of the Masaya volcano, the Mombacho volcano, and the Apoyo Lagoon/Lake, I was just paralyzed by choices and how to spend my money. Each trip could cost about $25 each, and again, I’m on a traveling budget, not a vacation budget.
So, after talking with a few other guests of the house, I decided that I could just make it to these places using public transportation, two feet, and a heartbeat.
Now, I’m fortunate to have a healthy body that likes exercising but if you are a person who for some reason or another cannot or simply does not want to have Type II fun, then by all means, buy a tour. But I’m going to walk.
The Mombacho volcano rises to the south of the city and is an impressive sight, especially when the clouds finally blow off the peak and you get a real look at it’s ridge line. The clouds are a blessing, however, because their constant (slightly miraculous) presence is what creates a cloud forest at the top of the volcano.
To get the bus, I simply walked south on the commercial street (Calle el Comercio) until I saw a bunch of chicken buses on my left, or to the east. There apparently used to be a bus “station” across from the gas station, but we had to pass the gas station and cross the bridge in order to find the buses. You can see on the map below the little blue bus icon to the north of the stream, and my little grey icon to the south. You want a bus that is heading toward Rivas. Tell the driver you want to be let off at Mombacho. Literally just say Mombacho if you don’t speak Spanish. They get it.
We left at 8:30 and arrived at the turn off for the Reserve at about 9:15. The ride cost 10 cordoba or about 32 cents. From there, you could take one of the many taxis up to the entrance, but it was an easy 1.5 kilometer walk, so we decided to save the money.
The entrance to the park is where they get you! It costs $20 to get transportation to the visitors center at the top of the volcano, or $5 entry fee to then walk the 5.5 kilometers to the top. Once again, being rich in time and poor in money, I opted for the walk. I was needing some exercise anyway. You’ll find many young looking travelers opting for this option, but it is nothing to be cavalier about.
You gain about 3000 feet in 3.2 miles, so it’s rather steep. It’s all on a brick paved road, so it’s not remotely a technical hike, but your butt and calves do need to be prepared. The great news is that the midway point is marked by a coffee plantation home that is a pure tourist trap and a godsend for a walker. They have free bathrooms, an amazing lookout point, and free samples of coffee. A little break here and you’ll be right as rain again.
The second half of the walk is extremely remarkable. You start to really enter the coffee plantations that are grown below the 800 meter line on the volcano. Above 800 meters is all conservation land, so you can suddenly cross from coffee trees enclosed by natural barriers to cloud forest. The transition is immediate. You notice that it’s getting darker and cooler as you ascend, and then suddenly you’re in the cloud and everything is drenched.
I arrived at the visitor’s center from the reserve entrance at the top of the volcano in about and hour and 45 minutes, just in time for a bit of a lunch. The visitor’s center is very basic, but there are some young people in there who will give you a very good talk on the history and geography of the volcano. I was given this in English and I really enjoyed it. There are also three trails at the top of the volcano, two of which much be done with a guide for an extra fee (of $20). The one trail that does not need a guide goes around one of the old craters of the volcano and costs an extra $2 on top of the entrance fee.
As the whole volcano was socked in by clouds and I had really had enough walking, I wasn’t so interested in paying more money to use the trails when I would probably have a comparable experience simply walking down the hill again. If it had been clear, it would have been different. The conditions being what there were, however, I decided to simply start my walk down and have done with it.
On my walk, I was able to view some truly amazing butterflies, hear some howler monkeys, get some great views of the Masaya volcano and Apoyo lagoon to the north, and get some really good exercise.
Door to door from where I was staying cost $8 including the cost of some cookies and a cup of coffee at the visitor’s center, the entrance fee, and the bus tariff. I left at 8:30 am and returned by 3:30. I felt that I had gotten a lot out of my day, and I saved about $17 precious dollars! Huzzah.
Next time: You Probably Don’t Need a Tour Part 2: Laguna Apoyo