Things to Do in Leon

Leon is home to one of the most active volcanos in Central America. So it’s no wonder that a lot of the available and popular activities involve stuff to do pertaining to volcanos.

Of such activities, one of the more popular things to do is to hike one of the volcanic mountains near Leon. They range from simple, day excursions to overnight hiking trips that take several days to complete.

We opted for a 2 day hike up Mount Telica. Standing at about 1,061 meters or 3,481 feet, Telica is one of the several active volcanos in Leon, Nicaragua. Its ease of accessibility and its close proximity to the city (about a 40 minute bus ride from Leon’s main bus station) makes Telica a popular choice for tourists looking for a day hike up the mountain or avid hikers seeking a fun camping trip.

The day started at the tour office at 8AM when we met with our tour guide, Carlos, and our two other fellow hikers, two French men. We gathered our belongings and made our way down to the main bus station, which lies about 15 minutes north of the center of the city.

Once at the main terminal, we followed Carlos and boarded a yellow school bus. (Most public buses are old school buses that have been converted into public transports). The bus filled up quickly, and felt crowded. The stifling heat and the humidity didn’t help the situation either.

Once the bus started moving, however, things felt much more bearable. The breeze from the outside brought the interior temperature to a comfortable level, and more and more people got off the bus, reducing the claustrophobia and stiflingness.

The bus dropped us off right in front of the trail head. Admission into the park was 20 Cordobas, or about $1 US.

The trail started off nice and easy with mostly gradual slopes and flat terrains marking the initial part of the hike. At the head of the trail was a pool of boiling mud. It must’ve been about 8-9 meters in diameter. It wasn’t anything too exciting. Nothing more than a shallow pool of steaming, hot mud.  But it was enough of a precursor to get everyone excited.

Thus far the weather was in our favor. No sign of rain.
About a half hour into the trail, the narrow and shaded path that we were on opened up into an expansive clearing

To my surprise, the trail weaved through a dirt field that had been recently tilled and planted. According to our guide, the Nicaraguan farmers, in an attempt to cultivate as much land as possible, utilize the dry, yet somewhat arable land of the volcanic mountains to plant basic crops such as beans and corn. And in order to do so, they clear the forest by cutting down the trees. Way to go deforestation…

Anyway, we spent a good portion of the morning trekking across vast acres of farmland.

We stopped at around 1PM for lunch on a flat clearing. Taking refuge under a huge mango tree, we devoured our lunch (bread, cheese, and bananas) and rested our sore legs.

The area under the tree must’ve been a gathering area for butterflies as they were found in groups of small patches all over the soft, moist ground.

With our strengths renewed, we mustered up our remaining energy to complete the second part of the hike. This portion of the trail was by far the most challenging. The path up the mountain was quite steep and narrow. Extremely narrow. Overgrown with plants and covered in branches and gravel, some parts of the trail were almost impossible to discern.

I don’t think I’ve sweated as much as I did during the second portion of the trek. This winding path lasted about an hour before clearing into a flat trail.

The worst was over. The rest of the journey, save for the last leg of the trail, would be relatively flat and easy.

We reached the camp ground at around 3:45 PM.

Soon after we pitched our tent, it began to rain. The rain was a nuisance, but it was the wind that was a killer. According to Carlos, the tents were made to withstand the rain, but not the wind. I half expected the tent to fly off with each blow of the wind. Luckily, we managed through the night.

After a restless night, we were woken up at 5AM. According to Carlos, “This was the best time to see the lava.”

So we forced our damp and heavy bodies out of the tent and up the last 10 minutes of the trail leading up to the crater of the volcano. The first thing you notice is the smell of sulfur. Then, comes the inevitable smoke.

Leaning over the vast crater, I could almost feel my stomach fall. In the far distance, we glimpsed the faint, but distinct orange glow of the lava. As one who is terrified of heights, I hugged the edge of the crater without venturing too far over it while the brave lads leaned forward in an attempt to get the perfect shot of the glowing lava.

After spending about 40 minutes up at the top, we were ready to head down.

We went back to camp, ate our breakfast, packed our gear, and set out again. During the first half of the morning’s hike, we retraced our steps from the previous afternoon. It wasn’t until we were about half-way through the trail that it broke off into a separate path that led us all the way down the mountain, out onto the main highway where we caught a bus to head home.

Would I recommend this 2 day trip up to Mount Telica? Absolutely. The chance to see the boiling lava of an active volcano outweighed the backbreaking hike up the trail.

But do take heed. This trek is not to be taken lightly.  Although advertised as an easy 1.5-2 day hike, it does require a lot of stamina and endurance. Do keep in mind that you have to carry your own supplies, including 2 days worth of water (about 6-7 liters), which can be extremely taxing.

If, however, you are open to self-sufficienct backpacking in the truest sense of the word, I would strongly recommend doing this hike. The view from the top is an unforgettable one!

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