23 February 2016
At a glance, visiting Volcan Mombacho can seem all but out of reach for a budget traveller.
The transport within the reserve and entrance fee alone will set you back almost $25, and the price of a tour from Granada can easily add up to nearly double that.
But as we discovered, with a little creativity and stubbornness, it is entirely possible to visit Mombacho Volcano on a budget.
Here’s how we spent the day in the cloud forest exploring Mombacho’s lush peaks and craters, climbing tiny stone steps seemingly from another time and crossing moss-covered bridges through the trees with the howls of monkeys eerily close by all for under $6.
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Depending on the weather and time of day, your experience on Volcan Mombacho could feel vastly different.
On a cloudy day when the volcano peaks are shrouded in a thick blanket of mist, the forests are cloaked in mystery as you weave between vine-covered trees carpeted in a patchwork of fuzzy greenery.
When visiting on a clear day you’ll lose some of the mystique, but you’ll also gain some of the best panoramas in the region, with viewpoints overlooking Granada, the isletas of Lake Nicaragua, Laguna de Apoyo and the smoking Masaya Volcano.
Winding through the forest with thick clouds giving only fleeting glimpses of what lay beyond and howler monkeys barking somewhere nearby made for an incredibly atmospheric morning. But seeing the variety of landscapes and the diversity of the other volcanoes so close at hand was almost as impressive.
So, plan your day regardless of the weather – it will be enjoyable either way.
To get to Mombacho from Granada take any bus heading to Nandaime or Rivas and ask to be let off at the entrance to Volcan Mombacho. Buses leave regularly and the trip should take about 20 minutes.
Jump out on the highway near a large intersection and continue walking a few hundred metres down the road to reach the turnoff to the national reserve on the left.
From the highway, it’s a 2km walk to the park entrance along a flat paved road.
There are plenty of moto-taxis waiting at the intersection to take you there but it’s easy enough to walk.
The fertile soils of the Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve provide ideal conditions for growing coffee and you’ll find several plantations part way up the volcano before reaching the lush cloud forests at the summit.
From the entrance gate, there is a single road that winds its way up to the Research Station at 1,100 metres, the volcano’s second highest peak.
From here there are several beautiful hiking trails around Mombacho’s craters, but the trick is actually getting to the top.
The most popular option which is surprisingly expensive by Nicaraguan standards involves taking a 4×4 truck directly to the top at a cost of $22 each.
For this pair of cheapy travellers, this was far to much to justify and we instead took the more challenging option – to walk the steep 5km to the top. This set us back just $5 per person for the reserve entrance fee.
If you’re not on a tight budget, a far easier option is to organise a half-day Mombacho tour directly from Granada. This includes a brief tour of a coffee plantation, 4WD transport to the top of Mombacho and enough time at the top to enjoy the Crater Hike. Check here for prices and availability.
More adventurous travellers can also tack on a canopy adventure and glide through the cloud forest along the 2km course instead of just driving down. Check here for prices and availability.
The road leading to the top is no joke.
With up to a 40% incline along the way, it will have your thighs, butt and calves burning and you sweating your pants off. If all else fails, you can practically crawl your way up, it is that steep.
We won’t lie, having done our research we were both completely dreading the walk up, and even more the walk back, but in the end, getting there turned out to be a breeze and we cruised our way up the incredibly steep road in just under an hour without batting an eyelid.
Yeah, we’re pretty fit.
After two weeks stuffing our faces with amazing food over Christmas with Chris’s family, lazing on the beach and doing absolutely no exercise whatsoever, we were anything but.
Thankfully, the travel gods were smiling on us that day and the workers from the park conveniently started arriving at about the same time as we began out ascent. We walked less than one kilometre before a friendly coffee farmer whizzed us up to Café de Las Flores at the halfway point.
After a brief stop and a free coffee hit, it was time to tackle the second, steeper section of the climb. But after only a short way we were picked up by some technicians working at the top and jumped out just a few minutes behind the truck having saved ourselves $30.
Yeah, we were feeling pretty smug at that point.
Moral of the story? Get there early!
On the way down we were almost as lucky. After finishing up our beautiful hike through the cloud forest, a small tour group on a huge truck was preparing to leave and the guide offered to give us a lift back to the half way point from where we walked the rest of the way back to the highway.
After all that mental preparation, channelling hardcore hiker and mustering as much as energy as we could, the day turned out to be pretty darn leisurely. We were grinning like idiots as we bounced around in the chicken bus back to Granada not quite believing our good luck.
On the other hand, if you do end up having to walk, be ready for a tough few hours of steep hiking. At least there is free coffee half way up!
There are three separate hiking trails atop Mombacho which lead around the various craters. All hikes require an entrance fee and you may need to hire a guide. Prices listed are for English-speaking guides but if you’ve brushed up on your language skills, Spanish-speaking guides are cheaper.
This is the most popular Mombacho hike and can be completed without a guide. The trail takes you through the cloud forest surrounding one of the four craters. On a cloudy day it is incredibly atmospheric walking through trees shrouded in mist, although unfortunately you will not get any of the beautiful views. On a clear day though you can see Granada and the isletas, Laguna de Apoyo, Masaya Volcano and into the crater.
DISTANCE: 1.5 km, 45 minutes to 1.5 hours | COST: $2 (UPDATED: November 2017)
This walk takes you a little further than the crater walk to two extra viewpoints ending at the edge of the principal crater. A guide is required. Honestly though, if you are prepared to spend the money, it may be more worthwhile hiking El Puma instead as the price is only lightly higher for a much longer hike.
DISTANCE: 2.5 kilometres, 2.5 hours | COST: $17 per group for the guide, $4 per person maintenance fee
This Mombacho Volcano trail is the most challenging of the three and requires a guide. It takes you up and down ladders and across bridges along the edge of the principal crater to the lesser visited areas of Mombacho with possible outlooks across to Ometepe. On a cloudy day though, you unfortunately won’t be able to appreciate these views.
DISTANCE: 4.5 kilometres, 4 hours | COST: $22 per group for the guide, $6 per person maintenance fee
BUS – 8 cordobas ($0.28) each way
ENTRANCE – 152 cordobas ($5) on foot | 560 cordobas ($22) by truck
The park is officially open between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily. Arrive earlier and you will have to wait to buy your ticket.
Trucks leave at 8:30, 10:00 and 13:00, returning at 11:30, 13:30 and 16:00. If you plan to do one of the longer hikes, we’d recommend aiming for the first truck to allow enough time.
Volcan Mombacho has a very temperamental microclimate. It can be a steamy thirty-something degrees in Granada but a chilly, windy, rainy mess at the top of the volcano. If it’s shrouded in cloud before you set out, bring a jacket.
If you’re visiting Mombacho on a day trip, you’re most likely visiting from Granada where you’ll find some of Nicaragua’s best budget accommodation options.
Located right next door to Cathedral La Merced, De Boca en Boca is a consistent Granada favourite for its laid-back, social vibe and its abundance of comfy chillout areas that make it easy to make friends and hard to leave. There is an onsite bar and breakfast is included. Check for rates and availability here.
Hostel El Momento is right near the centre of Granada and offers spacious rooms with particularly comfortable beds and a lovely courtyard area to relax. A perfect choice for couples looking for a more peaceful hostel option, or those who appreciate a good night’s sleep. Check for rates and availability here.
Or check out the full range of hostels available in Granada here.