As a child I was obsessed with volcanoes, as I’m sure many of you were as well. Throughout the years I’ve found other interests of course, and volcanoes have fallen towards the back burner of my mind. However, the yearning to see an active volcano up close has remained on the top of my list of things to do.
I never thought that I would actually be able to visit such a place and see the active lava seeping out of the center of a volcano. Nicaragua proved me wrong.
More specifically, the Masaya Volcano proved me wrong. The Masaya Volcano is part of a larger national park that surrounds it. Recently, however, the volcano has been too active to visit most of the park. Several small seismic events have even caused certain parts to break off and cause minor rock slides. This was disheartening at first, until I found out that its most iconic crater is still safe to visit.
After entering the park and going to the visitor center and viewpoint, I started the trip up to the top of the volcano. As my car rose and rose, I marveled at the volcanic plains that expanded all around us. Shrubbery had grown over the landscape, but you could still see the old, black lava flows that looked like rivers of rock coming down from the volcano – frozen in place. Once we passed the tree line and I began to look up towards the summit, I could see the clouds of gas and smoke billowing out from the top. It was an ominous yet incredible sight. Though I knew that it wasn’t true, it seemed as if the volcano was ready to erupt at any moment and cover our rising car in a pyroclastic flow. As we rose, the clouds became more and more pervasive until we could barely see the sky above us.
As we came over the last part of the incline, an incredible vista opened up in front of my eyes. I could see the entire steaming outer rim of the crater with a short safety wall around it. To the right, a lonely peak shot out from the rim, atop of which sat the imposing cross of Bobadilla, like a sentinel watching over the lava. As I went up to the rim, I began to get a bit more nervous. However, once I looked over the edge and into the abyss, I simply stood in awe and lost all worries. I admired the several rock shelves; the different colors given to them by their geological composition, and how the heat had tempered them throughout the years.
Nevertheless, the most impressive and surprising part was the churning lava pool which could be seen by looking deep over the edge of the precipice. I never thought that I would see live lava in person unless I was in grave danger. It looked even more impressive and strangely majestic than in the movies. The lava slowly flowed over itself as it came out of one volcanic tunnel and went into another. It was like getting a glimpse into the inner workings of the metaphorical forge inside the Earth. Although they only let you stay atop the volcano for 10 minutes if it’s busy, I was able to take in amazing views during that time that are burned into my mind forever.
If you are like me and have found lava and volcanos interesting for most of your life, and would like to have this experience for yourself, here is some information about the Masaya National Park:
The crater that you can visit is called Plaza de Oviedo and was the one that haunted indigenous peoples and Spanish conquistadors for centuries. So much so, that the Spanish conquistadors tried to baptize and sanctify it with the cross of Bobadilla. Though the original doesn’t exist anymore, there is a replica of this large cross where it once stood. The larger visit used to include an inactive volcanic tunnel in which hundreds of bats nest, and several other craters and volcanic terrain. However, as aforementioned, these parts of the visit are currently blocked off. It is always a good idea to check the current status of the National Park before going, since it is possible that in the near future they will reopen the closed areas.
The visitor center and its vista is also a worthwhile stop along the way to the volcano. There you can learn about the history of the area, the volcano, and the wildlife. From the viewpoint, you can see a great landscape of old, hardened volcanic flows swirling down to Lake Managua under the foliage.
The Masaya Volcano provides a perfect combination between activity and ease of access. Though there are more active volcanoes in the world, especially on small islands in the Pacific, the surrounding country of Nicaragua offers much more to do once you’ve seen the volcano.