Nicaragua: Mombacho Volcano

The word mombacho conjures up images of a distant, dark mystical place in my mind. Well, once you are in Granada, Mombacho Volcano is not distant, only 10 km outside of town, but it does have a sense of mystical sense of wonder about it.

Mombacho as seen from Lake Nicaragua. It's peak is shroud by clouds, the source of moisture for the areas unique Cloud Forest.

Mombacho as seen from Lake Nicaragua. It’s peak is shroud by clouds, the source of moisture for the areas unique Cloud Forest.

Our first exposure to Volcan Mombacho was during an evening boat tour of Las Isletas, some

Looking over Mombacho's rim to

Looking over Mombacho’s rim to Las Isletas.

365 small islands located in Lake Nicaragua just outside of Granada.  About 10,000 years ago, Mombacho had an explosive eruption catapulting huge blocks of lava that would form these islands.  Many of them are large enough to support very good-sized private homes.  Officials at Volcan Masaya recommend getting under your vehicle if rocks start flying. Based on what we saw at Las Isletas, if Mombacho starts spitting out rocks, you better start saying your prayers.

Mombacho salamander, found only in this Cloud Forest

Mombacho salamander, found only in this Cloud Forest

Mombacho is a special place. During the early 1990s, scientists

Excellent

Excellent trail work

discovered the upper reaches of Mombacho is home to many unique plants and animals. As a result, in 1994 the Nicaraguan Central Government founded the Mombacho Volcano National Reserve in an attempt to protect the area. The Fundación Cocibolca administers the Reserve and has built nature trails, provides transportation to a visitors center, trains guides and evens addresses issues of conservation with the locals.  Your visit to this Reserve supports all of their efforts.

Rare orchids seem to be everywhere.

Rare orchids seem to be everywhere.

What makes Mombacho special is its cloud forests (only Maderas has a similar forest in Nicaragua).  As you ascend Mombacho, you will notice the temperature dropping. As warm humid air reaches Mombacho, the mountain causes them to reach upwards. Remembering back to high school days you will recall that cold air holds less moisture than hot air.  As air rises around Mombacho, clouds form and then deposit their moisture on the ecosystem. Mombacho must have been relatively quiet (its last eruption was 500 years ago) over the eons to have allowed it’s unique ecosystem to develop. It is an active volcano as you can still see steam vents as you hike its trails.

The road up Mombacho gets progressively steeper. Our vehicle had a glass canopy, all the better to protect you from howler monkey droppings (oh my).

The road up Mombacho gets progressively steeper. Our vehicle had a glass canopy, all the better to protect you from howler monkey droppings (oh my).

When you arrive at the base of Mombacho, begin to realize you are about to start an adventure. Large 4 wheel drive trucks will take you further. I did see a few private vehicles in the lower regions, but the road becomes more of a challenge the higher you go.

The forest becomes covered with bromeliads as you enter the Cloud Forest.

The forest becomes covered with bromeliads as you enter the Cloud Forest.

During your journey to the cloud forest, you will pass through several coffee plantations, then a forest covered with bromeliads. Finally as the temperature noticeably drops, you will be in the cloud forest. At the terminus will be a visitor center where you can find food, displays and guides.  Your experience will be much better with a guide, and of course hiring one will support the local economy. The Puma Trail (the best on the Preserve) requires the services of a local guide.

Trails will take you through much of the ecosystem and will provide great views of Granada and Lake Nicaragua if the clouds part long enough.

This is a panoramic image stitched together from six individual images. Image was captured from Mombacho. You can see the northern end of Lake Nicaragua extending to the right. Granada is in the center, Las Islates arcs into Lake Nicaragua. Click on the image for a larger version

This is a panoramic image stitched together from six individual images. Image was captured from Mombacho. You can see the northern end of Lake Nicaragua extending to the right. Granada is in the center, Las Isletas arcs into Lake Nicaragua. Click on the image for a larger version

Roads in the lower regions of Mombacho are constructed using paving stones. Pavers are commonly used in Nicaragua as they stand up better to the ravages of the wet season and are easier to repair than paved roads.

Roads in the lower regions of Mombacho are constructed using paving stones. Pavers are commonly used in Nicaragua as they stand up better to the ravages of the wet season and are easier to repair than paved roads.

We conditions in the Cloud Forest causes growth everywhere.

Wet conditions in the Cloud Forest causes growth everywhere.

This cut was human made but is being taken over by the Cloud Forest. The walls were inhabited by all kinds of critters.

This cut was human made but is being taken over by the Cloud Forest. The walls were inhabited by all kinds of critters.

Watch where you step, critters abound.

Watch where you step, critters abound.

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