Nicaragua is often referred to as 'the country of Lakes and Volcanoes'. Not only do many lakes and lagoons dot the countryside, but an impressive string of volcanoes also runs the length of the country. There is a great variety among these volcanoes; some continue have huge smoking craters while other volcanoes like Laguna de Apoyo were blown away in violent eruptions thousands of years ago, leaving behind a tranquil crater lakes.

You can climb active and dormant volcanoes, swim in crater lakes, walk through the forested slopes, snow board down the gravelly slopes or peek over the rim into the crater of a volcano. There are over a dozen volcanoes in Nicaragua. I will briefly describe those within an easy drive from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

The Masaya Volcano (635m) is an active volcano located in Masaya Volcano National Park. The smoking crater can readily be seen from the road. A national park has been set up around the volcano, and within the park there is a paved road that leads to the crater. This enables visitors to drive directly to the Santiago crater. The park includes two volcanoes, the Masaya Volcano and the Nindirí Volcano, and five craters.

The Santiago crater was formed in 1852 and is the most active crater of the park. Surprisingly, a colony of green parakeets is living inside the crater, apparently unbothered by the toxic gases that are emitted regularly. In addition to visiting the impressive Santiago crater you can hike up to another dormant crater which provides a fantastic view of the Santiago crater and the general area. There is another trail that leads to a cave inhabited by bats. Many trails reward you with panoramic vistas. Hiking through the reserve will also allow you to observe the spectacular landscape created by past eruptions.

The Masaya Volcano is the most accessible volcano in Nicaragua. There is also a visitor center with a little museum.

When the Apoyo Volcano (468m) last erupted, (approximately 23,000 years ago) it left a gapping 7 km-wide crater that gradually filled with fresh water. This lake, located between Masaya and Granada, is surrounded by the old crater wall.

This spectacular lagoon can be easily reached by car, and it is the perfect spot for a day of swimming and relaxing. Although it is characterized as an inactive volcano there is still an active fumarole at the western shore of the lagoon, so the volcano is not yet deemed dormant. There are a number of interesting myths that still surround this pristine lagoon.

The Mombacho Volcano (1,345m) is a huge dormant stratovolcano bordering Lake Nicaragua, close to Granada. The small islands in this area of the lake, called Las Isletas, are thought to be formed thousands of years ago as a result of an eruption of the Mombacho Volcano. Currently, the Mombacho Volcano is quiet and today a dense forest covers the slopes.

After the Masaya Volcano, the Mombacho Volcano is probably the next most accessible volcano in Nicaragua. You get to the clearly marked entrance of the volcano from the main highway. You then leave your car and take a truck to the summit. On the trip up this steep volcano you will pass several types of ecosystems. From a tropical dry forest you will move into a semi deciduous tropical forest and at the summit you will find a wet tropical forest, also called a cloud forest. On the highest peaks you can see a dwarf forest where trees never grow tall because of constant strong winds.

The rich biodiversity of the Mombacho Volcano lends itself to a wide variety of animals and plant species endemic to the volcano. Groomed trails have been set up, which offer a number of hiking option. In addition to amazing natural vegetation you can also find spectacular vistas along the trails.

Zapatera Island (629m) is an extinct volcano located inside Lake Nicaragua. The Zapatera Island is very small and is inhabited by a very small group of people. The old volcano does not show any signs of possible eruption and the island it has left is densely forested.

Zapatera Island was inhabited by indigenous tribes and has many important archaeological sites. Ancient statues and artifacts have been found in great quantities on the island, and it is thought that many are still buried there. The San Francisco Museum in Granada houses a collection of statues from Zapatera.

Although Zapatera offers some very attractive features, the island is not frequently visited by tourists. Visiting the island is possible although it requires some effort and there is not much tourism infrastructure available.

Concepcion Volcano (1,610m) is the true giant among the Nicaraguan volcanoes. The Concepción Volcano dominates the western side of Ometepe Island. Concepción is a cone-shaped stratovolcano. The most recent violent eruption occurred in 1986 and heavily affected people living on the island. The volcano continues to regularly emit ash and gases. As recently as 2005, the Concepción Volcano threw out ash and seismic activity around the island increased. Many thought the volcano was about to erupt. However, over time the seismic activity decreased and the anticipated eruption did not take place.

Climbing the Concepción is challenging but can be worth the effort. You can easily reach the base of the volcano from which you ascend through banana and coffee plantations. Stunningly beautiful vegetation and spectacular views treat hikers on the way up. It is not an easy climb though and it should never be attempted without a guide. Along the way you will pass different types of vegetation. Closer to the crest of the volcano the views can be limited by clouds, but if you are lucky enough to have a clear sky, you will be treated to spectacular views. Witnessing the sulfur smoke puff out of the crater on the top of this volcano is an awe-inspiring experience. Ascending and descending Concepcion Volcano will take between seven and ten hours.

Concepción Volcano shares the island of Ometepe with the Maderas Volcano (1,394m). Maderas is a dormant volcano with a wet tropical forest similar to the Mombacho Volcano. Above a certain altitude, both the Mombacho and the Maderas Volcano have the same humid atmosphere.

On the top of this volcano you can find a charming crater lake. There is no paved road to the crater. You will have to hike all the way up. The Maderas Volcano is less steep than the Concepción Volcano, but it still is a very long trail. The round trip should take approximately eight hours. Ascending this volcano is a once in a lifetime experience as it is likely the most beautiful of the all the volcanoes in Nicaragua.