Hiking mountains is a blast, but nothing beats the badass-factor of hiking a volcano. There’s something about the possibility of an eruption at any time that gets the giddy-endorphins going harder when you’re huffing your way up, and scrambling back down again.
Central America is rich with volcanoes open for hiking. Some are active, some are dormant, some are just taking a century-long nap, but they’re all incredible in their own ways.
If you’re trying to figure out which volcano you want to scale, look to our list of the top five volcano hikes in Central America.
Can’t decide? Plan a trip to see them all! Sounds like a great excuse for an extended excursion to me.
Acatenango is one of the three volcanoes that can be seen from Antigua, Guatemala, the former Spanish colonial capital of Latin America. Unlike its active neighbor, Fuego, Acatenango is dormant. While it theoretically could go off at any time, the last eruption was in 1972 (you’ll probably be just fine).
Start your hike in Antigua where you can catch a ride on a bus with one of the local tour groups for the hour-ish long ride to the volcano. After getting all your goods together at the base of the volcano, you’ll hike up through corn fields, a cloud forest, and eerily beautiful scree. Spend the night watching Fuego — the world’s most consistently erupting volcano — spew lava only four kilometers away.
Finish the hike to the summit the next morning; if you time that final hour up from your campsite right, you’ll be able to catch the sunrise over the range of volcanoes that stretches from Mexico to El Salvador.
If Acatenango left you wanting more — but not more of that same killer hike — Pacaya delivers. This is an active volcano that, from time to time, includes attractions like rivers of lava coursing down the mountain’s sides. Another selling point: the hike up Pacaya shouldn’t take more than two hours. Reward yourself by seeking out “hot spots” (they’re present even when the volcano isn’t actively erupting) that are warm enough for toasting marshmallows.
Arenal National Park is considered a must-see for any visitor to Costa Rica with many hiking trails that range from easy to difficult, beautiful tropical waterfalls, and exotic jungle wildlife. The park’s namesake, the Arenal Volcano, is too dangerous to hike but you can catch incredible views from neighboring Chato.
Chato has a beautiful lake in the crater at the top, and views of Arenal and the entire park. The hike to the top can be rough (even for experienced hikers), so give yourself plenty of time and start early in the day, wear solid hiking boots, and bring plenty of snacks and water. Make sure to go on a dry day, as mudslides have been known to occur on the path to the top.
The island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua has two volcanoes — Concepción and Maderas. Concepción looks like a child’s drawing of a volcano: perfectly conical, symmetrical, and dominating the landscape. Concepción is active, with the last reported activity being a giant ash cloud in 2010. Hikers who complete grueling ten hour hike to the summit are treated to a view into the belly of the beast: the volcano’s crater, from which hot air periodically bursts. The hike is brutal but rewarding, featuring a mix of jungle, farmland, and a windswept rocky incline as you near the belching crater.
Maderas is Concepción’s mellower little sister, although she’s by no means an easy lady. Where Concepción is rocky, Maderas is muddy, boasting more jungle and less scree. Maderas also has a lake in her crater, which is a considerably more relaxing way to end a climb than taking your chances next to a crater that could erupt at any minute.
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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.