A Detour to the Black Hill

Disappointed with Nicaragua’s volcanoes so far, we decided to make a day trip to Leon, home of Cerro Negro, or the Black Hill.

A Detour to the Black Hill

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by ext212 on February 27, 2007

Feeling a little disappointed with our experience with Nicaragua's volcanoes so far, we decided to postpone our flight to the Caribbean coast and stay one more day in Managua to make a day trip to Leon, home of Cerro Negro, or the Black Hill.

The most recent eruption was back in 1999 although we were told that there were a few earthquakes in 2004. Until today, steam rises from the crater and the surrounding areas. The path up to the top still has sulphur.${QuickSuggestions} Our trip to Leon was so last-minute, we didn't want to risk asking just any of the locals to take us to Cerro Negro. From Managua, we called Va Pues Tours in Leon and booked a tour the next day for a steep $90. (www.vapues.com)

If you have more time to plan, you can go to Leon and ask other tour companies if they hike up Cerro Negro and definitely bargain a lower price.

I'm sure you can hire a driver to take you to the bottom of the hill and wait for you to come down. The driver better have a 4WD though; the path to the volcano is bumpy and dry. We only saw one sign directing us to the volcano. But you can stop and ask the locals who still live nearby.

There isn't an established trail up the volcano because the black stones are like crunchy ice - it's hard to mark a path. It's a small hill, though, that there isn't any other way but up, and then down the other side.

If you have more money to spare, rent a mini-board at Va Pues and go down the volcano like a snowboarder. If you don't, your hiking boots will do. Expect to do some squealing.${BestWay} From Managua, we woke up very early to catch the 5:30am shuttle to Leon. (We took a cab and asked the driver to take us to the terminal where the Leon buses were.) An hour later, we were dropped off at the central market. We walked around to look for breakfast but you can take a cab to the other end of the town if you want.

To go back to Managua, you can just go to the market, ask for the shuttle terminal to Managua and there will be plenty of shuttles leaving every few minutes.

Comedor Lucia

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by ext212 on February 27, 2007

Leon is known as Nicaragua's "intellectual city" because the first university was founded there. Because it's a university town, there are a lot of young people. They are more educated, and therefore, politically active. They are also more inclined to participate in the arts. (There is a coffee shop/restaurant, which also doubles as an art gallery, called Cocinarte in town.)

Because it's a university town, people don't really wake up too early. We arrived in Leon from Managua at 6:30am. The locals were just starting to set up their wares in the market. There were plenty of taxis and buses because a lot of people still work outside the main town, but we couldn't find a place that was open to eat breakfast before 8am.

Comedor Lucia to the rescue. They just opened when we walked in at 8am. We devoured some eggs and rice quickly because we've just spent two hours walking around in search of food. I was so hungry, I ended up ordering chicken stew with my breakfast. I felt like I've been up all day.

The food was more expensive than the other local spots we've visited elsewhere. My plate of rice with eggs and chicken was about 60 cordovas - that's double the amount of our chicken barbecue meal in Granada but with less food.

It's popular, though, because it's right next to the Big Foot Hostel, and that's the only address I could find anywhere on the Web. Ask around and you'll be directed the right way if you mention Comedor Lucia to just about anyone.

Unfortunately, coffee with milk means a cup of cold milk with a packet of instant coffee. (It was very hard for me to get a decent cup of brewed coffee in the country anyway except in exclusive resorts.) But we truly appreciated the food before we started hiking and spending energy at Cerro Negro.

Food stalls in the Central Market

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ext212 on February 27, 2007

Before we left Leon, we walked around the central market. They sell almost everything inside, from souvenirs, to crumbly cheeses, to fruits and vegetables, to homemade meals.

It's always been my rule to eat local food when I'm in a new place and Nicaragua was not an exception. My number two rule is to find a woman who looks like she can eat, because it usually means she can also cook.

When we walked past the food stalls inside the central market, I spotted the largest woman in the area wearing an apron. We ignored all the other pots and pans around her and went straight for her table. We lifted the lids and smelled ridiculously good food. We just basically put our backpacks down, sat on plastic chairs by the tiled tables and ordered whatever she had. She happily watched us eat with stupid grins on our faces.

It was one of the most satisfying meals we had in Nicaragua.

Cerro Negro

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ext212 on February 27, 2007

After a long search for breakfast in Leon, we met up with Hector at the Va Pues Tour office inside the Cocinarte restaurant-cum-artist hangout. It was a last-minute arrangement and we couldn’t risk just asking one of the locals for a much cheaper ride to Cerro Negro, so we ended up shelling out $90 for the two of us to hike the crater.

We got on the pickup truck and our driver negotiated the dry mud along the way while Hector told us about his life. He was young and energetic and seemed really thrilled that Chinese-looking people like us could speak Spanish. It was a long drive and we only saw one sign directing us towards the volcano. We tried to convince ourselves that we made the right decision in paying so much money to get us there.

As soon as we started our hike up Cerro Negro, I knew it was going to be a completely different experience from Volcan Mombacho or Apoyo. The small stones crunched as we stepped on them. It was like hiking on powdered snow: step up, crunch, slide down, repeat. From afar, we could see how much damage the lava from its last eruption affected the valley. There was no vegetation; only hardened asphalt. Steam was coming out from some of the rocks. I scooped up some to take home as souvenir and was amazed at how hot they were. One section of the hill was completely covered in yellow sulphur.

It was really windy when we reached the top. But the crater was right below us and it was an amazing sight. (Okay, so the $90 was worth it.) Now, this is a crater, I thought. Weirdly enough, crickets and grasshoppers were hopping all over the place. The heat attracted them, but they would die instantly when they would land on the steaming rocks for too long.

After several photographs from the top, we readied ourselves for what was to come next: sliding and surfing down the other side of Cerro Negro. If we paid a little more money, we could have rented mini-boards to suit up and ride down like snowboarders. But we just decided to slide down without any props. It was longer than I expected, but it was so much fun. The stones gave easily and I couldn’t help but squeal every time I slid without interruption.

I imagined our entire surrounding was how the moon would look like. Everything was black and pure. I’ve never seen anything like Cerro Negro before and I’ve definitely never slid down a volcano in my life.
Cerro Negro Volcano
Cordillera de los Maribios Mountain Range
Malpaisillo, Nicaragua


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