Breathing in giant clouds of sulfur gas at 4am is not pleasant. Doing so after a long hike up the side of a volcano is even worse, as it’s precisely when your lungs demand clean, fresh, and cool oxygen.
But sometimes interesting photographs call for extreme measures. I wasn’t about to miss my chance for a photo of glowing lava with a particularly long & terrible history.
A Plan is Hatched
It all started with a TweetUp (meeting of Twitter users) for dinner and drinks. SuperXicana, BreakawayBackpacker, VagabondQuest and I started to plot what we should do together the following day. Obviously it needed to be unique, as we’re all travel bloggers who crave interesting experiences.
Climbing the nearby Volcano Masaya was suggested, as none of us had done it yet. But that wasn’t unique enough… we needed something more. How about sneaking into the national park & spending a night on the volcano itself?
We Have a Problem
After getting ready we jump on an incredibly packed mini-bus bound for the town of Masaya. The plan is to hop off at the entrance to the park, pay the entry fee, hike 3 miles up the road that leads directly to the crater, then run off and hide until the rangers close everything down for the night. We would then re-emerge to spend the evening stargazing on the top of an active volcano!
Unfortunately, our plan wasn’t foolproof. When we finally arrived at the park entrance, they were about to close down. The rangers wouldn’t let us in because they’d have to kick us out before we even made it to the top.
Luckily there was another option. Spend $10 on a guided night tour.
As you may know by now, I’m not a fan of big tours. Guides rush everything because they just want to get paid & go home. I never have enough time to set up and take good photos. You often have to put up with obnoxious, complaining, or rude people in the group. Most of all, rarely is a guided tour actually needed. I’m pretty confident in my abilities to follow a trail, and if I want to learn the backstory of a place, I can look it up online or read a book.
Masaya Night Tour
This tour turned out to be ok though. We got to climb into ancient lava-tubes that were filled with bats, and learned about the human sacrifices that happened in them 500 years ago. In typical cave-tour fashion, we turned off all our lights to revel in the complete darkness.
Did I mention the other reason I don’t like tours is because they’re all so predictable? :roll:
Anyway, as usual, I didn’t have time to set up for good night photos. It became a running joke that I was always the last one in the group to show up when the guide stopped to talk about something. But I was prepared to grin & bear it because we had ulterior motives in mind…
Sleeping Under the Stars
Unfortunately it was becoming clear that we wouldn’t be able to just slip away from the group without them noticing. Our guide knew us by name. Getting discouraged, we tried to bribe him into letting us stay up there. He said he could care less if we did, but he was responsible for making sure we left the park. There were papers that needed to be stamped saying we made it out. He didn’t want to lose his job. Completely understandable.
So we decided to go over his head.
At the ranger station, we pleaded with the supervisor to let us spend the night. With much coaxing & convincing, he reluctantly said yes. But he wanted us to pay. After a bit more negotiating, SuperXicana miraculously managed to talk him into letting us stay for free. Success!
Except we had to sleep at a campsite at the base of the volcano, not on the top. Oh, and the campsite was guarded by a man with a shotgun.
The Great Escape
While we took turns passing a bottle of rum around the fire, another plan was formed. We’d sleep for a couple hours, then wake up at 3am to hike the volcano in the dark. It’s not hard to wake up at 3am when you’re sleeping on rocky ground without pads or tents. Predictably, none of us got much sleep.
At the appointed time, and while maintaining a flashlight blackout, everyone stumbled around in the dark getting ready as quietly as they could. We then stealthily snuck past our armed guard and out into the night. Freedom at last!
Once on the road, it took about an hour to make it to the top. I was finally able to set up my camera and get a photo of the glowing lava at the bottom of the Masaya Volcano. We also had free reign to explore the area on our own.
Stargazing with new travel friends on the edge of an active crater until sunrise and having the entire volcano to ourselves definitely made the whole trip worth while. :)
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Specific Details & Tips
Location: Masaya, Nicaragua
Company: Masaya National Park
Cost: $220 Cordobas ($10 US) Night Tour
Tips: Take a 30 minute mini-bus ride to the park entrance from Granada. As reluctant as I am to say it, the night tour was actually ok. This was due to our smaller group size (with Spanish speaking guide). Get to the park before 3pm if you want to try and attempt our initial plan…