Must-See Volcanoes in Central America

May 25, 2012 by

South & Central America, Things to Do

When you think of Central America, what do you think of? Beaches and rainforests? Local food like beans, rice, and plantain? But what about volcanoes? It’s probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of traveling to Central America. Nor is visiting a volcano probably one of the top things you want to do. However, Central America has a high concentration of volcanoes, including some of the world’s largest and most active. Below you’ll find a round-up of some of the most notable volcanoes in Central America and what you can expect from a visit to each one.

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

As one of the most visited landmarks in Central America, it’s hard to visit Costa Rica and not visit Arenal Volcano. Arenal is not only one of the most notable volcanoes in Central America, but the entire world, since it was long one of the most active. Located a couple hours northwest of San Jose, Arenal is what many have come to expect from a volcano. It rises thousands of feet above the land below it to an elevation of over 5,000 feet and has the iconic conical shape that most people think of with volcanoes.

Visitors should be aware that while Arenal is in a resting state, the rim of the volcano isn’t accessible like some of the other volcanoes on this list. For the active traveler, there are numerous hikes around the volcano, with many trails that are doable for the novice hiker. However, travelers can also get a view of the volcano from many local hotels, including several at the base of Arenal in La Fortuna.

Read more about things to do in Costa Rica

Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua

Masaya Volano in Nicaragua

Masaya Volano in Nicaragua. Photo courtesy of Brian Johnson via Flickr.

It should be noted that Masaya Volcano isn’t the typical volcano that you may be expecting. That’s because it doesn’t have the same conical shape that many of the world’s most famous volcanoes have. However, what Masaya lacks in shape it makes up for in history and views.

What makes Masaya unique is that it’s not just one volcano, but a volcanic complex of numerous craters. It has erupted many times and was described by early Spanish settlers as “La Boca del Infierno,” translated, “The Mouth of Hell.” Visitors can actually drive up to the top of the largest crater and look down into it and see the fumes rising. However, lava can typically only be seen at night.

Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

Cerro Negro may not be as familiar to most travelers because it doesn’t have the same history as many of the volcanoes on this list. Cerro Negro is actually the newest volcano in Central America, dating back just over 150 years to the mid-1800s. However, despite Cerro Negro’s young age, it hasn’t held back; it has erupted over 20 times, although the last eruption was in 1999.

Cerro Negro is just over 2,000 feet tall, making it more hikeable than many volcanoes. What makes this volcano stand out though is the recreational activity of volcano boarding. Since one of the slopes is made up of volcanic sand, the adventure seeker can grab a wooden board and sand-board or sled down the hill.

Pacaya, Guatemala

Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Bruno Girin via Flickr.

Guatemala has become known for their many volcanoes that are spread throughout the country, of which Pacaya is one of the easiest to climb. However, this is one that you’ll want to make sure you do your research on beforehand, especially since its latest eruption was just two years ago. Even so, lava sightings have been few and far between since Pacaya’s last eruption. It stands as one of the tallest volcanoes on this list at over 8,000 feet tall.

The hike is doable for most experience levels, but requires most of the day. As you can imagine with its elevation, hikers are greeted with beautiful views, including scenic views to the sea on a clear day.

Tajumulco, Guatemala


Tajumulco, the highest mountain in Central America. Photo courtesy of Axel via Flickr.

Tajumulco is the volcano of volcanoes in Central America. It stands as the highest mountain in Central America at nearly 14,000 feet. However, the hike is not as difficult as many mountains that stand over 14,000 feet. The difficulty is adjusting to the altitude. For that reason, many of the guided hikes are overnight hikes that stop overnight just below the summit, typically beginning in Quetzaltenango and taking the bus up a portion of the way.

Tajumulco hasn’t had the same number of eruptions as many of Central America’s volcanoes, which can help ease the minds of the cautious traveler.

Read more: Top 25 Things to Do in Central & South America

-Spencer Spellman

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