Volcanos and Tacos: Hiking El Hoyo with Quetzaltrekkers

I usually travel alone.

I’m definitely what you would consider an extrovert but sometimes I absolutely cherish solitude. Not only that but my friends can’t always commit to the time and money I set aside solely for travel.

That’s okay. I understand. I like doing my own thing anyways.

However, for this trip, I enlisted my boyfriend, Tyler, to be my travel companion. Tyler is basically the human embodiment of a golden retriever (except he’s more handsome and doesn’t slobber… much) so I knew he would make the ideal travel buddy.

Travelling alone is fun. You get to do whatever the hell you want. But travelling with someone else is great too because it pushes you to try things you wouldn’t otherwise.

One such thing for me was hiking El Hoyo, a volcano in Nicaragua.

As we were prepping for this trip back in Canada, a friend recommended we do a hike with Quetzaltrekkers, an adventure tour company based out of Leon, Nicaragua.

Volcano at sunset
The sun setting over a volcano in Nicaragua.

Looking through their website we immediately decided to go with an overnight trek. Camping on a volcano? Badass! Sign us up! We knew we also wanted to try volcano boarding and the El Hoyo hike combined both of these desires. The only problem was how challenging the hike would be.

Quetzaltrekkers’ website makes it very clear that El Hoyo is a “very challenging hike demanding a good degree of fitness.”

This did not sound like me.

Tyler was, of course, unfazed, having completed numerous multi-day backpacking trips throughout his teenage and young adult years. He is also a marathon runner, avid hiker, and once even cycled across the entirety of Canada. He would be fine. He fit the bill.

I, however, do not consider myself to have a high degree of physical fitness. Sure, I’m healthy and active but I had only ever been on day hikes at home, the longest running race I’ve completed is a 10K, and I haven’t biked all winter because I don’t like cycling in the rain.

In addition to all that, I was having flashbacks to an incident that occurred to me a couple of years ago on a trip I took to Peru involving a trek to a waterfall, a lot of trouble breathing, and, eventually, a rescue horse.

I did not want to return from this hike wheezing my way down on horseback, so we made a decision to postpone our decision.

We would wait until we were in Nicaragua and then go in person to ask how challenging the El Hoyo hike actually was. Did their warnings of a difficult hike mean tourist difficult or difficult difficult?

The volunteers at Queztaltrekkers were extremely helpful. I expressed my concerns and the young, European man at the desk detailed the specifics of each section of the hike for me. I was informed that the first section would be very challenging. In fact, it was the hardest part of the hike. It was straight uphill for an hour in the heat of day carrying all of our supplies, including six kilos of water, food for two days, and our tents and sleeping bags. After that, he assured me, the trail was more level, going up and down for approximately 19km over the course of two days.

“I can do that!” I told myself. So we signed up.

And I did do it… for a while.

After completing the volcano boarding portion of our trip (which was super fun!) it was time to face El Hoyo.

Shayla volcano boarding down Cerro Negro in Nicaragua.
Volcano boarding down Cerro Negro.

It was about 40 degrees celsius, the noonday sun was beating on us hard, and our backpacks were heavily loaded with water. I was managing the challenge all right, taking numerous small breaks on my way up, drinking plenty of water, and eventually offloading a couple of my heavier items on Tyler and our guide to reduce the weight in my pack.

Then, halfway up the steep slope, I could not catch my breath.

I took off my pack and breathed as deeply as I could, but my body resisted my attempts. It rushed to get any amount of air in as quickly as possible before suddenly breathing out, trying to rid itself of carbon dioxide.

My legs were fine, my back felt great, I didn’t even feel that hot, I just could not breathe.

As the nerdy nurse in me was mentally naming the accessory muscles I was using with each inhale, our guide came over to check on me and offer assistance. He waited until I caught my breath and then, realizing I would be unable to continue on like this, offered to carry my pack in addition to the one he was carrying.

What a beast.

Meanwhile, Tyler appeared like he was out for a Sunday stroll even with the added weight I had given him. I’m sure he would have run up that slope if he hadn’t been so kind as to stay by my side the whole way.

With the weight of my pack no longer pushing me into the earth, I practically floated up the remainder of the hill. When the trail levelled out and we braked for lunch I learnt a pair of British women on our hike had opted to pay an extra USD $25 to have a horse carry their packs for them all day.

How come I didn’t do that?

But who am I kidding, I would have been too stubborn and frugal to take up that offer had I known about it anyway.

Shayla trekking
Finally at the top!
Shayla and Tyler at El Hoyo
Tyler and I squinting into the sun at the top of El Hoyo.

The remainder of the trek was as promised; a little up, a little down, and full of incredible views. There were craters both recent and ancient, sulphur vents, and even a palm tree.

We watched the sunset over the numerous volcanos in the area, ate a delicious pasta dinner cooked over the campfire, and went to bed as soon as it became dark, exhausted from our day.

Lagoon and volcano
The view of the lagoon from El Hoyo.

Tyler and I chose not to put the fly on our tent, as rain seemed highly improbable, and I couldn’t stop looking at the stars. There were more than I have ever seen anywhere in my life. We could even see streaks of the milky way painting the sky white.

Tyler and our tent
Tyler and our tent under the one and only palm tree.
Sunrise over volcanos
Sunrise view from El Hoyo.

The next morning we set off early, determined to beat the inevitable heat. Before noon we had reached our lunch spot, a beautiful lagoon contained by the crater of a long-ago eruption. I jumped in immediately, eager to rinse myself of the thick layer of dust and sweat that coated my skin. Topped off with the fresh vegetable tacos we had for lunch, this place felt like paradise.

Lagoon and Volcano
That lagoon though…

Although difficult really did mean difficult on this hike I’m so glad we did it! I love camping at home but camping on a volcano is pretty much as awesome as you would expect and Quetzaltrekkers made it all the better. I honestly could not have completed this hike if it weren’t for the help of our volunteer guides.

And I have definitely stolen that taco recipe.

Disclaimer: I did not receive anything from Quetzaltrekkers for writing this post. All opinions are my own.

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Route Bound Nurse

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