Masaya Volcano National Park, was established in 1979 as the country's first and largest national park. Masaya is a basaltic volcano located 25 km southeast of Managua, Nicaragua. It comprises an area of 54 km2 with more than 20 km of scenic roads and trails, leading to and around the two impressive volcanoes (the Masaya and Nindiri cones) and five formidable craters.
A lava lake has formed in Santiago crater on numerous occasions and currently displays gaseous activity and incandescent lava in its interior. Volcanologists continue to study the large emissions of sulfur dioxide gas coming from the Santiago crater to better understand the behavior of the volcano and evaluate the impact of acid rain and potential for health problems.
The volcanoes have erupted numerous times throughout history and were feared by both the indigenous people and the Spanish conquistadors. The Spaniards baptized the active volcano "La Boca del Infierno" or "The Mouth of Hell". They erected a cross on the crater lip in the 16th century, naming it "La Cruz de Bobadilla", after a Jesuit priest, Father Francisco Bobadilla), in hopes to exorcise the Devil.
The eruptions have had a dramatic impact on the surroundings. Rocks and volcanic ash still cover the area surrounding the volcanoes. The landscape is rough and harsh, and yet somehow serene. Different types of vegetation grew after each of the eruptions. The park is also inhabited by numerous species of animals. The park's indigenous wildlife includes coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, deer, iguanas, and monkeys.
The park is situated less than half an hour away from Managua and ten minutes from Masaya. It is five kilometers from the entrance of the park, uphill to the Masaya Volcano, located at the center of the park. Visitors can take the drive uphill in their own cars or ask a taxi to drive to the crater. Hiking uphill is another option, but the road is steep and it takes a while.
Visitors can take a gander over the edge of the Masaya Volcano and look into the impressive crater, which is continuously emitting smoke and sulfur gases. Be sure to walk up to get a view of the smoking volcano and the fascinating surroundings from the look out point at the cross. There are several trails that lead to the Tzinaconostoc Cave where hundreds of bats live. The trails vary in distance, from between 1.4 and 5.9 kilometers long. All trails are guided and take between 1-1½ hour to navigate.
There is an interesting and rather well-equipped visitors center located on the road halfway up to the volcano. The center provides information about the Masaya volcano complex and also about the other volcanoes in Nicaragua. Visitors can also learn more about the flora and fauna of the park here.
Another spectacular activity in the Masaya park is to take a nocturnal (night) tour. The Masaya Volcano National Park offers this tour every day at 5PM. The tour takes approximately 2½ to 3 hours to complete. The tour starts just before sunset, with a visit to the cross (La Cruz de Bobadilla) overlooking the volcano and the surroundings.