Nicaragua has been called “a violent expanse of volcanic strength,” and there is nowhere better to feel that force than on the hot, baked slopes of its mountains of fire. Start early and bring a minimum of three liters of water per person.
None of these hikes should be attempted without a guide. Choose from a range of independent guides and well-established tour operators  like Tierra Tours and Vapues Tours.
1,300 meters, 8 hours round-trip
The quintessential cone-shaped volcano, Momotombo  rises up from the shores of Lago Xolotlán in a particularly menacing posture — and history has proven that the menace is real. Momotombo is climbable, but it’s not easy, especially when you hit the loose volcanic gravel that comprises the upper half of the cone. Your triumphant reward will be one of the best views possible of Lago Xolotlán without use of an airplane.
From the Ruinas de León Viejo , head out of town to the main highway and turn right (north) along the highway. Follow that to the geothermal plant, where you’ll have to convince the guard to let you through to hike. They’re sensitive about people traipsing across their installation, so honor whatever promises you make.
1,061 meters, 5–7 hours round-trip
Despite its tendency to spew ash over its namesake town, Volcán Telica makes for a good climb. Take a bus from León  to Telica, then follow the road to the community of La Quimera and keep going until the road disappears beneath your feet and becomes the volcano. Alternatively, access the volcano from Santa Clara, the town adjacent to the Hervideros de San Jacinto .
675 meters, 2 hours round-trip
This is the most frequently active volcano in the chain (its last eruption was August 1999). The lowest and youngest of the Maribios, Cerro Negro rises like a black-sand pimple from the landscape, completely free of vegetation and scorching hot when there is no cloud cover. A road takes you from León to the base; from there, follow the makeshift “trail,” part of which will have you scrambling over awkward rocks and fighting surprisingly strong wind.
The trail loops around the steaming crater, which the brave may enter at their own risk — if the gaseous wind blows across your path, move fast to get out of it. You can also descend into the second crater accessible from the summit, again at your own risk. Getting out of this one is much harder and much hotter, so make sure you are in good shape. Going down is easy — just run, skip, and hop down the back side or zoom down on a board .
There are a number of approaches; the most common heads due east from León , near the town of Lechecuago. Leave early in the morning to beat the heat and avoid the afternoon thunderstorms. The metals in Cerro Negro attract lightning better than the taller volcanoes nearby, so don’t test it.
1,405 meters, 8 hours round-trip
Access can be very difficult because of property issues. Near the top of the climb, the guides will lead you into the saddle between La Casita and San Cristóbal and then to the peak of La Casita itself. There are some radio towers here, and the terminus of an access road damaged during the landslide. Though it’s also possible to hike to the top along the slide itself, it’s a treeless, sun-baked hike, not to mention possibly disrespectful to the thousands who remain buried beneath it. Although not as tall, La Casita offers a better view of Managua  and the lake than San Cristóbal does.
1,745 meters, 8 hours round-trip
This is the granddaddy of volcano hikes in the Pacific region; it’s long but the grade is moderate and even easy compared to some of the hikes listed previously. You’ll need a guide to help you wend your way through the myriad fields, farms, and fences that obstruct the path upward (and which change every planting season). Find your guide in Chichigalpa . Enrique Reyes and his brothers are experienced at leading trips up San Cristóbal, and can be found in the Barrio Pellisco Occidental, across from the Escuela Hector García. If they’re not around, finding a guide in Chichigalpa is easy. Horses cost $2 a day, and you should pay the guides at least $8 per group.
860 meters, 6 hours round-trip to edge of crater,
11 hours round-trip to crater lake
Literally, a walk in the woods and then you’re at the vegetation-carpeted crater lip with crazy views. Start walking from Potosí , or rent horses. Head back along the road toward the community of La Chacara, where the slope of Cosigüina  is most amenable for climbing. From the edge of the crater, you can see across the Gulf of Fonseca into El Salvador.
There are competing claims about whether one can descend to the crater lake without the use of ropes. If you intend to descend the approximately 300 meters down to the crater lake, you should take 30 meters of good rope with you (you can purchase it in El Viejo or Chinandega) and consider a guide from La Chacara. Luís Mejía Castro in El Viejo (from the Cine Imperial, two blocks west, tel. 505/8886-5477) knows the Reserva Natural and its volcano intimately. Be careful: Careless hikers have died on this volcano.