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Masaya Volcano National Park: The Ultimate Guide

Masaya Volcano National Park: The Ultimate Guide

Masaya Volcano National Park is a spectacular area in Nicaragua that you have to visit. Masaya Volcano, also known as Volcan Masaya, is well known for its incredible Santiago crater lava lake. Of course, this marvellous display of volcanic activity inside the huge caldera is best seen at night. So, we’ll discuss your options when it comes to a Masaya Volcano night tour. There’s no wonder the Spanish invaders referred to Masaya Volcano as the gates of hell. Watching the lava stir, bubble, spew and erupt is a wondrous phenomenon at night time.

In this guide, we’ll talk about everything you need to know about the Masaya Volcano National Park. We’ll detail the highlights of the national park, describe the sunset hike and reveal the best spot to watch the lava lake display. Then, we’ll touch on Masaya Volcano night tour options, fun facts and some FAQs.

Masaya Volcano National Park General Information

Masaya Volcano National Park is located in the municipality of Nindiri in the department of Masaya. Conveniently, it’s within easy reach for people based in the capital of Managua. It’s the largest national park in Nicaragua. In fact, it’s one of the most popular attractions in the Pacific region of the country. And, for good reason. With lava fields, a museum, hiking trails, lookouts, five volcanoes and two craters, there’s much to explore.

Of course, the Masaya Volcano is the main reason why people visit. It’s one of the move active volcanoes in Nicaragua. It’s erupted 13 times in the last 30 years! The Santiago crater, nicknamed the Masaya Volcano gates of hell, is simply astonishing. In terms of night-time lava displays in Central America, only Volcan Fuego in Guatemala compares.

Check out our Mombacho and Montibelli Nature Reserve guides

Dan watches sunset at Masaya Volcano National Park

Masaya Volcano National Park Lava Fields

The first highlight when visiting Masaya Volcano National Park in Nicaragua are the lava fields. Even before you enter the national park, you’ll see the widespread lava fields from the roadside. From an eruption in 1772, far-reaching lava fields were formed. It’s unbelievable to see how far the lava fields stretch from Masaya Volcano.

Once you’ve passed the ticket office (prices below), the road immediately winds and ascends through the immense lava fields. If possible, we recommend stopping roadside, and exploring the lava fields of 1772. The huge volcanic rocks are a sight to behold. Additionally, in the immediate area surrounding Masaya Volcano, are lava fields from 1670.

Book a Masaya Volcano Night Tour

Masaya Volcano at night

Watching the lava lake at Masaya Volcano erupt at night is an incredible experience. Viator offers this fun and exhilarating Masaya Volcano Night Tour.

Masaya Volcano National Park Museum

After passing the initial section of lava fields, you’ll reach the Masaya Volcano National Park museum. It’s definitely worth visiting the museum. Inside the large complex, you’ll find many informative maps, displays and illustrations.

Our favourite feature was the massive mural-like painting of the landscape of northwest Nicaragua. It shows off the main volcanoes in the far-reaching Marrabios (Marabios) Chain. This volcanic chain consists of a group of interconnected volcanoes. Important volcanoes in this chain include the San Cristobal, Las Pilas, Telica, Cerro Negro, El Hoyo, Santa Clara, Rota, and Momotombo volcanoes.

Other than the great displays inside, there’s a nice lookout to check out. Outside a restaurant, you’ll find an outstanding vantage point. It overlooks the lava fields, Lake Masaya and other Nicaragua volcanoes.

Dan enjoys a lookout from the Masaya Volcano National Park museum

Masaya Volcano Hike Preview

After scoping out the lava fields and museum, it’s time for some hiking! Most people will combine a few smaller trails, starting from the main car park. It’s conveniently located right next to Masaya Volcano. By combining different trails, you’ll reach the best lookouts. This way, you can enjoy different views of the many craters in the national park.

In the trail description, we’ll explain which trails to do and in what order. This will ensure you’re in the best position for sunset and for watching the lava lake spectacle.

FYI – the trail specs below are from a combination of the popular smaller trails around Masaya Volcano. Certainly, you should do these during your visit to Masaya Volcano National Park in Nicaragua. For information on other hikes in the national park, read below.

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 2.6 km
  • Time: 1–2 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 140m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Masaya Volcano National Park Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc
Santiago crater and the surrounding lava fields
Santiago crater and the surrounding lava fields

Masaya Volcano Hike Description

From the car park, we recommend heading to Mirador Cruz de Bobadilla. You’ll have 280 concrete steps to conquer to reach this high vantage point. It’s marked by a large cross. The Mirador provides superb views of Masaya Volcano and the Santiago crater. You’ll also enjoy views of the surrounding volcanoes and lava fields. You’d think this high lookout would be an awesome spot for watching the lava at night. But, your views will be partially blocked by the caldera walls. With that in mind, it’s time to descend the steps and head to Mirador San Fernando.

Views of Masaya Volcano from Mirador Cruz de Bobadilla
Views of Masaya Volcano from Mirador Cruz de Bobadilla

To reach Mirador San Fernando, you’ll take the short but steep Masaya Trail. Visiting this Mirador just before sunset is a great idea. You’ll have an orange-capped San Fernando crater to enjoy!

From this Mirador, you’re halfway to the highest point of Masaya Volcano National Park in Nicaragua (635m). Indeed, the Masaya Trail leads to the highest and best spot to enjoy sunset. Even before reaching the peak, you’ll have mindblowing views of the sun setting beyond Masaya Volcano.

The peak of Masaya Volcano National Park is easily one of the best spots in Nicaragua for sunset. Not only will you watch the sun set over Masaya Volcano, but golden hour is all around! Make sure to look in the opposite direction towards the San Fernando crater. You’ll have outstanding views of Lake Managua and Momotombo Volcano. In terms of Nicaraguan sunsets, only El Hoyo compares.

Masaya Volcano Gates of Hell

After watching sunset, it’s time to descend the Masaya Trail. Basically, you’ll head back towards the car park. Just beside it, you’ll find the best viewing spots for the lava lake. Beck and I made sure to speed hike down the Masaya Trail to get in position for the night-time spectacle.

Once you reach the car park, find a spot that isn’t blocked by any signage or the caldera walls. We recommend the lookout points at the same level as the car park. Or, nearby, there is a slightly higher lookout point. You can access this from a set of stairs leading from the car park. This extra height can make all of the difference in seeing the Masaya Volcano gates of hell!

Indeed, this is why a Masaya Volcano night tour is best. To enjoy seeing the lava lake erupt at night. This way, you’ll get a true appreciation of why Masaya Volcano is referred to as the gates of hell!

Masaya Volcano National Park Recap

You should definitely visit Masaya Volcano National Park during your trip to Nicaragua. Experiencing the gates of hell during a night tour is the best way to enjoy the volcano. You’ll also have a great sunset by doing the Masaya Trail. Plus, the national park museum and lava fields are brilliant as well. So, there’s much to explore!

GoPro HERO12 Black

GoPro HERO12 Black

The GoPro HERO12 Black is the best action camera on the market. The built-in stabilisation and high specs are excellent for filming adventure activities, so you can capture those special moments with your friends and family.

Masaya Volcano Night Tour

For the best experience at Masaya Volcano, you need to do a night tour. It’s best to watch the lava lake in action once it’s dark. Admittedly, you can’t really see the lava activity during the day. By doing a night tour, you can watch the lava lake spectacle. Similar to watching Volcan Fuego during the Volcan Acatenango hike, the lava moves, gurgles, spits, hisses and explodes. It’s truly amazing!

Volcan Fuego lava display during the overnight Acatenango hike
Volcan Fuego lava display during the overnight Acatenango hike

Masaya Volcano Tour From Granada

A Masaya Volcano night tour is the easiest way to enjoy the lava lake display. And, you won’t have trouble finding a tour. Many tour companies in Granada and Managua offer cheap Masaya Volcano night tours for around $20–30USD (as of early 2022).

Personally, having enjoyed many hiking trips with Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels, we did a Masaya Volcano night tour with them. The tour price includes roundtrip transportation from Granada or Managua, entrance fees and a guide.

Dan and Memo enjoy sunset at Masaya Volcano National Park
Dan and our guide, Memo, during the Masaya Volcano night tour

Masaya Volcano Day Time Tour

Given the brilliance of a Masaya Volcano night tour, we don’t recommend visiting during the day. But, if you’re afraid of the dark or simply can’t visit at night, then doing a day-time tour is better than not visiting at all. Plus, this way, you have more time to do extra hiking in the national park. Beck and I would have loved this option. But, unfortunately, there’s a five-person minimum to do these other hikes. But, anyway, more on this below.

Because of the popularity of the Masaya Volcano night tour, you won’t find as many tour companies offering day-time tours. Thankfully, it’s easy to visit Masaya Volcano National Park independently. But, this involves a long and tedious road walk of around 5km each way. To avoid this, we recommend going with a tour company. Usually, day trips are cheaper than Masaya Volcano night tours.

To book this day trip or the Masaya Volcano night tour with Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels (and to find out about prices), simply contact them on Whatsapp (+505 8993 3714) or on their office landline (+505 2311 0748). Feel free to check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

Viator Masaya Volcano Night Tour

Masaya Volcano at night

Do you prefer booking your tours from a reputable tour booking platform? That’s all good. Viator offers this popular Masaya Volcano Night Tour. Click below to book this tour on Viator.

How to Get to Masaya Volcano Independently

It’s easy to get to Masaya Volcano National Park independently. From either Managua, Masaya or Granada, you can catch a chicken bus to the entrance of the national park. From Granada or the town of Masaya, jump on a bus heading to Managua. The price for the bus is around $1USD. From Granada, the journey should take approx. 1 hour. From Masaya, the drive should take 20–30 minutes.

It’s also easy to reach Masaya Volcano National Park from Managua. In this case, catch the chicken bus heading to Masaya or Granada. Similarly, the bus should cost around $1USD. The journey time is around 30–45 minutes.

At the national park entrance, you’ll find the ticket office. Here, you’ll pay the $10USD entrance fee. Then, you’ll do the 5km road walk to reach Volcan Masaya. Simply, retrace your steps and do the reverse journey to return back to Granada, Masaya and Managua.

Masaya Volcano National Park Opening Hours

Masaya Volcano National Park operates at night from 5–8pm. Usually, sunset is around 6–7pm. This means you’ll watch the lava lake display from 6:30–7:30pm. If visiting independently, you’ll need to factor in the 5km road walk back to the national park entrance after watching the night-time display. This makes visiting independently at night tricky. It’ll be hard to catch the final buses heading to Granada, Masaya or Managua. This is particularly true on the weekend.

Generally speaking, the bus from Granada to Managua operates until 9pm Monday to Friday. They operate until 8pm on Saturdays and until 7pm on Sundays. Similarly, the bus from Managua to Granada runs until 9pm Monday to Saturday and until 8pm on Sundays. 

The national park operates during the day from 9am–4:45pm. So, if you visit during the day independently, you should have plenty of time to get a bus back to Granada, Masaya or Managua. That’s even with the 5km road walk in mind.

Other Masaya Volcano National Park Hikes

There are other hiking trails at Masaya Volcano National Park. But, these can be trickier to organise. The Coyote and Comalito hiking trails are both 4km, taking around 2 hours each. But, these trails require a guide from the national park and a minimum of five people. This must be organised and booked with the national park staff at least one day in advance. That’s because you’ll meet at the national park entrance (trailhead) sometime between 6 and 8am. The cost is $25USD per person.

Recently, in 2021, a new trail was opened. It’s called the San Juan – San Fernando Circuit. This trail is around 3.5km, taking around 1–2 hours to complete. During this hike, you’ll explore part of the Santiago, San Fernando and Nindiri craters. You’ll actually cover sections of this trail by hiking to the San Fernando Mirador and to the peak of the Masaya Trail during most night tours.

Unfortunately, we’ve heard that any of the hiking trails can unpredictably closed at any time. This is also true for the trail leading to Tznaconostoc Bat’s Cave, which remains closed in early 2022. Hopefully, when you visit, all of the trails will be open for you to explore!

Masaya Volcano Facts

Masaya Volcano National Park is a fascinating place to visit. It’s no surprise that there are many Masaya Volcano fun facts! Get to know these Masaya Volcano facts before your visit. This will make your trip even more enjoyable.

Masaya Volcano History

Before the Masaya five-volcano complex existed, there was a massive Pleistocene Las Sierras pyroclastic shield volcano in its place. In the last 7,000 years, this shield volcano collapsed into the current Masaya caldera. This happened during a series of Plinian eruptions. Currently, there are a dozen active vents, which have caused more recent volcanic activity. This has helped form the twin volcanoes of Nindiri and Masaya. These are the two volcanoes responsible for most recent eruptions.

Masaya Volcano Last Eruption

Technically, the last eruption at Masaya Volcano is still occurring in 2022! Starting in 2015, there’s been ongoing volcanic activity, which classifies as an eruption. The last eruption to cause lava field formation was in 1772.

Masaya Volcano Gates of Hell

Where does the phrase, ‘gates of hell’, come from? Basically, during the 16th Century, the Spanish invaders, who came across Masaya volcano, referred to it as the ‘gates of hell’. Given the considerable and frightening levels of volcanic activity, the Spaniards feared it, thinking it was a gateway to hell. Hence, the phrase ‘gates of hell’ was born.

Masaya Volcano FAQs

Here are some FAQs about the Masaya Volcano National Park. If there’s anything you’re still unsure about, drop us a question in the comments box below!

How Old is the Masaya Volcano?

Masaya Volcano is roughly 9,000 years old.

How Many Craters Does the Masaya Volcano Have?

Masaya Volcano has five craters within its complex. These include San Fernando, San Juan, Nindri, San Pedro and the active Santiago craters.

Including Masaya, How Many Volcanoes Are in Nicaragua?

Including Masaya Volcano, there are 19 volcanoes in Nicaragua.

Things To Do In Masaya Nicaragua

Of course, Masaya is most known for its epic volcano complex. But, there are many other things to do in and around Masaya in Nicaragua. Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve is a beautiful natural attraction that’s easy to explore from Masaya. In the town itself, you’ll have to visit the famous Masaya crafts market. Plus, it’s also worth checking out San Geronimo Church and El Coyotepe Fortress.

Hiking Essentials

For this adventure, you should pack water, snacks and sunglasses. Anyway, here are some other essentials for hiking.

Osprey Skarab 30
Osprey Skarab 30

The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.

Osprey Ultralight Raincover
Osprey Ultralight Raincover

A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.

GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle

The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.

BUFF Original Ecostretch
BUFF Original Ecostretch

The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.

Sony Cybershot RX100 VII
Sony Cybershot RX100 VII

Capture epic photos and videos with the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII. This is hands-down the best compact camera. We love using this simple point-and-shoot camera when we’re hiking as it’s lightweight and durable.

To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.

Travel Insurance For Central America

If you’re chasing volcanoes in Central America, you’ll definitely need travel insurance!

Heymondo is one of the best budget travel insurance providers on the market. They provide comprehensive travel and medical insurance that won’t break the bank. Whether it’s single trip insurance, annual multi-trip insurance or long stay insurance, Heymondo offers affordable travel and medical insurance to suit all of your needs. Personally, we use Heymondo travel insurance and highly recommend it. To find out more about Heymondo travel and medical insurance, read our Heymondo travel insurance review.

Travel Insurance

Heymondo Travel Insurance

Don’t leave for your trip without booking travel insurance. We all know accidents can happen and having Heymondo travel insurance could save you thousands of dollars if something goes wrong. Click the button below to receive a 5% discount!

Bonus Tips

Masaya Volcano pinterest

Check out our other Central America travel guides: El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. Otherwise, have a look at The 16 Best Hikes in Nicaragua and Hiking Ometepe: 4 Excellent Trails Not To Miss.

Daniel Piggott

Dan is a travel blogger, physiotherapist, hiker, natural wonder seeker and world traveller. He loves writing travel guides to help his readers explore the most beautiful destinations in the world.

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  1. Yannick says:

    Hey, thanks for the guide!

    I just visited the volcano and want to add a few things I experienced that weren’t included in your blog, which would’ve been very helpful.

    1. When you enter the park in the first time slot (before 4:30 pm), you cannot stay till the second slot, you have to leave before the second slot begins. Also you cannot pay for the night slot in advance, so you have to wait until exactly 4:30 pm, then you can pay and enter the park at the entrance. So don’t come too early, you’ll have to wait. It’s possible to pay by card.

    2. At the park entrance you NEED a car or vehicle to drive you up to the park (you already said that), but you need one BEFORE you pay, because you have to tell the entrance lady with which car you’re going, otherwise you can’t enter. Also there weren’t any locals who will drive you up there. We just asked a random tourist couple who had a car if they would take us with them, luckily they did. There was a line of many cars, and since everyone wants to go up there, you can just ask nicely and hope one car will take you with them. Good thing is, you probably don’t have to pay for the ride up then.

    3. You have approximately 15 minutes to watch the lava. When time’s over, they clear the area and make you drive back until everybody’s gone. So don’t expect to be up there for hours.

    • Daniel Piggott says:

      Hi Yannick,

      Thank you for the informative update.

      It sounds like things have changed there since we visited, so this update is very helpful for our readers.

      Many thanks,

  2. Alton Armstrong says:

    The prices are NOT correct! I asked Fun N Sun for a night tour they quoted $45 per person even with three people! Crazy pricing for Nicaragua. I could rent a private cab to take us for a lot less than that!

    • Daniel Piggott says:

      Hi Alton,

      Thanks for bringing the inaccurate prices to our attention. We’ll certainly review this and update.

      Have a great time in Nicaragua.

      Cheers, Dan