Over the Andes

Having travelled down to the Chilean capital of Santiago (which is as far south as I’m going to on this trip), it’s now time to start heading east, and finally go over the mighty mountain range that I’ve been following ever since northern Colombia.  And what better place to do that virgin crossing (and pop my trans-Andean cherry) than in the shadow of the tallest mountain in the Americas. Continue reading

Walking the Quilotoa Loop

The Andes mountains run the length of Ecuador, from the northern border with Colombia to the south and Peru, in a continuous chain that the 19th-century German explorer Alexander von Humboldt dramatically-christened “The Avenue of the Volcanoes”.  Around the capital Quito, they reach their highest (and most photogenic) peaks, including Cayambe (a volcano that’s right on the equator, the only place on the equator where there’s permanent snow, and the only place on earth where both latitude and average temperature are 0°), Cotopaxi (a symmetrical mountain that’s one of the planet’s highest active volcanoes), and Chimborazo (whose summit is the furthest point from the centre of the earth, despite being 2500m lower than Everest, due to the equatorial bulge). Continue reading

A Walk in the Park

At 16 square kilometres, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica’s smallest national park. And as it’s also one of the country’s popular tourist destinations, one of the busiest, too. But considering that Costa Rica is famous for its protected areas (25% of the country is protected, the largest amount in the world as a percentage of territory), and its biodiversity (5% of the world’s biodiversity in 0.05% of the world’s landmass), the country’s parks’ popularity is understandable. And wandering along the trails, through the jungle and down to the park’s picture-postcard beaches, I can understand why – the forested hills full of animals, the white-sand beaches, and the regular ocean views, all make for a lovely setting. Continue reading

Cloudy with a Chance of Quetzals

Costa Rica is famous for its jungles and forests, its clean, green landscapes, and its eco-tourism credentials. Parks and reserves cover over a quarter of the country’s territory, and many tourists come here to walk through the jungle and look for the wildlife. And two of the most famous of its many protected areas are the Cloud Forests of Monteverde and Santa Elena. Continue reading

To the Top of Nicaragua – Part 2

Nicaragua’s Maribios chain of volcanoes stretches from Cosigüina (in the far north of the country) to Momotombo (just above Lake Managua). And south of the lake is the Darien range of volcanoes. This includes extinct crater lakes, like Tiscapa in Managua and Laguna Apoyo; dormant cones, like Mombacho and Maderas; and gas-belching active peaks, such as Masaya and Concepción. Continue reading

To the Top of Nicaragua – Part 1

Nicaragua is sometimes known as ‘The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes’. And looking at a map of the country, it’s easy to understand why. There are numerous lagoons and lakes (including the two largest ones in Central America), and a chain of over 20 volcanoes, including 6 active ones. Some of them have huge, smoking craters; while others erupted centuries ago, leaving behind tranquil crater lakes. Like Guatemala, Nicaragua is perfect for volcano bagging, with activities like hiking, swimming, jungle-trekking, wildlife-watching, and just gawping at the views (when there are no clouds, that is). You don’t have to be a geologist to appreciate the power and beauty of these natural beasts, and the fertile volcanic soil around them is one of the reasons for all the diverse flora and fauna here. And like Guatemala, the convergence of all these tectonic plates causes plenty of instability (there are 10 seismic fault lines under Managua alone, which probably accounts for all the earthquake-ruined buildings in the capital). Continue reading

Volcano Bagging in Guatemala

Guatemala sits above the junction of three of the world’s tectonic plates. As a result, it’s a country of considerable seismic activity, with frequent earthquakes and regular volcanic eruptions. A chain of over 30 volcanoes extends in an arc across the southern half of the country, from Mexico to El Salvador, and includes the 4200-metre Volcán Tajumulco (the highest point in Central America). Three of these volcanoes (Santiaguito, Fuego, and Pacaya) are highly active, regularly spewing smoke, ash, and lava.

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