Today we decided to venture into Terra Incognito, venturing up the trail designated as number three on the Laguna Apoyo hiking trail map. It is called the Concavon sendero. The first problem we encountered was finding where the trail begins. It is not marked with a handy sign saying “Start Here”. We began by departing from the Apoyo Resort and marching down the road in a clockwise direction.
According to the map, before arriving at the triangle where one either continues straight ahead along the laguna shore road or alternatively, one diverges from the shore road and begins the two Km. ascent up the blacktop road to the rim of the crater where the pueblo of El Valle is encountered. According to the trail map, we should have found the entrance of the Concavon trail a short distance BEFORE arriving at the triangle. In fact, we did find unmarked trails and proceeded to ascend them, only to discover that they led to fields of plantain or bananas. One of the trails led to a field of grazing cattle and none of the trails looked like they continue up the slope of the crater to the rim. What to do?
After several false starts, we continued along the shore road to the triangle and then began ascending the paved asphalt road leading to El Valle. After a few hundred yards, a drainage culvert passed from left to right under the road, and a mere twenty feet past that culvert was another unmarked trail. There was evidence that the local Nicas had been using this trail–discarded plastic soft drink bottles. That hint was enough for us to test whether we had finally found the genuine Concavon trail. The ascent was gentle for the first several hundred yards and then abruptly became much steeper with frequent switchbacks. The trail became narrow and had a look familiar to anyone who has hiked in New England: Roots, rocks, loose gravel footing, three foot step-ups and abrupt, sharp drop-offs at the edge of the trail. I was glad I had my hiking poles. When climbing this trail, you’d best keep a sharp eye to where your feet are being planted. If you want to enjoy the views and there are many to be savored, stop and look around, don’t keep hiking. In addition to the views, this trail is blessed with refreshing breezes.
We continued up the trail. At several places, the trail splits. Which route to take? Always follow the gentlest slope up because the trail with the steeper grade is usually a short cut used by the locals when going downhill, not uphill. When we had gotten probably 80% of the way up the trail, a welcomed surprise awaited us: a well maintained stairway of either wood or in some cases, cut stone, with handrails on both sides. On reaching the top of the stairs, we had reached the rim of the crater. There we found a sign posted by Marena, that government agency charged with maintaining and protecting the Laguna Apoyo Nature Preserve which is actually the entire forested inside of the Apoyo crater. That signed warned that the descent down the trail was difficult and should be approached with caution. They also had a different name for the trail; they called it the “Pila” trail. At the top of the trail were a few tiny dirt floor Nica dwellings and the service entrance to the Pacaya Lodge. We had arrived at the village of Pacaya.
One could terminate the hike at that point and take a three-wheeled taxi back to Apoyo Resort, or alternatively, one could continue hiking along the rim and go to Catarina, the town at the high point of the western edge of the crater and famous throughout Nicaragua for its plant nurseries. Landscapers travel from all over Nicaragua to purchase their plants in Catarina. The soil, increased precipitation and cooler temperatures make the area particularly salubrious for growing plants. Catarina is also the site of many miradors and restaurants overlooking not only the entire Laguna Apoyo, but also beyond to the east where the city of Granada can be seen along the shore of Lake Cocibolca ,and further yet to the hills of Chontales where the Nicaraguan gold mines are located.
This vista from the Catarina mirador is frequented by tour buses which discharge their passengers to spend an hour having lunch at one of the restaurants along the rim. And so we decided to continue hiking and to enjoy the delights of Catarina.