Masaya is known as the “City of Flowers”, situated at the heart of one of Nicaragua’s largest and most productive agricultural regions. Because of its location 10 miles north of Granada and 14 miles south of the country’s capital, Managua, Masaya has been the pit-stop of many tourists visiting Nicaragua’s most popular destination, Granada, and the country’s most important city, Managua. But the city of Masaya can stand on its own two feet, known for its arts and crafts, its cultural folklore and gastronomy, the beautiful crater lake and lagoon of the Apoyo nearby, and the majestic Volcán de Masaya (Masaya Volcano) that dominates the city’s horizon.
Masaya was established in the early 1800s around the time of Nicaragua’s independence from Spain. The Masaya vicinity was designated the country’s first national park in 1979, encompassing two volcanoes and five craters. The Masaya Volcano, in particular, has had a long history of eruptions and remains active even today with the last eruption occurring in 2003. The indigenous people used to treat the volcano as an indicator of their gods’ mood. If it erupted, it meant that their gods were angry and they would perform spiritual rituals as well as human sacrifices before the volcano. Even the Spanish colonists were superstitious about the volcano, calling it the Mouth of Hell; they erected a cross at the top of the volcano to keep the devil away.
Considered the center of Nicaraguan folklore and crafts, Masaya is perhaps best known for its crafts market, the Mercardo de Artesanias, which is the largest in the country. This crafts market is located in Mercado Viojo (the old market), a 1900s structure near the city center. The market is one of the main tourist attractions of Masaya and the scene of many stands and stalls selling foods and crafts. On some evenings you’ll be treated to the tune of Nicaraguan folk music and dance. The market sells many traditional crafts and art items like embroidered dresses, leather goods, wooden crafts, hammocks, sculpted masks, paintings, weavings, and ceramics.
Outside of the main crafts market, there are also local crafts workshops in the indigenous neighborhoods of Masaya like Monimbo and the small white towns known as Pueblos Blancos, where you can purchase handicrafts and souvenirs while also observing the skilled artisans at work. The village of Monimbo, in particular, provides an opportunity to observe the indigenous Darianes people’s customs and folklores. There are village murals in Monimbo depicting the Darianes’ struggles with the Spanish colonists.
Volcán Masaya National Park
Masaya, of course, is home to the Volcán Masaya National Park, where you’ll get to explore the Masaya and Nindiri volcanoes, which feature five volcanic cones. The volcanic landscapes of this park are stunning: lava fields, colorful flowers, and wild orchids inhabited by coyotes, deer, iguanas, rabbits, monkeys, and birds like parakeets magpie jays, motmots, and woodpeckers.
The park’s main feature is the Santiago Crater, which was formed in the mid-1800s and has been continuously and actively emitting lava and sulphuric gases. The crater walls provide nesting grounds for birds. Next to the Santiago Crater is a hill you should climb to check out the Bobadilla’s Cross. This cross was erected by the Mercedarian friar, Francisco de Bobadilla, to baptize the volcano and keep the devil away. Like the indigenous natives, the Spanish engaged in a few sacrificial rituals themselves, lowering human sacrifices into the boiling inferno.
The national park also has miles of roads and hiking trails that wind through lava boulders and patches of lush, bird-filled forests. Along the trails, you’ll be led to the San Fernando Crater, which is an inactive volcano covered by lush vegetation.
The park’s museum, Centro de Interpretacion Ambiental, is one of the best in Nicaragua, showcasing the volcanic region’s cultural and geological history as well as its flora and fauna.
Near the park are two crater lakes, the Masaya and Apoyo. Both are resort-like with many surrounding hotels and restaurants. Many recreational activities can be enjoyed in and around the volcano and the lakes such as sport fishing and volcano boarding.