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She has fallen asleep in the hammock by Laguna de Apoyo, her book resting open on her chest. A soft breeze coming off the turquoise water ruffles her hair while howler monkeys chatter in the overhead. She meant to stay awake and enjoy the giant palm trees, black sand beach and crystal clear freshwater of Laguna de Apoyo, but the tranquility of the volcanic crater lake caught her. There will be time tomorrow for kayaking, swimming and diving in the warm water or even paragliding off the crater's edge, but today is for napping - without a phone, watch or care.
Part of a chain of volcanoes in the center of Nicaragua's Pacific Coast, Laguna de Apoyo is a volcanic crater lake, the result of an eruption over 21,000 years ago. Between Mombacho Volcano and Masaya Volcano, the lake is almost 4 miles in diameter. Shaped like an inverted cone, the underwater shelf drops off at a 45 degree angle. The shore of the lagoon is just 246 feet above sea level making it the lowest point in Central America.
During the pre-Columbian period, Laguna de Apoyo was surrounded by villages, but as the lake continued to fill water levels rose and the villages were moved. Since 1991 the area around the lake has been part of the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve dedicated to preserving and protecting the fragile, almost unspoiled environment. The lagoon has no natural outflow, so pollutants can quickly have a devastating effect, and salt levels are rising prompting concern about increased development. Scientists believe there are several undescribed species in Laguna de Apoyo, and there are four species of mojarra, a type of fish, found exclusively in the lagoon making the lakes water quality fundamentally important.
The interior cone surrounding Laguna de Apoyo is covered with one of the five largest tropical dry forests in Nicaragua. A tropical dry forest alternates wet and dry seasons, and for the forest around Laguna de Apoyo the rainy season is from May through November. The forest is home to white-faced Capuchin monkeys, armadillos, deer and jaguars along with countless species of birds including the northern orioles, crested oropendolas, and squirrel cuckoos. Hummingbirds flit through the forest like flying jewels.
Visitors can hike the inside of the crater although the animals tend to be a little shy. Because most of the shore of Laguna de Apoyo is privately owned it is better to have a guide to hike there. There a several hotels, hostels and vacation rentals around the lake many of which have guide services and kayak and catamaran rentals. Several also offer guided trips to nearby villages. Laguna de Apoyo is less than 10 miles from historic Grenada and the markets of Masaya. The town of Catarina is perched on the edge of the crater with a spectacular view of Laguna de Apoyo. Known as a "pueblo blanco" the charming little village has restaurants, shops full of handcrafts, and street vendors selling foods.
Visitors to Laguna de Apoyo can snorkel, kayak and boat on the lake or spend the day rambling through one of the villages that dot the area. After a day on the water or hiking, however, beware. The hammocks are calling.
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