Its funny how some things just have a way of working out…
Joey and I had been in Nicaragua for less than a week before we were joined by Galen, an old friend who happened to be traveling the same country. It had been five years since we’d worked together at the Canadian Ecology Center but as fate would have it, Galen arrived in Nicaragua shortly after we did. Having an extra room in our Airbnb, Galen bunked up with us for a few days while he explored Granada.
On Galen’s last day in the Granada area, we decided to visit a volcanic lake.
The Apoyo Laguna is a freshwater lake occupying the pit of a resting volcano.
This landmark is located between the cities of Masaya and Granada. Its crater was formed over 23, 000 years ago and measures approximately 6.6 kilometers in diameter and 175 meters deep.
Laguna Apoyo considered an endorheic Lake, meaning that there is limited drainage in the basin. Most of the influx and outflow of water comes from underground and plays a major role in the lake’s water balance.
Since 1991, the lake and its surrounding area have been deemed a nature reserve housing a tropical dry forest ecosystem. Over 500 species of plants grow and encircle the crater, and a variety of fish species, including six endemic species of cichlids can be found inside the lake.
Not only is the Laguna a natural reserve for plants and animals, but this unique location also offers die hard scuba fans the chance to dive in the crater of a volcano.
Dive day was a whirlwind of activity. That morning Joey and I assembled our dive equipment while Galen packed his belongings. We would be making our way to the Apoyo Laguna for the day, and part ways with Galen, who would be backpacking all the way to Honduras.
Our destination was located about 20 minutes outside of Granada and after a shuttle bus mix up, we began hunting for a taxi that would drive us to Apoyo for a reasonable price.
We ended up finding a sketchy taxi that had no seat belts, no speedometer, a ripped out radio and cracks in the windshield. The driver barely spoke a word of English and Galen did his best charade gestures occasionally throwing out one or two words in Spanish to communicate our end destination. At one point I thought we were going to have our organs cut out and sold on the black market. You can imagine our relief when we got there in one piece.
Our dive outfitter was located a hop, skip and jump from the Monkey Hut, Galen’s hostel for the night. The scuba shop couldn’t take us out diving until the afternoon so Galen checked in and they graciously allowed us to hang out at their beach. A restaurant, hammocks, kayaks, a floating dock… The Monkey Hut was well equipped for a day of fun in the sun. We stored our bags with the staff at the front desk and changed into our bathing suits. While relaxing on some of the hammocks we gazed out at the blue lake and crater slope covered in a leafy forest.
The entire morning and afternoon we floated around carelessly in the warm waters of the lagoon stopping only for a pizza filled lunch break at the restaurant. It was a good thing that we had planned to spend the entire day at the Laguna Apoyo enjoying the beach, by the time the dive master was ready to take us out diving it was getting close to sunset.
The dive started on a sandy slope at the north-west side of the lagoon.
It was a short surface swim to the spot we would descend below the waterline. Joey, Galen, the divemaster and I inflated out BCD’s, flipped over on our back and kicked our way to the start point. When the divemaster gave the okay signal we donned our regulators and submerged into the watery crater of the Laguna Apoyo.
The first thing I noticed as I sunk beneath the watery surface was how peaceful the water was. Free of boats and sheltered from strong winds creating wave action, it was quite unlike anything I had ever dived in before. Utter silence enveloped us.
The group slowly descended several feet, until we caught sight of the mud-covered bottom. Before we could stir up its contents, we leveled off hovering several feet from this muddy plain.
In these initial moments, Galen had a little trouble clearing his ears. It can be such a pain in the butt when that happens! Trying to equalize, he fussed around in the shallows for a bit, but it wasn’t long before the problem was resolved and three of us were at 18 meters (60 feet) tailing the divemaster like little ducklings.
One, two, three…
Cichlids big and small could be seen by the dozens near rock formations and along the silty bottom. In some of the more rocky and sheltered areas, we spied a school of little babies no bigger than a grain of uncooked rice. As we panned the flashlight on the babies they scattered in a hurried panic. Glints of silver scattered every which way.
The wide variety of cichlids fish was not the only thing we saw, the divemaster even found a pretty big freshwater crab. We do not encourage handling marine animals, however, the divemaster carefully collected the crab in his hand to show us. Its long stringy legs reminded me of a creepy crawly spider.
I marveled in the wonderful 27-28°C bathtub-like temperatures of the water, even as deep as 24 meters (80 feet).
No wetsuit and no thermocline. It was strange yet surreal! As we finned through the uncannily quiet waters of the crater we kept on the lookout for small vents of hot water spouting out into the lake. Sadly there were none to be found.
As our tank air dwindled down, we ended our dive with the recommended safety stop and surfaced just as dusk was setting in.
Adrenaline rush – check, diving in Nicaragua – check, strange and surreal place – double check.
The Apoyo Laguna is a remarkable volcanic crater turned lake in the heart of Nicaragua. While it’s positively stunning from the outside, don’t expect to see very much beneath the surface.
I’m a big animal person but generally speaking, this diving location isn’t a site recognized for its wildlife. This became clear to us in the first five minutes of our dive.
What was neat to experience was the volcanic geology and the ridiculously lukewarm temperatures, especially as we descended deeper into the crater lake.
Prospective scuba divers looking to dive this Nicaraguan dive site, don’t set your hopes too high.
Apoyo Laguna is first and foremost site of swimming and relaxation, just outside of Granada. However, should you get the urge to go scuba diving in the Laguna, don’t do it for the visibility or animal life. Do it for the sheer adrenaline rush of sinking into the crater of a sleeping volcano.
Diving the confined waters of the Laguna Apoyo costs $40.00 USD for one shore dive, equipment included (you dive without wetsuits). For non-scuba divers, an intro to diving course costs $60.00 USD.
Given the nature of the Laguna Apoyos warm waters you can comfortably dive this location all year round! The biggest thing to consider is the visibility. Make sure to stay away from diving right after the rain when the visibility goes down because of silt and runoff.
As with many southern countries, you will find the security pretty relaxed, some diving companies might not even ask for your certification card. As long as you pay the fee, they are more than happy to get you out scuba diving.
There are only a handful of companies located on the Apoyo Laguna that offer scuba diving in the volcanic crater. Here are the two companies that we are familiar with:
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Suunto Vyper Novo wrist scuba diving computer with USB
Bare drysuit trek boots designed for rocky shore entries, boat decks, and boat ladders
Mini blue scuba diving tank key ring with brass pick tool and o-rings
Ikelite Canon EOS 100D Rebel SL1 underwater camera housing in white
Sigma MC-11 mount converter lens adapter (Sigma EF-Mount lens to sony E cameras). Essential photo kit contains Altura photo rapid-fire wrist strap, small lens pouch, cleaning kit, and microfiber lens cleaning cloth.
Ikelite underwater macro lens casing is comprised of an acetyl body with glass front and can hold lenses of 4.37 diameter x 3 inches (111 x 76 mm)
Bare drysuit drawstring scuba gear bag the perfect alternative for transporting a dry suit to-and-from the dive site
Black Mares Cruise Roller Tauchen bag, perfect for scuba diving and traveling
DUI heavy duty dry suit gloves with yellow liners available in sizes: S, M, L, XL
Bare 5mm evoke women’s full suit designed by Bare’s all-female design team. The suit has technically, innovative celliant infrared technology which increase circulation, body warmth and performance.
GoPro dual battery charger conveniently charges two HERO6 Black, HERO5 Black, or HERO camera batteries simultaneously
The Hydra 5000 WSRU is an all in one photo and dive light with wide, spot, red, and UV modes
Ikelite compact ball arm for quick release handle
Sony Alpha a6500 24MP mirrorless camera with a 16-50mm lens, able to shoot 4K movies.
If you’re not quite ready for the expense of big lights, this little video light goes perfectly with any GoPro setup
Capture amazingly smooth shake-free video with the GoPro Karma Grip
Black Mares Dragon Scuba Diving BCD
The Sony SEL90M28G FE 90 mm f/2.8-22 Macro G OSS Standard-Prime Lens for E (NEX) Cameras.
Scuba diving 4ft neon yellow surface marker signal tube with “Diver Below” print
Canon Macro Lens EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM – non Image Stabilised
Flexible Lightweight Portable Tripod for Projector DSLR Cameras and Go Pro
3PC curved armband glow in the dark slate.
Compact underwater scuba diving hand reel with a 150ft of white line on the spool
Diving lens filter kit for GoPro HERO 5/6 which enhances colors for underwater video and photography conditions
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
Ikelite aluminum digital camera tray with dual handles
Dry glove lock system that accommodates all hand sizes
Ikelite TTL dual flash sync cord attaches two strobe’s to the underwater camera housing.
Ikelite photography strobe DS161 with NiMH rechargeable battery pack
13-inch inflatable dive buoy with a 12 by 11-inch scuba diving flag surface marker
Compact scuba diving finger spool with 150ft of white line and a 4-inch brass double-ended clip
AmazonBasics 60-Inch Lightweight Tripod and Bag with adjustable-height legs and rubber feet
Bare Sports 5mm men’s wetsuit made with elastek full-stretch nylon-2 and neoprene celliant liner infrared technology.
SHOOT 6″ Underwater Dome Port for GoPro Hero 6/Hero 5/Hero(2018) Black Camera Diving Lens Hood Housing Photography with Waterproof Case Accessories
Black scuba diving turtle fins
Bare 7mm thick elastek dry suit hood
Rechargeable Ikelite NiMH battery pack compatible with Ikelite’s DS125, DS160, and DS161 strobes.
Suunto SK-8 wrist compass with bungee straps, faster stabilization, and enhanced readability
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM FLD Large Aperture Standard Zoom Lens for Canon Digital DSLR Camera + 32GB Memory Card + Photo4Less Cleaning Cloth.
GoPro HERO6 Black Camera
Capture amazingly smooth GoPro footage in the air with the GoPro Karma Drone
Bare SB System Mens Full Under-layer