Climb Mogoton - Break the Myth !

Leon Travel Blog

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Sergei (right) and his instructor Nicolas are about to start the second day of Open Water training

As Sergei Lubensky, my dear friend from Chicago, joined us on Utila on February 9, 2008, we had a series of unforgettable adventures. 

First - getting licensed on Utila is really cool. I read a lot about the backpacker's island but could never guess that the spirit is so amazing. Julia and I were working on our First Aid and then Rescue Diver Licenses whereas Sergei was making his first steps in diving. Alton's Dive Shop proved to be an exciting team of young and energetic instructors, dive-masters and office managers. I highly recommend it. Nicolas and Angie were our instructors.

Rescue Diver course team. Barry, Julia, Pavel, Nicole, Angie.
I wish everyone got instructors like them!

Their pricing is one of the best on the island - $241 for the Open Water License. That includes 4 free nights at their room or dorm (whatever you prefer) - an equivalent of $20 if it's a room or $12 if it's a dorm, 2 fun dives - an equivalent of $60, and 4 days of Reef Access Fee - $12 value. Getting your license on Caye Caulker in Belize - another budget diving destination - would cost you $300 for the course, $30-40 for 4 nights in a cheap hotel or hostel, $80 for 2 fun dives, no Reef Access Fee. $241 vs. $420 - not bad, ha?

Then in La Ceiba we did a 2-day white-water rafting adventure on Rio Cangrejal with Jungle River Lodge. Go for that option! It is a high-adrenaline adventure with lots of category IV sections. Their normal 4hr package is nice and exciting but I would never call it an adventure.

We did it! After the 2-day rafting expedition on Rio Cangrejal
The two day thing should cost you not more than $130. I'm sure you can bargain down to $120 and even less. Our guide Roberto, a Garifuna guy in his mid forties, was superb. We totally trusted him. You can tell he got lots of experience in guiding white water rafting expeditions. He says he's been doing it for 16 years. I believe him. If you go with him you'll be pleasantly surprised.

One trick they might do to you is to charge some 16% tax. Not to get "robbed" - agree on the price beforehand and pay in advance. The manager Oscar who comes across as an amicable guy would be telling you "No-no-no, pay after you return". Once you hear that - know that the sonuvabitch is setting you up. If you are paying afterwards chances are high that he will say "and there's 16% tax on the tour and food". Laugh into his face and say "We agreed on the firm price and no tax was mentioned." If he insists - bring any other "one-day" customer and ask him how much he paid. I am sure the answer will be $40 for the 4hr tour and NO TAX.

Sergei at the foot of La Cascada in Rio Cangrejal canyon
Do your best to pay in advance for everything, even for food and drinks!

A day of hiking in the jungle in Rio Cangrejal canyon was outstanding. Sergey and I did it on our own reaching an immense waterfall crawling up in a riverbed, soaking in a pool right under the roaring cascade and getting lost on our way back :)

A week-long stay in Casa Kiwi near Trujillo was a great break after exciting but physically tiring adventures. Segei left back for Chicago and I got some strange fever. It took me over two weeks to recover!

And then I jumped into another "aventura". Peak Mogoton, the highest point in Nicaragua, which is right on the border with Honduras, has long been enjoying the bad reputation of "forbidden mountain".

Cerro Mogoton view from finca Las Brisas
During the Contas war in 1980s Sandinistas mined parts of Mogoton slopes and approaches to it. They also mined parts of Honduran side! Since then anyone who wanted to climb Nicaraguan tallest peak would hear horrible stories about people getting killed by the old mines.

The truth is here. Go with the guides who KNOW the safe trail to the peak. There are two people who live in Ocotal and own coffee fincas on the slopes of Mogoton and neighboring mountains. Their names are Roberto Castellanos and Bayardo Jimenez. Roberto was my guide. He also appeared to be a young local artist. I saw his wonderful impressionist paintings and even received a little masterpiece as a gift!

Their contact phones are: Roberto Castellanos +505 653-36666 (cell) +505 732-0317 (home), Bayardo Jimenez +505 833-1149 (cell) +505 732-2267 (home).

Roberto Castellanos (left) and his assistant Porfirio
Roberto has an e-mail but chances are he checks it irregularly.

Roberto put a short description of their services and their contacts on

When contacting them at least basic command of Spanish is essential !!!

If you go with one of them (and I only recommend going with Roberto or Bayardo) you'll be picked up at your hotel in Ocotal at 5am or 6am.

Cerro Mogoton route map. Very approximate!
It makes sense to go early. After 32km drive (11km on a terrible dirt road leading to Finca Las Brisas) you'll arrive to the trailhead. The trailhead is on Bayardo's coffee finca Las Brisas. After a cup of locally grown and brewed coffee that finca workers will treat you with, you will start a strenuous 4.2km hike to the rooftop of Nicaragua. You start at 1,350m above sea level - it's a dry pine forest. Very beautiful. Less than a kilometer of hiking in pine forest you get to the river Achuapa and start climbing up the river bed. That is something! Amazing "vistas" and very challenging sections where you have to work hard not to break your limbs climbing wet rocks or jumping over roaring streams. Finally you reach the southern ridge of Peak Mogoton and an hour-hour and half later you reach the summit. It takes 3.5hrs to get to the summit (only 4.2km of hiking, but it takes a good effort!) and 3 hrs to get back to the trailhead.

Here's what you should see there.

Porfirio, Pavel and Roberto at the rooftop of Nicaragua
One 4 ft tall border marker that says "Mogoton. Mojon No 59. Nicaragua - Honduras". Just 4 meters away there's a regular one ft tall border marker that says "Mogoton. Se prohibe molestar. STTRI-1958. Geodesico Inter-Americano".

Why is it important to know. Some locals who want to get your money will try to trick you saying "Sure, I can bring you up there!" They will bring you up some other peak that is not Mogoton and charge you tons of money for nothing making you terribly afraid with idiotic stories of people being killed by old mines that are everywhere. Once you hear those stories, once they quote price over US60 per person for the transportation and guiding services, once they cannot tell what exactly there's on Mogoton summit - you should know the people take advantage of you.

By the way, the exact coordinates of Mogoton summit are: N13° 45' 46.

Mogoton marker No 59
6"  W86° 23' 54.6"

Roberto and Bayardo won't charge you more than $60 per person for the round-trip transportation and the guiding services. They will never scare you with stupid stories because they know the safe trail. And, of course, they will tell you what you are going to see on the summit!

Last year over 30 Nicaraguans climbed the peak. Most of them were students from Managua. Roberto also brought his sister and families of his friends up there. Unfortunately, foreigners do not frequent the peak and only 5 or 6 of them climbed Nicaraguan tallest summit in 2007.

I did three attempts to reach Mogoton. My second attempt was with a guy named Manuel Gomez, an indigenous local from Salamanca (10km away from Ocotal).

Roberto is finding our way out
He and his friends wanted to charge me $115 for the round-trip transportation and guiding services. When on the trail it became obvious that Manuel had no idea how to reach the summit safely and he tried to sell me some other peak. I had my GPS with exact coordinates of Mogoton so his lies became obvious. I ended up paying $75 (there were 4 guys in the truck - "friends" of Manuel - so I had little bargaining power :) ).

The good thing was that following Manuel I met Roberto who happened to be at his finca that day. So my third attempt was successful.

There's a 40 person unit of Nicaraguan military who are cleaning the old mine-fields. They work Monday through Friday. Every day they combine their "findings" into bunches of 4-6 mines and detonate those "toys" in a series of 3-5 explosions. So, if you are climbing on a week day you will hear a series of explosions that sound very close - like 100m away from you.

We did it!
The military detonate the mines on the eastern slope of Rio Achuapa canyon - 300-500m away from the trail. Don't be scared, don't think it's uncontrolled, just know it is the daily routine of the mine-field cleaning unit.

Mogoton is a beautiful mountain covered with cloud forest, with beautiful views both in the river and on the upper part of the trail. Go with Roberto or Bayardo and enjoy the magnificent peak!

strider007 says:
hey pavel!

just read your end of year report. pretty amazing i must say. just try to keep yourself in one piece though, ok? anyway, sounds like you are having a great time. i might still try to meet you in argentina. i will see once you get closer.

cheers mate!
Posted on: Jun 16, 2008
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Sergei (right) and his instructor …
Sergei (right) and his instructor…
Rescue Diver course team. Barry, J…
Rescue Diver course team. Barry, …
We did it! After the 2-day rafting…
We did it! After the 2-day raftin…
Sergei at the foot of La Cascada i…
Sergei at the foot of La Cascada …
Cerro Mogoton view from finca Las …
Cerro Mogoton view from finca Las…
Roberto Castellanos (left) and his…
Roberto Castellanos (left) and hi…
Cerro Mogoton route map. Very appr…
Cerro Mogoton route map. Very app…
Porfirio, Pavel and Roberto at the…
Porfirio, Pavel and Roberto at th…
Mogoton marker No 59
Mogoton marker No 59
Roberto is finding our way out
Roberto is finding our way out
We did it!
We did it!
Barometric altimeter says 2,110m a…
Barometric altimeter says 2,110m …
22,191 km (13,789 miles) traveled
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photo by: Chokk