The complex volcano is composed of a nested set of calderas and craters, the largest of which is Las Sierras shield volcano and caldera. Within this caldera lies a sub-vent, which is Masaya Volcano sensu stricto. The vent is a shield type composing of basaltic lavas and tephras and includes a summit crater. This hosts Masaya caldera, formed 2,500 years ago by an 8-km³ basaltic ignimbrite eruption. Inside this caldera a new basaltic complex has grown from eruptions mainly on a semi-circular set of vents that include the Masaya and Nindiri cones. The latter host the pit craters of Masaya, Santiago, Nindiri and San Pedro. Observations in the walls of the pit craters indicate that there have been several episodes of cone and pit crater formation.
Masaya continually emits large amounts of sulfur dioxide gas (from the active Santiago crater) and volcanologists study this (amongst other signs) to better understand the behavior of the volcano and also evaluate the impact of acid rain and the potential for health problems.