Volcano Boarding in Leon, Nicaragua: Everything You Need to Know Before Doing This Craziness
Nicaragua is a volcanic country, so be ready to have some fun. One of the most ultimate adventures is volcano boarding from Cerro Negro near the city of Leon. Read our practical guide covering everything you need to know before ticking volcano boarding off your extreme activities bucket list.
Cerro Negro is an active volcano near one of the most beautiful cities in Nicaragua, Leon and it is remarkable for many reasons.
It is the youngest volcano in Central America, it is also one of the most active volcanoes in Nicaragua, erupting approximately every twenty years. Cerro Negro last time erupted in 1999, and because we visited it in 2019 our guide did not forget to emphasize, that we should not linger around for too long in case this 20-years calculation is accurate. And, of course, the main reason why this volcano stands out above others is, that you can board down this volcano.
CNN has put volcano boarding on Cerro Negro on their list of 50 Crazy things you must do before you die, and not only this activity is on the list, but it is even number 2 in that selection!
We always knew about our passion for volcanoes, so even before visiting Nicaragua, a country of 19 actives volcanoes, we knew we would enjoy our time in this country. Apart from a volcanic chain near Leon, we also hiked up Concepcion Volcano on Ometepe Island and drove to Masaya Volcano to see boiling lava in its crater.
But boarding down the slopes of Cerro Negro was something completely different, absolutely new experience, and here we would like to share with you all information you might want to know before doing this crazy activity and why you should include it in your Nicaragua travel itinerary.
HISTORY OF VOLCANO BOARDING ON CERRO NEGRO
Cerro Negro has attracted many sportsmen and crazy people from all around the world who challenged themselves to conquer the volcano and to get down from its top in the shortest time possible which included many tries and failures as well as injuries.
One of the most famous people who popularized Cerro Negro and overall Nicaragua was Eric Barone who rode down the volcano on a bike in 172 kilometers per hour.
Although he ended up in the hospital with many injuries and broken bones, he inspired other people who started focusing on the youngest volcano in Central America and tried to invent new ways how to enjoy the volcano and speed altogether, until one of them succeeded and finally put Cerro Negro and volcano boarding on travelers' map.
Volcano boarding was officially invented by an adventurous guy from Australia, who knew how to snowboard down sand dunes back at home but had to adjust this activity to the volcanic gravel surface.
First, he tried to slide down the volcano on every object possible such as a mattress or even refrigerator, but finally, he found out that the best results in term of speed he can get when using a wooden sled with a thin metal layer on its bottom.
And this is how volcano boarding activity was born.
The fastest people can ride the board down in speed hitting 100 kilometers per hour!
HOW COME THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO BOARD DOWN CERRO NEGRO
There exist two conditions which make Cerro Negro suitable for volcano boarding.
First, the volcano is made up of small grains volcanic rocks which came from the crater and second, there is a strong wind almost all the time, so you will never run out of perfect surface for boarding.
HOW TO GET TO CERRO NEGRO
Nowadays, there is no public transport to get to Cerro Negro, so you need to either take a tour or rent a car. Either way, it takes about an hour to reach the base of the volcano. You can, of course, enjoy the beauty of Cerro Negro without volcano boarding, but if you prefer to try this ultimate adventure, basically your only option is to take a tour because there is no place where you could solely rent a board.
There are quite a few travel agencies where you can book your tour in Leon, but two of them stand out. The first one provider, and probably the most famous one is the Bigfoot Hostel which we went with, although we did not stay there and the other agency is Quetzaltrekkers.
We believe that the service provided is very similar also the price should be the same, only we know that Quetzaltrekkers is non-profit organization supporting local kids and their marketing is revolved around the fact they will let you slide the volcano twice. Many people think how awesome it is to slide down twice, but after the first attempt get lazy, because sliding twice means also hiking up twice, and the other problem might be that the metal layer must be replaced every day because it is destroyed by the friction between the board and volcanic surface, but this time you will keep the same board for the second attempt, so it means you cannot go that fast even when you might feel more confident this time.
We knew that going down once will be enough for us, plus we also booked a shuttle to El Salvador with Bigfoot Hostel, so it was easier for us to have everything booked in one place.
WHAT TO WEAR FOR VOLCANO BOARDING
It all depends on the weather you will get on the actual day, but generally, it is very hot in Leon. The only problem can be rain during the wet season from May to November and never ceasing wind on the top of the volcano.
We recommend wearing good hiking boots or at least shoes with sturdy soles because you will need to brake with your legs to slow down. What we found essential to have was a multipurpose head wrap, so we could cover our mouth and nose when going down because the slide is very dusty.
For your protection, every company will provide you with goggles, a prison-like jumpsuit so you won't destroy your clothes, and some companies will give you gloves as well. We also got small bags to carry jumpsuits and water to the top of the volcano more easily.
You don't need to worry about your valuables - what you don't need can be left in the truck, and when boarding down, you can give your camera to guide who will take it safely down.
Usually, the guide takes a photo of everyone in the group on his mobile phone and share it later via social media, but you might want to take your own pictures of the volcano and before and after boarding.
You can check the great captures of me and Martin taken by our awesome guide Santa!
ENTRANCE FEE & TOUR COST
We noticed that because of protests and political instability, prices in tourism has dropped because of lower demand.
It can happen that as soon as the situation in Nicaragua will be stable again and travelers will return to the country, prices can increase again. As of March 2019, prices of volcano boarding in Leon were standardly around $25 per person, plus we had to pay another $5 at the entrance to the volcano.
You can pay in Nicaraguan cordobas as well if you wish.
HIKING UP CERRO NEGRO
If you want to board down Cerro Negro, you need to get to the top first.
It takes about 45 minutes to reach the summit, and it is really not that hard, every moderately fit person can do it. In our group were people between 18 to 50 years old, and everybody made it without any problem.
The surface is slippery at times, but it was nothing compared to the challenging hike to Concepcion Volcano we did before. What makes the hike a little bit difficult is the fact that you need to carry the 7-kilogram board all the way up. We are not sure about other companies, but with the Bigfoot hostel group arrived also three locals who offered us to carry our boards to the top for $3.
We decided to carry our boards because we desperately needed some exercise, but most of the people in our group paid for the service - not sure if they thought they won't make it with the board or they simply wanted to support locals.
The hike itself is very scenic, and even when you are not sure that volcano boarding is the right activity for you, you should consider it because of the views from the top and because of the black volcano which is very photogenic altogether with its crater.
It is also interesting that when you touch the surface of the volcano, you can feel the heat - people were even able to cook their lunch in the hole dug out in the volcano!
The thing which should take you down is a simple rectangular board with a thin metal layer on the bottom which is responsible for the speed. There is also a small place for your butt in the back of the board and a rope in front for your hands which you need to hold all the way down tightly.
YOU CAN BOARD OR SNOWBOARD DOWN BUT...
...standing on the board might look cool on pictures, but in reality, it is pretty lame as the board goes really slow this way and not many people can ensure balance. It is much better to sit on the board like on a sled.
IS IT SAFE TO BOARD DOWN CERRO NEGRO
Generally, if you follow all instructions the guide will tell you, volcano boarding is a quite safe activity.
Of course, when you decide to break records, you must bear in mind that accident can happen, because the surface is uneven at some sections and you can lose balance. We were told that usually, people have scratches and scars when something happens in the worst case scenerio, and it is very unlikely to break your bones.
I was from the beginning ready to go as slow as possible and my maximum was 39 km/h while Martin was sliding down 50 km/h, and we both had felt all the time that we have the board under control.
HOW TO BOARD DOWN CERRO NEGRO
Our guide gave us thorough instructions on how to control the board, but first, we must tell you that there are no brakes.
You will be able to slow down only with your legs which should be all the time on the ground unless you decide to be a hero of the day and try to chase the record.
If you want to go as fast as possible, you must lean back, hold the rope tight and lift your stretched legs up - it is quite hard to maintain balance, plus it is definitely easier when you have some belly muscles. If you still have your self-preservation instinct, you should be in either position one (the slowest) or two which is moderate.
In position one, you need to sit, hold the rope, keep your feet flat on the ground and not to lean back. In this position, the board won't move faster than you want. If you feel comfortable with the speed and want to go a bit faster, lean your body back, but still hold the rope tightly and keep feet flat on the ground.
if you get scared
When you reach the summit of Cerro Negro and look down, your first thought will probably be that the slope is too steep and only a madman would have boarded it down.
Well, at least it was our thought.
Although most of the people overcome their fear and decide to enjoy the ride down, no one will ever push you to do this activity if you choose not to. You can easily walk or run downhill!
WHERE TO STAY IN LEON
Leon is a must stop when visiting Nicaragua, so the number of hotels and hostels is large. After the political crises in 2018, some of the hotels were forced to close because of the number of visitors dropped significantly, but the situation is getting back to normal slowly.
Budget | Bigfoot Hostel - This is the most popular lodging in the city. It is a party hostel, famous for organizing volcano boarding and shuttles around Nicaragua and Central America. Both dormitories and private rooms are available.
Mid-range | Hotel Cacique Adiact - This cozy hotel provides its guests with a lovely courtyard, free breakfast and outdoor swimming pool - no wonder it has an exceptional rating.
Luxury | Hotel La Perla Leon - Sitting in a neoclassical building, Hotel La Perla is a real treasure where you can enjoy comfortable rooms, terrace and swimming pool.
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