What To Expect When Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

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Volcano boarding is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Nicaragua.

Known as the land of lakes and volcanoes, Nicaragua is home to 19 active volcanoes. Of these, a few surround Leon and some are close to Granada, and two make up Ometepe Island.

With so many volcanoes, pretty much any time you look around in Nicaragua you will see a volcano. Hiking volcanoes, watching lava flows, walking around their craters are all experiences you can have in Nicaragua.

I walked on the crater of volcano Masaya, near Granada; I hiked Maderas, in Ometepe island. But it is volcano boarding Cerro Negro that gave me the most thrilling experience.

Continue reading to discover everything you need to know about volcano boarding in Nicaragua.

volcano boarding
One of the many volcanoes of Nicaragua

What To Know Before Volcano Boarding In Nicaragua

First of all – what is volcano boarding?

Volcano boarding is a bit like bobsleigh, except that instead of doing it on snow, you are doing it on the rocky, thick sand of a volcano.

The first men who ever tried coming down from the top Cerro Negro was the French Eric Barone. He rode down at an absurd speed but his bike broke, and as a result he fell and ended up in hospital with a bunch of injuries, but alas – he inspired many others to follow his footsteps.

Eventually, the inventor of volcano boarding as we know it today is Darryn Webb from Australia – he had been doing it on sand dunes and just adjusted his board to one that would slide on the gravel-like surface of the volcano, placing a metal layer under a wooden board.

There are also allegations that the actual inventor is American journalist Zoltan Istvan, who first tried it in 2002 on Mount Yasur in Tanna Island in Vanuatu.

Some people can get very fast when the slide down the volcano. Unfortunately, it was not the case for me – people who do it often say it has to do with how good the surface is and how much you weight too. I am actually quite small…

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The only place to do volcano boarding is Cerro Negro

The only place in the world where you can go volcano boarding is Cerro Negro, in Nicaragua. This volcano is close to Leon, one of the largest cities in the country. It is the youngest and smallest volcano in the country, reaching a height of 728 meters (little over 2,388 feet), yet among the most active ones. Its last big eruption occurred in 1999. 

What makes volcano boarding on Cerro Negro possible is its soil, made of tiny grains of volcanic rock. The other reason is that there is an ever-blowing wind here, which means that the surface is always smooth and ready for sliding down.

The landscape that surrounds Cerro Negro is gorgeous: the vegetation at its bottom is thick, thanks to the incredibly fertile soil. The view from the top is magnificent: you can see as far as the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, sunset views from there are simply breathtaking.

cerro negro volcano boarding

You can’t get to Cerro Negro by public transportation

Cerro Negro is about one hour drive from Leon. There is no public transportation to go all the way to the base of the volcano, and the road is quite bumpy, so the best way to get there is on a guided tour which includes transportation on a 4WD.

Another reason why you need a guided tour is that there’s no place to rent the boards used for volcano boarding anywhere near Cerro Negro, which means you’ll have to take them with you all the way from Leon.

You can book your guided tour to Cerro Negro which includes volcano boarding locally – just ask your hotel or hostel for that, or find an agency in town, but make sure to scout for a good one.

Among the most reputable companies there are QuetzalTrekkers and BigFoot. Otherwise, you can book one of the tours that are available online and for which you can read reviews by other travelers. Below are some tours I recommend:

Hike and volcano boarding on Cerro Negro – the best reviewed tour, it includes transportation, and English speaking guide, and snacks.

Cerro Negro and volcano boarding from Leon – similar to the tour above, it includes transportation from your hotel.

Tours usually include the entrance fee to the protected area, which costs $5 USD.

Cerro Negro Nicaragua

You need to hike up Cerro Negro in order to go volcano boarding

Sliding down Cerro Negro implies a short but somehow tough hike to its top. The path isn’t hard in and of itself, actually, and anyone with a basic level of fitness can do it.

What makes the climb difficult is having to carry the wooden board (which weights around 7 kg, or 15.5 pounds) all the way up, and fighting the strong wind which, although providing a good break from the almost unbearable heat of Leon, literally swipes away – especially when the wooden boards act like sails! Some companies have additional personnel that carries the boards for an extra fee.

The hike to the top takes between 45 minutes and an hour, including breaks to catch your breath and for photos, or to touch the warm surface of the volcano.

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Gearing up for volcano boarding – photo courtesy of Andrew White (flickr)

You will have to dress up

Once you reach the top of the volcano, your guide will hand you a pair of overalls, leather gloves and goggles to wear for the descent. These are supposed to protect you against the dust and to reduce the impact if falling down.

Needless to say, you are bound to get covered in dark dust at least on the face and hair. It took me a few showers to get rid of the dust and tiny dark pebbles from my hair!

Only one person at a time can slide down

Once you are all dressed, the guide will give you a briefing on how to sit on the board; what positions to use to go more or less faster (the more you lean back and stretch your legs, the faster you go); and how to break (it’s easy: you basically break with your feet on the ground as the board is super basic).

People will then slide down one at a time. The descent is more or less fast, depending on your actual weight, on how many people have paved the track beforehand, and – obviously – on how you manage the board.

I tried to catch as much speed as possible, but I was by far the lightest in my group, yet went before everyone else, with the result that I went down terribly slow, while the rest of the group went very fast.

volcano boarding

It is a fun experience

Between the hike, the actual volcano boarding, and the gorgeous views, the experience is actually a lot of fun: it is worth every cent and I would totally do it again (sending someone to slide before me, so I manage to catch some speed this time).

It is not dangerous

Volcano boarding on Cerro Negro isn’t dangerous per se, though I know of a few people that fell and got injured (that’s a good enough reason not to go alone: here’s a post I wrote that explains why I don’t hike solo).

The board is very simple. Literally a wooden board with a metal plaque under it for sliding (and that has to be replaced regularly) and a rope which you hold on to as you slide down. Some people try to stand up when sliding down (like snowboarding, or sand boarding) but most sit.

In terms of speed, it really is a matter of choosing the right balance between fun, adrenaline, and safety: it’s up to each and one of us to decide the speed to which we are sliding down, and to break when going too fast.

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Finally, volcano boarding! – photo courtesy of Garret Ziegler

It is not the cheapest thing to do

There are various companies that offer volcano boarding in Leon. The cost is more or less always the same – around $35 USD which you can also pay in Nicaraguan Cordobas. Tours depart from Leon at around 2:00 pm, giving the possibility of experiencing an incredible sunset from Cerro Negro.

volcano boarding
The incredible sight of Momotombo Volcano in Nicaragua

You need to be dressed appropriately

Being appropriately dressed is of the utmost importance when hiking a volcano, and even more so when volcano boarding Cerro Negro. This is a list of essential items you need to wear and carry:

  • Wear a good pair of hiking boots, with proper ankle support. The soil is thick and sandy, and the strong wind makes it already hard enough to walk.
  • Carry a wind jacket: it gets really windy and chilly on the volcano.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes against the thick dust.
  • Pack a small daypack with plenty of water for the duration of the hike.
  • Carry some dollars or cordobas to pay the entrance fee to the protected area in case it is not included in your tour.
  • Carry a camera to take amazing sunset shots: you can leave it with the guide when sliding down, and he can use it to film the experience.

Further Readings 

Check out my other posts about Nicaragua:

Make sure to read my other posts about volcanoes:

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Discover how to prepare for volcano boarding on Cerro Negro - via @clautavani

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