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How to Do Volcano Boarding at Cerro Negro in Leon

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Forget snowboarding; in Nicaragua, it’s all about volcano boarding!

Yes, you read that correctly. In the western Nicaraguan city of Leon, one of the most popular and unorthodox activities is to make a quick trip outside the downtown area and glide down an active volcano.

While it might sound rather strange and outright terrifying to most people (myself included when I was first enlightened about this unusual pastime), volcano boarding has become quite the bucket list experience for visitors to Leon.

Cerro Negro

It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but it’s a unique way for daredevils to get their adrenaline kick. I had my reservations, but it was much less frightening than I initially anticipated, and I would have been keen to do it again had I had more time on my hands!

If you’re raring to try something a little out of the ordinary or have Nicaragua on your must-list, you’ll find all the ins and outs of this thrilling experience detailed below.

What Is Volcano Boarding?

Volcano Boarding

Volcano boarding is, essentially, precisely as it sounds. You hike to the top of a volcano, sit down on a board that’s similar to a sled, and hang on as tight as you can as you slide down the mountainside.

Although the board can pick up quite a lot of speed on the way down, you have much more control over your pace than you might think. Thankfully, your body movements will largely dictate your speed. This means that while some of your fellow adventurers may move down at lightning speed, you’ll have the option of a slow and steady ride to the bottom.

You’ll board down Cerro Negro volcano, which stands at just over 700 metres in height. It’s currently listed as an active volcano, but fear not, as it hasn’t erupted in over 20 years.

Because Cerro Negro is completely covered in black volcanic rock and sand, you’ll be kitted out in protective gear before you start. This typically consists of a face covering, goggles, and an infamous thick jumpsuit that’s known for looking very reminiscent of a prison uniform!

Pro tip: Double-check that you get a jumpsuit in a suitable size, as you’ll want to keep as much of your skin covered as possible to avoid cuts if you slip off your board.

How to Get to Leon

Leon

Before you start planning your volcano boarding excursion, you’ll need to get to Leon, the city where the tours operate.

I arrived in Leon from Honduras, which meant that I had a pretty long drive to get here as I also had to make a border crossing along the way. If you’re Travelling from Honduras or El Salvador, you can expect the journey here to take most of the day. In that case, it’s best not to sign up for volcano boarding the following day, unless you’re feeling particularly energetic.

Daily shuttles connect Leon to other tourist hubs in Nicaragua in just a few hours, such as Granada, Ometepe and San Juan del Sur. Those of you who prefer a more local experience can Travel to Leon using public buses. These are usually super cheap and the much more adventurous option, but they can take significantly longer and often require multiple changes along the way.

Pro tip: For some routes, there may only be one shuttle departing each day. In this instance, taking the public bus might give you more flexibility.

How to Book Volcano Boarding in Leon

Cerro Negro Tour

After touching down in Leon for a few days, I started looking into booking my volcano boarding experience. There were several different companies offering tours, and I eventually went with Bigfoot Hostel, as I’d heard it was one of the longest-running and most reputable operators.

I spotted a stand for Bigfoot Hostel at Parque Central and was able to pick up a ticket for $30 (€28). Though some prices were slightly lower or higher, this seemed to be a pretty standard cost for this day trip. Make sure you get a rundown of what’s included in the price before purchasing, as some companies require you to pay separately for some aspects of the tour.

In most cases, your ticket will include transport to and from Cerro Negro, all the necessary equipment, an evening meal, and a few complimentary drinks. There’s usually an additional fee of $5 (€4.70) for entry to the volcano, and you have the option of paying a local porter another $5 (€4.70) to help you bring your board to the top.

These tours run daily, so despite the high demand, it’s generally easy to find a slot just a day or two in advance.

Getting to Cerro Negro from Leon

Get to Leon

As round-trip transportation is usually included in most tour packages, you most likely won’t need to worry too much about getting to and from Cerro Negro.

Unless you book a more upmarket excursion, you’ll probably Travel to Cerro Negro and back on an old American school bus. These buses are common throughout Central America, and though they’re not the most comfortable in stiflingly hot cities like Leon, they’re always a fun way to get around.

Cerro Negro volcano

During my trip, it took just over an hour to reach the volcano from Bigfoot Hostel in central Leon, but this time frame can vary quite a bit depending on the traffic conditions and time of day. I booked the afternoon tour, which meant that traffic was relatively heavy as we departed from Leon. There’s also a sunrise experience, so if you go for this option, you’ll probably get there faster than this.

Pro tip: Many tour groups are upwards of 50 people, meaning that the buses can be very crowded and cramped. If you’d prefer not to sit in close quarters with your fellow group members, it might be worth splashing out on one of the more expensive outings.

Hiking to the Top of Cerro Negro

Hiking to the Top of Cerro Negro

After completing the drive to Cerro Negro, it was time to get all our equipment together and start the 45-minute trek to the top.

Before setting off, the group was given the option of paying a porter to take the board to the top. The board was noticeably heavier than I’d expected, so I decided to avail of the porter’s assistance to ensure I didn’t fall behind the group!

Top of Cerro Negro

As the temperatures in Leon were sweltering for most of my time there, I assumed this would be the case for the duration of the hike. Thankfully, it turned out to be pretty breezy, making the journey much more enjoyable than I’d assumed.

The trip to the top is a short but rather steep hike, though it’s not particularly strenuous. One thing to keep in mind is that the volcanic sand will likely blow into your face for a significant portion of the trek up, so I recommend having your face covering on hand for your own comfort.

Pro tip: If you’re concerned about taking on the trek in the afternoon heat, the sunrise tour may be a better alternative for you.

The Volcano Boarding Experience

Volcano Boarding Experience

Once you arrive at the top of Cerro Negro, it’s time to get kitted out in your protective orange jumpsuit.

When everyone was suited up, our guides gave us a safety briefing on manoeuvring the boards, controlling the speed, and braking. At this point, I was becoming increasingly nervous as there seemed to be more of a knack for getting the movements right than I’d realised. However, after watching dozens of others glide down with ease, my nerves started to alleviate.

Due to the sheer size of the groups, you might find you need to wait up to an hour for your slot, but watching the sun start to go down from atop the volcano is the perfect way to pass the time.

When my time came, I got into position on the board and hoped for the best. These boards pick up speed in seconds, and I admittedly got a little too confident about halfway down and ended up slipping off. Once I dusted myself off, I hopped back on and slid down to the bottom at a much more relaxed pace.

Although it lasted just a few minutes, the experience was such a thrill and unlike anything I’d ever tried before. From the moment I got to the bottom, I began contemplating if I had space in my itinerary to do the tour all over again!

Getting Dinner at a Local Family Home

Getting Back

By the time the entire group had made it to the bottom and the evening rolled in, it was time to journey back towards Leon.

About midway between Cerro Negro and the city, we pulled up at a local family’s home and were treated to a traditional Nicaraguan meal of rice, beans, chicken, and vegetables. We finished with something sweet, as everyone was provided with giant marshmallows to toast over an open fire.

This tasty dinner was included in the overall package, but you can also purchase soft drinks or beers directly from the family while here. If you plan to do so, ensure you have sufficient US Dollars or Nicaraguan Cordobas in small notes.

For the final 30-minute stretch back to Leon, our guides offered each guest two alcoholic drinks to enjoy. With the drinks flowing and the music turned right up, the short trip back to the city turned into somewhat of a party.

Pro tip: The guides will check for any dietary requirements a few hours before dinner, so you won’t have to miss out on the meal if you have specific needs or preferences.

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