Cerro Negro is an active volcano, 45 minutes north of Leon, Nicaragua. Aside from Leon, there’s no other place in the world where you can go Volcano Boarding down the side of an active mountain. Cerro Negro’s last eruption was in 1999, and there’s no telling when the next one will be – you can only hope it’s not the day you’ve decided to go Volcano Boarding!
So, what exactly is Volcano Boarding? It’s when you sit on a flat, wooden sled and slide yourself down a 728m high, active volcano through black sand and ash. In 2014, CNN Travel listed Volcano Boarding as one of the most “thrilling, daring” things you can do on vacation, and it’s a unique must-do activity when you’re in Leon as you can’t do this anywhere else in the world.
We reserved our Volcano Boarding spots the day before with Barbaro Tours. Because this company is a boutique, Nicaraguan-owned tour operator, you are more likely to luck out with a smaller, more intimate group. For our experience, Steve and I were the only two on the trip. We also happened to be the first to arrive in the afternoon batch of tours from Leon, it felt like we had the mountain to ourselves.
Our tour began with a 45 minute drive to the base of Cerro Negro volcano. Then, we grabbed our boards and hiked up a rocky and sandy 700 meters to the top of the volcano, which takes about another 45 minutes.
The Hike Up Cerro Negro
The afternoon we went up to Cerro Negro was exceptionally windy (“mucho viento”), to the point where Steve and I both thought we were going to be blown off the side of the mountain. The hike itself should have been easy. But the combination of the rocky and sandy terrain, the board, the heat and the wind made the hike up quite strenuous.
What we were doing was actually kind of ridiculous. Steve said it best: “I’m in the hottest city I’ve ever been in, at the hottest time of day, climbing up a BLACK volcano, so I can slide back down again.”
Holding the board, the way you would a snowboard, only gave more surface area for the wind to knock you over (the side of the volcano). We were told the day before, three boards were blown out of the hand by the wind! A few times, we actually had to crouch down to rest because it was too hard to keep standing. Three quarters of the way up, we traded our sunglasses for goggles instead, to keep the sand out of our eyes.
Fortunately for me, I had Steve to help carry both of our boards, which I am very, very, grateful for. By the way, you can pay someone $5USD to help carry your board up the mountain. I didn’t do it, but if I had known the ascending conditions would be so windy (or if I didn’t have Steve), I would have gladly handed over the five bucks.
Despite the windy circumstances, I still felt safe because I felt like our guide Jeyson, with Barbaro tours was extremely helpful, reassuring, and patient. Never losing his footing, always ready to help or slow down to rest. When you see someone that’s calm, cool, and collected, you yourself don’t feel like there’s anything to worry about. Having a small group meant the guide was more attentive and could look out for you.
At the Top of Cerro Negro
After the hot, dusty, and windy climb up, finally getting to the top and being able to slide down was a relief!
The top of the volcano has beautiful, 360 view. Craters, volcanos, and ash, made for a unique and beautiful landscape. As we were the earliest group to the top, no one else was around.
At the top, we changed into our volcano boarding jumpsuits, put on our gloves, and tied a bandana around our mouth and nose, and then got briefed in on safety and control. No one has ever fallen off their board with Barbaro Tours which was reassuring to hear.
Jeyson ran a third of the way down the volcano with one hand in the air. We watched for his signal to begin our descent. Once he put his hand down, we could begin at anytime. After Steve and I exchanged our I Love You’s (who knows what will happen when you slide down an active volcano), it was time to go!
Volcano Boarding Down Cerro Negro
I went first, both feet planted in the volcano sand on either side of my board. Because you’re so low to the ground, it’s easy to control your speed with your feet. I went down Cerro Negro steadily and carefully – which was thrilling enough for me! The thoughts in my head wavered between: OMG I’m actually doing this, Hey this isn’t so bad, and, Don’t lose control!. I know many people who get the opportunity to volcano board will try to go as fast as they can, but I was happy to finish the experience unscathed.
At the bottom of Cerro Negro, I watched Steve make his descent; it was cool to watch his speck of red slide down the volcano and the cloud of dust that followed. Then, together, we watched out guide run down the volcano to meet us at the bottom.
Overall, I enjoyed our afternoon trip to Cerro Negro and it felt good to go out of my comfort zone and try something new. I definitely would have had FOMO if I didn’t go Volcano Boarding while I was in Leon. If you’re thinking of doing this unique activity, my recommendation is to go on a less windy day, and sign up with a tour company which specializes in small groups. Be sure to bring water (sometimes provided by the tour operator), and prepare to get dusty!
We went with Barbaro Tours for our Cerro Negro Volcano Boarding experience and paid $30USD/person, which included transportation to and from the volcano. Thanks to them for taking all the photos in this blog post.