For many tourists, volcano boarding down the active volcano Cerro Negro is the biggest drawcard of León in north-west Nicaragua. Think snowboarding, but then replace the snowboard with a slightly larger and more rudimentary slab of timber, replace the snow-capped mountain with the black cinder-cone of one of Central America’s newest volcanoes, and replace the cool briskness of a winter day with the scorching heat of one of the hottest places in Nicaragua.
It was lots of fun 🙂
There are several companies that offer this experience – all for about the same price – but I specifically chose Quetzaltrekkers because at least 30% of the cost of the excursion is donated to local projects they support. Also, you have the choice with Quetzaltrekkers to volcano board twice if you would like (most/all others only allow you to do it once).
After a hurried breakfast at Pan y Paz (the French bakery in León – Pedro highly recommends the espresso, I highly recommend the cheese-tasting plate), we were at the Quetzaltrekkers office by 7:45am for the trip out to the volcano. There were 14 of us plus our 2 guides (in contrast with the 50-odd people at a time who do this through Bigfoot), some of whom were going on to do the El Hoyo overnight trek after their first run down the volcano.
The back-of-the-truck ride out to the volcano took about 45 minutes and we were greeted with this sign that reads: “Don’t Pass. High Risk Zone for Volcanic Eruptions”.
Of course, once we’d signed into the visitor’s book (Pedro and I were the oldest by a good 15 years), we walked straight past the sign to get our gear and start the hike up the volcano.
Although the volcano is not very high and not ridiculously steep, it is very, very hot and you have to carry everything with you for your descent – 2L water, very-heavy-duty overalls and gloves, your volcano board, and anything else you have decided to bring with you.
The guides give explanations along the way and there are some wonderful vistas out over the large crater (complete with sulfur-exuding fumeroles and very warm ground!), and north-west Nicaragua to the other 5 volcanoes that are part of the Ring of Fire in this region. Behind me in the picture below is the Telica Volcano (which is very, very active at the moment and unfortunately closed to the public) and San Cristobal Volcano (also active).
From there it was time to suit up and slide down the volcano. Donned the massive pair of heavy-duty, full-body overalls (designed for whatever weight and body shape so they were absolutely massive on me) and had to tuck the backpack with the water and the few things I’d brought with me down the front of them before closing the buttons and tying the sleeves around my wrists, the legs around my ankles. I looked just like a Teletubby in denim (though fortunately you can’t really see that in this picture)!
After handing out goggles and a final briefing – feet go alongside the board and are used for braking; get out of the way of the runs once you get to the bottom; everyone put their goggles and gloves on and cover your face with your bandanna; if you want to go slow sit up or lean forward, if you want to go fast lean back and lift the front of the board; if you end up going really fast, better not to brake – it was time to start.
The volcano runs are very steep – probably about as steep as a red or black snow-ski run in Chile. I went in the middle of the group and once I’d hoisted my Tellytubby “belly” up so I could actually sit on the board I went down – FAST!
Absolutely out of control and with volcanic stones flying around me left, right and centre (thank God for the goggles!) I heeded the advice of not braking if you are going too fast, and so had to ride it out to the bottom. I made it without falling off – just! It was a very near thing, especially when I hit a few bumps towards the end!
Watched as the others came down – most looked to be going slower than I did (and some of the girls actually stopped dead and had to get going again) but they didn’t clock our speeds (unlike they do at Bigfoot) so we’ll never know.
Once everyone was down we headed back to the Ranger’s station to say adios to the El Hoyo hikers, have a snack (banana and some really great biscuits) and decide whether we wanted to go down the volcano again. Only 2 guys elected to. I reckon had I gone down slowly the first time, I definitely would have done it again so I could go faster. But having absolutely fanged it down the first time, I felt I had already gotten the most out of the experience, and there was the danger of doing myself some real damage on the second go.
Once the guys got back (one with a forehead full of gravel-rash), we had lunch – tortillas with refried beans, diced vegies, crushed corn chips (inspired idea!), and both Lizano Salsa (a really common sauce here in Nicaragua that spices things up a bit and makes everything taste just that little bit more interesting) and hot sauce. Another advantage of going with Quetzaltrekkers! I didn’t see any of the other companies stopping for lunch at the volcano.
Recommendation: If you are interested in going volcano boarding, why not help out the local community at the same time and do it through Quetzaltrekkers.
Booking: You can email them, call them or pop into the Quetzaltrekkers office in León the day before you want to go volcano boarding. While you are there, you can also check out the other treks they offer.
Cost: The cost was US$30/person which included transportation, equipment, 2 goes down the volcano, snacks and lunch. It’s an absolute bargain!
Thanks: to Pedro and Quetzaltrekkers for the photos used in this post. It pained me enormously but I didn’t take my camera with me in case I ended up breaking it!