Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua: The Ultimate Guide for Adventurous Travelers

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Are you looking for an adventure that’s part extreme, part insane, and a completely unique travel experience? Then don’t skip volcano boarding in Nicaragua. A country with over 20 volcanoes, there is no shortage of cool volcano-related experiences like hiking through the cloud rainforests to the top of Maderas Volcano on Ometepe Island, seeing lava in Masaya Volcano, and camping on top of Telica Volcano, but volcano boarding Cerro Negrois the best volcano activity in all of Nicaragua.

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

Truthfully, when we first heard about volcano boarding in Nicaragua, we actually thought it was fake…until we saw the videos. People hurtling down the side of the active volcano Cerro Negro at top speeds on rickety wooden sleds and old snowboards could be a recipe for disaster, but we know it was an experience we had to have! There were lot of unexpected aspects of our experience, so keep reading to learn everything you need to know before trying Nicaragua volcano boarding.

What is Volcano Boarding?

Volcano boarding, akin to sandboarding, is an extreme sport that involves descending the steep, ash-covered slopes of a volcano on a reinforced plywood or metal board. In Nicaragua, this is a combination of either a wooden sled or a sand board or a retired snowboard. It’s very similar to the sandboarding you’d experience in the desert, except that the volcanic ash you slide down is much rougher than sand typically is. Lighter riders end up going pretty slow, and heavier riders can get some really fast speed.

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

Volcanoes for Volcano Boarding

While Nicaragua is home to numerous volcanoes, Cerro Negro, near León, stands out as the hotspot for volcano boarding. This young and active volcano, yes it’s an ACTIVE volcano, is known for its black sand. If you dig down a little in the volcanic ash, you can actually feel the heat coming up from the volcano – it’s WILD! At 728 m tall, the slopes of Cerro Negro are at the perfect angle for volcano boarding. Whether you want to cruise straight down on a sled or stand on a volcano board, there’s something for everyone.

Cerro Negro is the only volcano in Nicaragua that’s used for volcano boarding. The world’s other volcano that has people volcano boarding down it is on the island of Vanuatu, making Cerro Negro the only place for volcano boarding in Central America.

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

Our Experience Volcano Boarding near León, Nicaragua

After having a wonderful camping trip the night before on Telica Volcano we chose to go volcano boarding with them the next day. We went with 2 adults and 4 kids ages 8, 10, 13, and 15. We left around 10 am, right when things were starting to get hot. Truthfully, we were a little nervous about the heat since the weekend had been especially warm, and we would be hiking about an hour up the steep side of a black volcano. We ate at the restaurant at Volcano Day in Leon and made sure that everyone was well hydrated for the adventure, and took along lots of water for the ride to and from the volcano. Before we left the office, everyone was outfitted with a sled or a board (extra fee for the board), a protective jumpsuit, glasses, face mask, and gloves. The volcanic rock is sharp and jagged so all of this was to protect ourselves from getting all cut up in case we crashed.

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

The ascent up the volcano is steep and rocky. The side of the volcano is steep and with lots of loose volcanic ash, it was hard for the younger kids to make it up to the top. Eventually, our guides offered to carry our youngest sled up the hill and we started to make better time. The hike was challenging and it was starting to get really hot, as it was approaching noon. We sweated through it (quite literally) and the views from the top were incredible. After a steep hike up, we were all happy to hang out at the top for a bit before going down. While we were grateful for the protective gear later, at this point we all hated it as we had to carry it in backpacks up the hill and our backs were drenched in sweat.

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

Equipped with our boards, we listened intently to our guide’s instructions on how to navigate the descent safely. The big goal was to sit as far back on the board as you could while still holding onto the rope. The bottom of the sleds is a combination of sheet metal and plastic that are designed to reduce the friction on the sled, and at this point we could see why. While we were told that we would be sledding down volcanic ash, where we were resembled a black gravel pit instead. The rocks were bigger and sharper than any of us anticipated, and I think we were all questioning how this was going to work.

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

The hill looked steeper now that we were about to go down it than it did from the climb up. One of our guides went down first, and at that point, we all realized that we were much farther up than it looked, and the ride was going to be LONG!

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

The most eager among our group was our 10-year-old. He hopped on his sled and started down…or at least he tried. His sled barely moved, and he was hardly sliding while pushing himself down with his feet, even while sitting far back on the sled. He just didn’t have enough weight to make his sled GO. Thankfully, he was a good sport about it, and was just happy he got to come. Our 8-year-old had a worse experience (being pretty lightweight), and his sled would hardly move at all. Eventually, he just ran down the side of the volcano, quite disappointed in the whole experience.

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

One by one after that we all set off down the volcano. The heavier we were the smoother our ride was and the faster were went. Truthfully, the adults got going pretty fast and at that point, we were thankful that the kids didn’t pick up too much speed. There were times as we were going down that I was worried because I had no way to stop and I knew if I bailed or crashed, I would get pretty banged up.

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

The most excited in our group was our 15-year-old son, who’s an avid snowboarder back home. We paid extra money to rent him a board to ride down on instead of a sled. We quickly learned that it’s nearly impossible to turn on the volcanic ash, so he had very little control, resulting in a few pretty good crashes. We wish we had been told a little bit more about the differences between the sleds and the sandboards since we probably would have opted for the sled for everyone instead (saving us money and having less injuries).

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

When we got to the bottom, we had a mix of emotions. Younger kids for whom the experience was anti-climactic and others who wanted to go again to try and do things differently, combined with a teen who was banged up and bruised. In the end, it was a pretty memorable experience that we really would recommend – we just wish we had been given better instructions on what to expect and who the Cerro Negro volcano boarding trip was best for (not younger kids who are lightweight).

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

Safety Tips for Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

As we learned from talking to other travelers and from our own son’s crashes, volcano boarding can be really dangerous and the injuries from crashes are often severe. Here are our top safety tips for volcano boarding on Cerro Negro

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

-Always wear protective safety equipment. If your guides don’t require helmets, ask if they’re available. We wish we had had them, but no one told us we should take them!
-Sleds are faster than snowboards and allow you more control.
-If you want to go slow, keep your feet down from the beginning. If you try to slow down once you’re going fast, you’ll likely just crash.
-Stay hydrated. The hike there and the local conditions can dehydrate you super fast. Take plenty of water.
-Cover your mouth and nose up. When you’re volcano boarding, there’s a lot of volcanic ash dust in the air and that can be nasty for your lungs! Grab a face mask or a bandana to protect your face.

Getting to Cerro Negro Volcano

Cerro Negro is located about an hour’s drive from León. The most common way to get there is through organized tours, which usually include transportation, equipment, and a guide. These tours not only ensure safety but also provide valuable insights into the volcano’s geology and history. For the more independent traveler, renting a car or taking a public bus to the nearby areas and then hiking to Cerro Negro is technically an option, we wouldn’t recommend it for most people. You need a sled with a specific type of bottom to eliminate resistance, and protective clothing is necessary as well (and something that most travelers don’t have).

volcano boarding nicaragua leon cerro negro volcano

What to Wear Volcano Boarding

Safety and comfort are paramount when volcano boarding. Every company that we looked into going on a volcano boarding Nicaragua tour with provided safety gear and clothing to protect you on your adventure. You’ll need a protective jumpsuit, protective glasses or goggles and protective gloves, at a minimum. You can also consider wearing a face mask or bandana to avoid inhaling the volcanic ash dust as you go down the hill.

All of this is layered over your own clothing. Temperatures on Cerro Negro can get pretty hot, so plan on wearing lightweight clothing that breathes well to keep you cool. Closed-toed shoes are essential, and sunscreen should also be applied. The hike to get up to the volcano boarding activity is steep and rocky, so dress for the hike, knowing you’ll put your protective clothing on for your Nicaragua volcano boarding adventure.

History of Volcano Boarding on Cerro Negro

Volcano boarding is a relatively new sport, with its origins traced back to the early 2000s when an adventurous Australian decided to slide down Cerro Negro’s slopes on a refrigerator door. True story. Since then, the sport has evolved, with specialized boards being developed for a safer and more exhilarating descent. Today, Cerro Negro is not just a symbol of Nicaragua’s volcanic power but also a testament to human adventurous spirit, attracting thrill-seekers from around the globe.

Cost for Volcano Boarding Nicaragua

Like most tours in Nicaragua, volcano surfing is affordable. We found that most tours were between $25-$35 USD and included transportation to and from Leon, water, and snacks.

What We Wish We Knew About Volcano Boarding Before We Went

We talked to several different companies in person about Volcano boarding before we went. Ultimately, we chose to go with Volcano Day. Even though we really enjoyed volcano boarding Nicaragua, our guides were insistent that it was a great activity for the whole family. Thankfully, our 5-year-old chose not to go with us since after seeing the videos he thought it looked scary. Based on how his older brothers did, there’s no way he could have made the sled go down the hill when volcano boarding. We wish that they had given weight guidelines for participants since clearly weight was a major factor to actually getting down the hill.

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

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