No, there’s no winter in Nicaragua. And certainly, you won’t find snow there. However, volcano boarding in Leon (er – perhaps it’s more sledding?) is one of the most popular activities in Nicaragua. Actually, it’s so popular that it supposedly made it to the list of the craziest things that you should do in your life (or so we were told😁).
But why all this hustle and bustle around it?
Because, as you might guess, you are actually “sand-boarding”. And not down just any hill. The hill is a volcano. An ACTIVE one, to be exact. And you are using a simple wooden board, not some kind of swanky snowboard. Now, that changes things a bit, right?
Needless to say, when we heard about volcano boarding in Leon it immediately made it to our bucket list.
So we signed up. Volcano boarding is offered by almost all hostels in Leon, and the price is around $30/person. But… being budget travelers (ya’ know, gotta save something for an extra beer!) we managed to find a slightly cheaper option – Bigfoot hostel in Leon was offering volcano boarding for $25. Ok, sold.
SO, WHAT WAS THE VOLCANO BOARDING IN LEON LIKE?
Someone from the Bigfoot hostel picked us up at our hostel (btw, we loved Poco a Poco hostel!) and drove us to Bigfoot Hostel, where there was a meeting point.
They gave us free T-shirts (at this point we were already sold as you can imagine) and we waited for our transport to arrive. And man, this was one of a kind transport – suspiciously similar to those in Cuba. I’m talking about an open-bed truck with hard benches so you can imagine there was no shortage of “vibrations” and wind in the hair.
Prepare yourself, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!
The drive to the volcano takes an hour or so, but mainly because the last 10 miles of the road is pretty bad – volcanic sand and enormous holes. Joyful!
We were also joined by a few locals who, for a small fee ($3) carry your board to the volcano, which is their only source of income. Just at the entrance to the park, there is a shabby house with a quasi restaurant – i.e. visitor center, where you have to pay an entry fee of 5$ (plus, you can visit the toilet if you suddenly have an urge to pee or, er – do something else when you catch sight of the volcano).
Because believe me, seeing it up close makes all the difference and suddenly a thought crosses your mind that perhaps you should better turn around and go home. The inclination looks almost vertical, and the volcano itself is quite high.
TIME TO CLIMB!
Everyone got their bag in which there were a protective suit, goggles and a wooden board (Or sled? To me, it looked like a sled.). A few of us gratefully paid those $3 – it’s not because the board would be so heavy and impossible to carry all the way up, but maaaan, why one should suffer, if it is not necessary. 😀 And in addition, it’s all for a good cause (remember, the only income for those guys!) – at least that is what I was saying to myself when Bojan was commenting under his breath that I’m a lazy ass. My husband is such a sweetie, isn’t he? 🙂
The ascent is not too demanding if I exclude rolling rocks and would probably last for about half an hour. But they seem to make sure that no one gets too tired on the way up and therefore they make two breaks in between, among which the guide is enthusiastically talking about the activity that awaits us (and Bigfoot Hostel, he seemed to have a personal attachment to it).
Volcano boarding in Leon – who the heck even invented this?
Supposedly there was this crazy French guy (why I am not surprised?) who saw the Cerro Negro volcano and got the idea to go downhill with his bicycle. He actually set a time record, but he broke his bike and most of his bones in the process as well. Lovely.
Then, in 2004, a guy from Australia (again, not surprised 😆) got a different idea … to try volcano boarding. First, he tried it the classic way – standing and speeding down on his snowboard- but this turned out to be a rather bad idea as well, to put it mildly.
When he realized that sitting on the board makes things much better, he started to look for more suitable materials to make a perfect board… He apparently tried everything he found in the hostel he had opened (yep, you guessed, it’s Bigfoot hostel, what else): from the sledges and picnic tables, to mattresses and – rumor has it – a fridge. In the end, he himself created a perfect board – a wooden one with a metal and plastic base, which is still in use today.
A speed record on such a board? 60 mph (95 kph)!
But why is volcano boarding in Leon counted as an extreme adventure?
The speed is not the (only) component that adds an adrenaline twist to this kind of “sport”. In fact, you can sled down as slow as 12 mph (15 kph). Well, in theory – you’d really have to struggle to keep it THAT slow.
But do not forget – you’re volcano boarding. Down an active volcano!
Cerro Negro is a type of volcano that emerges from the ground when there is an active outbreak of larger volcanoes and these kind of “baby volcanoes” are (usually) up to 650 feet (200m) high and (usually) remain active for about 20 years. So, basically, these type of volcanoes appear like some accompanying pimples of the main cyst.
Anyway, Cerro Negro is an exception – it’s over 2200 feet (700m) high and has been active for over 60 years! Of course, this does not mean that it is constantly erupting – the last two eruptions were actually in 1995 and 1999. But scientists speculate that there is a maximum of 20 years between eruptions of these mini-volcanoes.
But that’s not all folks!
The peculiarity of these volcanoes is that they do not only throw lava from the main crater but can erupt (to some extent unexpectedly) out of any part of the volcano. In fact, there are quite a few places on the top of the volcano, where you can touch the ground and find that it is unpleasantly … hot. You can clearly imagine boiling lava bubbling underneath.
Taking into account all the above, boarding down, er – the ticking bomb is slightly different than boarding down an innocent, regular hill.
The guide said nicely: “If you suddenly hear a thunder and the surface starts to tremble … I’d just like to say it was nice knowing you.”
Despite the fact that the danger is extremely small, it is almost inevitable that one day the volcano will erupt. I would lie if I said I am not happy because we won’t be there.
ON THE TOP
So, after all these fun, calm-inducing stories, we came to the top!
The guide told us that we can still change our minds, but that he prefers if we set good records instead of the bad ones. He explained that one girl had climbed Cerro Negro for two consecutive days and then changed her mind because she freaked out at the top. I could almost identify myself with her, because the view from the top of the volcano is quite daunting.
Ah, and at the same time, the guide told us that the slowest two will receive a special “reward” – ice bucket challenge. Encouraging, huh?
On top of everything, he began with a detailed explanation of the security measures and instructions on how to sit on the board. I think that in the end, we all got the feeling that we signed up for a well-maybe-I-won’t-survive-this type of a ride.
Of course, this did not stop Bojan and one other girl to volunteer as test bunnies.
THREE, TWO, ONE… LET’S GO!
We dressed up in potato bags (I mean, in orange protective onesies – #orangeisthenewblack and all that), which turned out to be quite a challenge since the wind was so strong you could barely stand. We set ourselves in two rows and the guide ran halfway down the volcano (and man, he was fast!) to be able to take pictures of us. The assistant stayed with us at the top.
Here they go, test bunnies are on their way!
Both of them were quite fast, but Bojan had a little trouble staying in a straight line – at least it looked so from the top.
Two more went after them, and then two more…. my heart started pounding. Oh, for god’s sake, whyyy am I the last in the line again?! This way you have an endless amount of time (at least it seems so) looking down the slope and seeing how people disappear halfway down (because the lower part is even steeper).
Finally, we were only two people left, and the assistant gave us the signal to start the descent. I clumsily sat in the middle of the board and grabbed the rope with both hands. A thought flashed through my mind: What were you thinking, really, coming up here?!? and then, not having many options left, I slowly pushed forward.
“Hmm, I’m sliding…. Okay, this is not so horrible. In fact, it does not look fast at all! How can I go faster?? Aaaaa, that’s so much fun!! “
Yes, with all the stories and instructions on the top, we all really thought that volcano boarding would put us in an adrenaline rush above comparison.
But in reality, going downhill is not really scary, it’s just plenty of fun! I felt sorry at the end that I did not manage to lean slightly more backwards to further increase the level of fun. 😀
…AND THEN AT THE BOTTOM
On the lower half of the descent, another assistant measured the speed of each individual. The fastest hit 42 mph (68 kph) and the slowest clocked in at 16 mph (27 kph) – remember, the record is as much as 60 mph!
Bojan seemed to slow down just at the point where his speed was measured and therefore the “speed gun” showed only 25 mph (40 kph) and he ended up at the bottom of the men’s ladder!
I’m sure that the other guy went much slower though, because he was overtaken by two girls at the top half of the hill, but it seems that he accelerated at the right moment. I ended up somewhere in the middle of the women’s ladder with 20 mph (33 kph).
But do you know what that means? Ice bucket for Bojan, of course! And they were serious! They emptied the portable fridge and distributed beer (yaasss!) and water was poured … on the losers! Those free T-shirts which we got at the beginning came in handy because they were both completely soaked. 😊
A bumpy ride back to the hostel followed where we finished the afternoon in the best possible way – with another cold beer.
PRACTICAL INFO ABOUT VOLCANO BOARDING IN LEON
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE $25 PRICE?
Quite a few things, actually – transportation, a guide, an equipment rental, a T-shirt and 2 beers.
In addition, you can also get (if you wish) a free night in the hostel dorm (Bigfoot hostel). Not bad at all!
You’ll need to pay an additional fee of $5 per person for entrance to the park plus $3 if you want the board to be carried to the top of the volcano for you.
WHAT DO YOU NEED WITH YOU?
You’re gonna be hiking the volcano and even though the hike’s a short one, you’ll still climb up the moraine, so wear hiking shoes (btw, I had this model from Salewa with me on our yearlong honeymoon and despite wearing them A LOT, they’re still like new!)
Leon is the hottest city in Nicaragua and the black volcanic sand adds that extra something. Fortunately, it’s usually quite windy, because otherwise you have a feeling that you’re slowly-roasted-chicken, it’s so hot. Therefore don’t forget to bring sunscreen, enough water and sunglasses (I’m rooting for Oakley here since they seem unbreakable :D).
Take some snacks with you as well, because the tour lasts all afternoon.
Don’t bring an expensive camera with you, because you can not have it with you during volcano boarding (and you should hand over your phone before the ride as well since they can be broken if you fall). The only exception is a GoPro camera. The guide will take your photos, so just lean back and enjoy the ride! 🙂
Last but not least, never travel without your travel insurance – not only if you’re into adrenaline activities, but always! Cos’ you know – always everything’s ok…until it isn’t. We suggest World Nomads Travel Insurance – an insurance that travelers across the world find to be the best one!
Watch the video from our volcano boarding in Leon, Nicaragua!
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT VOLCANO BOARDING IN LEON?
In one word: amazing!
Volcano boarding is definitely one of the things you should do in life if you ever find yourself in Nicaragua!
It’s true that volcano boarding might not be THE scariest thing we have ever tried (perhaps using our downhill bikes instead of boards would put things into a different perspective?), but it was surely one of the craziest and funniest!
It is surely a story to tell your grandchildren, someone commented.
But I must say, I admire the people who see the world in a different way. In a fun and unique way. You know, those people who climb up a Cerro Negro volcano and think vaguely to themselves: “Hmmm, just what would it look like if I try going down that on a fridge?” 😀
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Did you try volcano boarding in Nicaragua or anywhere else in the world as well? How was it? Let us know in the comments! 🙂
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