Is Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua Really Awesome?

If you’re travelling in Nicaragua, everyone will tell you that the one thing you can’t miss is volcano boarding down Cerro Negro (the Black Hill) in León. Having looked at the ominous volcano from the roof of León Cathedral and after reading rave reviews from adventurous travel bloggers and TripAdvisor-happy backpackers who unanimously labelled the volcano boarding experience as AWESOME, I was still reluctant to go.

I’m no adrenaline junkie. The thought of hurting down a gritty 1600ft volcano on a thin plywood board at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour just didn’t appeal. If anything, it fills me with fear. Of course it didn’t take Luke long to persuade me that I should go for the sake of adventure. After all, this was a unique experience and I’d probably enjoy it once I got there, not to mention that the profits go to a good cause.

View from Cerro Negro Leon Nicaragua - Charlie on Travel

Two days later…

I fell out the back of a beat-up jeep onto the charcoal rocks beneath Cerro Negro. Our volunteer guide loosely hooked a plywood volcano board onto my back, leaving me looking like an optimistic child with a pair of home-made wings. I was ready for our 45-minute ascent.

The climb is relatively easy and not too steep, though the board is cumbersome enough that made my balance a little unstable. When we reached the top of Cerro Negro, it was glorious. You could see across the land for miles and the black slopes rolled beautifully. Unfortunately, we didn’t have very long to sit and admire the view.

Driving across black volcanic soil Leon - Charlie on Travel


Charlie silly volcano boarding nicaragua - Charlie on Travel

How did volcano boarding go?

After a brief crash course from our guide, we got kitted up in canvas suits, looped bandanas around our mouths, and pulled down our mad scientist style goggles. I put my board at the edge of the gravel slope and plonked myself on top of it. Following our guide’s advice to sit up straight if I wanted to go slower, I sat bolt upright.

“You have to pull back hard if you want to go down,” Luke called out.
“I don’t really want to go down,” I replied.

A couple of Nicaraguan soldiers with their machine guns on their arms came over to look at the silly tourist on the volcano board. I reluctantly began to crawl down the slope so slowly that black stones built up and buried my board less than five metres from where I had started. I dug it out and began all over again.

Charlie volcano boarding in Leon Nicaragua - Charlie on Travel

After some more embarrassing false starts, I finally started whizzing down, much to my dismay. I was momentarily distracted by the crazy gorgeous sunset before jolting on a bump and realising that I was still gliding ungraciously on a flimsy plywood board. Seeing another bump in the stones and not wanting to risk being thrown off, I dug my feet in as firmly as I could, got off my board and walked down the last few metres of the slope.

“You don’t wanna do a grand finish?” shouted the jeep driver who was waiting at the bottom.
“Nah, I’m good,” I called back, spitting some dirt from my mouth.

Luke came shooting down the volcano in a cloud of grey dust. Seeing the bump he also slowed down enough to ensure that he didn’t lose control. However, not everyone managed to do the same. Shortly after, a girl was thrown off her board and into the sharp back stones. Some guys ran up to her, worried that she had broken something, but were relieved to find she was okay except for some bad bruises. Her tumble was bad enough that it could’ve been much worse.

Luke speeding down
Or faster…

Just like other adrenaline sports, volcano boarding isn’t without its risks. Rock fragments are flung into your face as you board down the slope and crashes aren’t that uncommon. Compensating for your speed can also be difficult further on, as we saw from many of the other boarders who had some less than graceful endings. Fortunately, we clambered into the back of the jeep with just blackened faces and wild hair.

Does volcano boarding in Nicaragua sound awesome to you? Would you want to give it a go?

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

22 thoughts to “Is Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua Really Awesome?”

  1. Nope nope nope!! We skipped it because of the cost and I’d already hurt my ankle falling down stairs… Definitely not something someone so accident prone should try, I think!

    1. Haha! Glad to hear I’m not the only one who was reluctant, I was worried I was the only one! The cost was quite high too, though also only $5 more than just the normal hike up Cerro Negro which I’d wanted to do anyway. It’s the only tour we did while we were in Leon. Did you go on any? And ow, sorry to hear about the ankle!

    1. The introduction was super brief, less than 1 minute. I haven’t heard about any serious injuries (our guide had only been volunteering for 2 or 3 weeks though, I think the volunteer turn over is reasonably high). I’m sure that serious injuries are really, really rare, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there have been a few.

  2. This piece just made me laugh out loud and I’m still smiling as I’m typing! I totally agree, that this doesn’t sound like a must do for everyone! Your blog on this volcano is so descriptive and funny that I feel that I was there watching you, so that’s enough for me! Thank you for putting yourself on the hot seat!

    1. Hi Sharon – glad to hear that other people feel the same way as me! It was a bit of an embarrassing experience to recount and I was worried everyone would just think I was a bore. I’m relieved that I’n not the only one a little unsure about volcano boarding haha.

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