Cerro Negro is the youngest active volcano in Central America, and is one of four ‘cinder cones’ that make up the Marrabios range in Nicaragua, just east of the city of Leon. Looking like a stereotypical volcano, Cerro Negro is one of the more active in the region with its last eruption occurring in 1999!
That being said, this didn’t deter the good people at Bigfoot Hostel who decided it would be a splendid idea to sit on a thin piece of wood and slide down the volcanic gravel slopes of Cerro Negro as fast as possible.
And just like that… volcano boarding was born.
Naturally, news started to spread about the latest slightly lunatic past time and people started queuing up for the privilege. When it comes to adrenalin pumping days out, volcano boarding is pretty far up there with skydiving and bungee jumping.
It’s not the steep slopes of the volcano that get the heart going (although the view from the top of the way down helps), it’s not the dizzying height of the volcano… it’s the blood curdling speed at which you can board down it whilst hanging on for dear life, screaming like a twelve-year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert (that wasn’t Tom…obviously).
So, are you tempted??
If you fancy giving this crazed new sport a go your options are very straight forward. If you’re travelling through Nicaragua you will inevitably at some point stumble upon the idea of volcano boarding. Make the city of Leon your base and you can explore the different tour operators from there.
The most popular tour operator is the Bigfoot Hostel (the owner was the pioneer of volcano boarding after all) and booking yourself on a tour is super simple. Another popular tour operator is QuetzalTrekkers, who offer the opportunity for you to have not one, but two rides down the volcano! We booked with Bigfoot over the other tour operator purely for convenience as we were staying opposite, but also because the atmosphere seemed a little more energetic and upbeat (a necessary requirement to get Annabel psyched up enough for her to throw herself down a volcano on a piece of wood).
We booked our tour a day in advance and on the morning of the tour waited outside the hostel for a huge orange truck that was to transport us the hour long drive to the base of Cerro Negro where we began our climb to the summit of the volcano.
Parking up in the truck having paid a $5 entrance fee to the park, we were each handed an orange bag containing a rather attractive jumpsuit and a pair of goggles, and of course, our very own volcano board. Handmade by the hostel themselves, these makeshift wooden boards have a plastic coating underneath (replaced after each ride because the heat of the gravel burns through) as well as a thin rope handle put there as what we can only imagine was an attempt to make the thing steerable.
Nevertheless, we began our climb up the backside of the volcano. A pretty rocky climb, you need to be in relatively good shape to make it to the top (make sure you wear sturdy, closed shoes) and we had a few rest breaks. The most challenging aspect of the climb, aside from carrying the boards, was the sheer force of the wind which blew over the ridge you walk up. The last section of the climb is the hardest if you have any fear of heights, as the path takes you along the crater ridge and at some points the wind was so strong we had to crouch down to save ourselves from being blown away!
Once at the top, there were a few group photos and then we quickly changed into our gear… now donned in fetching orange jumpsuits, we all looked like a bunch of escaped cons! We had what you could at best call a ‘brief’ safety chat and then headed to have a look at what we were about to get ourselves into.
Then it was game on and they started sending people over the edge and down the slope. Two main lanes were set up, and as we were a fairly large group they made sure we were ready to get into position the minute the person in front of you left.
The experience of volcano boarding itself was really thrilling, but not as scary as we expected. The difficult part is definitely getting started. Easing your board over the edge is all well and good until you see the slope you are about to speed down.. it’s steep! By the time you get going you’ll forget about the decline and the only thing racing through your mind will be staying on your board. It took us longer than we imagined to get going and the volcanic rocks and gravel are pretty soft so you can easily sink into the slope. And in terms of trying to steer, you’ve pretty much got no hope…
We found one of the tricky thing was trying to control your legs, as you have to hold them up above the rocks and if you catch your foot as you’re speeding down it can be the start of an almighty tumble (we saw some people wipe out pretty badly). You want to try and use the top section of the run to get your bearings and balance to that you can then try and hone it down to the bottom.
What sets Bigfoot hostel apart from the others is that they have a staff member at the volcano’s base with a speed gun who shouts our your speed as you either fly or roll past him. This adds that all important competitive element to the day as the fastest riders get a free night in the Bigfoot beach hostel. The fastest in our group managed to clock about 78 kph. Tom only managed to clock 27 kph as he had a pretty bad fall on the way down but considering this was his ‘rolling’ speed, it was pretty good going! Annabel clocked about 36 kph, and that felt fast enough!
SHOULD YOU DO IT?
YES – it’s as simple as that. The view from the top is pretty awesome, and the experience itself is epic. The main thing to remember is that scrapes, cuts and bruises will heal so give it everything you’ve got and go for the top speed, it’s not everyday you slide down an active volcano on a sheet of wood after all, especially as you’re not likely to be back in Leon anytime soon..
– The Bigfoot Hostel tour costs $31 (at time of writing) and includes transport to and from the volcano, one ride down the volcano, a complimentary beer and cookie on the ride home, and of course your very own volcano boarding vest top.
– You will be scared when you’re at the top, but so many people we spoke to (us included) wished we had been a bit more ballsy and tried to pick up more speed. With Bigfoot, as you only get one run, make sure you make the most out of it while you can.
– If you wipe out, try not to resist against it, and don’t let go of your board! If it slides down to the bottom when you let go of it you’ll have no chance to have another go. Just take a minute to regroup, shake off the dust and gravel that will have no doubt found its way into every orifice, and keep on going
– The best camera to take is a GoPro or small digital camera, SLRs are too chunky and you only have the bag in which your jumpsuit came in to store things for the way down. The best thing to do is to loop the bag around your neck and stuff it inside your overall, but otherwise don’t bother taking any other valuables.