My rebellion against a desk-bound job in 2017 found me traveling and volunteering around the world as I looked for a new career path. The following year, I landed in Nicaragua to continue my adventures. But it only took one day as a volcano boarding guide to decide that taking adventurous travelers to epic destinations was my new vocation. For the next several months, I guided dozens of volcano boarding trips to Cerro Negro, along with backpacking trips across many more nearby volcanos. So, what exactly is volcano boarding, and how do you plan your trip? I’ll answer both of these questions and much more with this complete guide. Read on to learn about planning your next extraordinary adventure!
What is volcano boarding?
Volcano boarding – occasionally called volcano surfing or volcano sledding – is one of the most thrilling activities available to travelers visiting Nicaragua. In most corners of the world, sledding is reserved for snow-covered hills in freezing conditions. But in Nicaragua, you have the opportunity to sled down an active volcano in balmy summer weather!
But fear not; we’re not sledding into a volcano crater. Instead, we’re boarding down the outer slopes of the volcano across the loose volcanic rock. The sled itself isn’t the flimsy plastic sleds that we’re used to, but rather specialized wooden contraptions complete with a slick panel on the underside to help you glide over the rocky terrain.
You’ll typically volcano board from an upright, seated position while using the heels of your shoes to control your speed. However, a few courageous individuals have tried taking on the volcano while standing on the board and surfing their way down the slope—a much more high-risk endeavor.
For the vast majority of us adventurers, the classic, seated volcano boarding experience is the way to go!
Now combine this epic adventure with breathtaking scenery and a live volcanic backdrop, and it’s no wonder that volcano boarding in Nicaragua is a very popular activity for visitors. Furthermore, there’s only one volcano in the region suitable for this sport – Cerro Negro.
Where can you go volcano boarding?
All volcano sledding in Nicaragua occurs at the Cerro Negro Volcano, just outside of Leon. Cerro Negro is one of the newest volcanos in the region at about 170 years old. It is also one of the most active. But not to worry! Like all volcanos in the area, Cerro Negro is monitored carefully and closed if any concerning tremors are detected.
Cerro Negro is approximately 2,388 ft (728 m) in elevation and sits among several other distinct volcanos in the region – including Telica, El Hoyo, and Momotombo – to form the mountain range Cordillera de Los Maribios.
However, Cerro Negro (meaning Black Hill in Spanish) is a one-of-a-kind attraction. Its distinctive black cone stands in sharp contrast to the lush growth on the nearby hillsides and neighboring volcanos. Large swathes of charred black lava fields surrounding Cerro Negro serve as a reminder of this volcano’s active nature.
Your Nicaragua volcano surfing adventure will also allow you to explore this volcanic landscape! So let’s talk about how to make your trip happen:
There are plenty of aspects to planning your volcano boarding adventure, so let’s start at the very beginning.
Most travelers will arrive in Nicaragua via the primary international airport in Managua – the nation’s capital. If you are a U.S. citizen, be sure to review the Department of State’s Nicaragua Fact Sheet before departure to make sure you are fully prepared for your trip.
In addition to air travel, you may also enter Nicaragua by bus from any of the neighboring countries.
Once you arrive in Managua, you’ll have to arrange transportation to your accommodations in Leon before your volcano boarding trip. Here’s how to do it:
From the airport (or your Managua accommodation if you stayed overnight), take a registered taxi to the UCA bus station – pronounced Ooka. Don’t get overwhelmed when you arrive! The bus station is a hectic place.
Now you’re looking for signs that say “Leon,” and you’ll have two options. Large school busses, known as chicken buses, run regularly but make several stops along the way. Your best option is to take a Microbus. A Microbus is a smaller white passenger van that will take you directly to Leon.
Look for a sign near the bus’s parking slot that says Leon to make sure you find the right one. Alternatively, the drivers will often be standing outside their vans, shouting their destinations. These busses run steadily throughout the day so you should have no trouble finding one.
Keep in mind: The bus station is very busy and, unfortunately, tourists are a prime target for scams. Therefore, ensure that your bags are secure in your arms while navigating the station. Also, try to find a seat where you can always see your bags, as you’ll likely not be able to sit with them in your lap. Lastly, only give money to the driver who is physically at the bus and actively loading people in – nobody else!
Once you arrive at the Leon bus station, simply find a taxi and get a ride to your accommodation. Leon is full of fantastic hostels and hotels, and most are within easy walking distance of Leon’s exciting downtown area. A few places to consider are:
You can either book your volcano boarding tour by phone or online before you arrive in Leon. Or while you're exploring the city after you've settled in. The central downtown area of Leon is full of tour agencies that run these trips, and all of them will have signs advertising volcano boarding; you can't miss them!
If you're wondering where to start looking, consider Volcano Day, which runs tours almost every day. Additionally, Bigfoot hostel runs volcano boarding trips, making them a very convenient option for lodging.