We certainly never thought we would end up going volcano boarding when we arrived in Leon. We don’t ski, snowboard or surf – plus we had never heard of this phenomenon until we asked Ayngelina from Bacon is Magic, who had spent a few weeks there in summer 2010, for must-do activities when we get to town. She immediately replied with a simple, “Volcano Boarding.” So after lazy days of lots of eating and a few more of flat out working, we decided it was time for this must-do-in-Leon adventure.
Researching the various tour agencies revealed very different options. Rather than booking the trip through the Bigfoot Hostel, the more popular choice, we opted for Quetzaltrekkers. Not only do they give you two runs down the volcano for the same price as one with Bigfoot, but they are also a non-profit organization who puts the proceeds toward helping street kids in Nicaragua. Quetzaltrekkers has smaller groups, so that instead of climbing with 20 people, just two boys and five other girls would take part in this event with us. Smaller groups, helping kids AND getting a 2 for 1 deal – going with Quetzaltrekkers seemed a no-brainer.
Little did we know that one run down would be more than enough when we started our trip in the back of a pick-up truck that morning. We headed straight toward the chain of volcanoes around Leon, specifically Cerro Negro, or “black hill’. The other volcanoes were steeper and much larger, but this strange all-black mega hill, devoid of all plant life, certainly stirred up the first sense of reality that we were going to climb up a volcano and then ‘snow’board all the way down.
Upon arrival we were handed a sack with some oh-so-sexy overalls to protect our clothes, even sexier plastic glasses, workman gloves, a big bottle of water, plus the board itself. First lesson learned: These clunky wooden boards are not light! Instead of a light fiberglass snowboard, we were about to climb an all-black, lava-filled volcano in 90F heat with a wooden board that could best be compared to a toboggan.The hour of the ascent seemed more like five.
The two guys in the group were just doing this for fun before their two-day mountain trek, so they had no problems whizzing right up, but the other girls had as hard of a time as we did and we all were thankful when we finally reached the top and slipped into our moon suits.
Now even hotter with overalls on, we inched toward the steep side of the volcano, and peeked over the edge while our sprightly Canadian guide explained how not to fall to avoid breaking bones or getting wounded. He also made clear that no-one stands up on the way down, despite all posters in town showing a sporty snowboarder girl mastering the volcano this way. Relieved at this, we lined up to go down, the bravest in the group going first of course.
“You want a push?” our guide asked in all seriousness. After nervous laughter and a ‘no thanks’, the first guy pushed off down the volcano, then the next, and the next. We were getting hotter and hotter in our space suits and couldn’t very well stay here all day, so finally it was time for us to go down.
After all the build-up, the actual ride was anti-climactic. At times I sped nearly out of control down the steep hill, but the lava rocks were actually much softer than expected, which caused my board to sink deep into them, inevitably slowing the board down. At one point I was practically running, digging my heels in trying to go faster. With my protective gear, my suit, and the massive mound of lava, the entire experience felt like being on a different planet entirely. Joining the others at the bottom, there was no cheering, mostly shoulder shrugging.
“Guess so,” I said, hoping maybe no one would want to do this whole thing again. Dani sped down much faster than I did, and was actually looking forward to another chance, which she would get after we climbed back up the black hill, now under the unforgiving midday sun.
We made it up the loose lava gravel, again, with our boards, again, put on the suits, again, and the gloves and glasses, again. This time, however, when asked if we wanted a push, I believe each and every one us answered with a determined, ‘Yes, please’!
I worked out a new method and went much faster the second time. Dani, on the other hand, went slower the second time, an unrewarding end to the arduous second climb. Some of the girls decided to leave the boards behind entirely and run at full speed down the volcano which seemed like a really fun alternative.
We have to say that our volcano boarding experience was not as spectacular as it could have been. Bigfoot at least makes a real occasion out of it: your speed is clocked by a radar gun at the bottom, and the boards go much faster. A friend of ours hit 52mph an hour, and the record is about 80 mph! None of us had any battle wounds to show, while the Bigfooters boasted scrapes and scars even days later. Fellow travel blogger Wandering Earl proudly showed his wounds here. Not that we wanted to get hurt….right?
Would we recommend volcano boarding?
Definitely! Even though it sounds more amazing than it actually is – not many people can say that they ever boarded down a volcano! The climb itself is worth the trip (once) for the views over the other volcanoes, even though it was not easy to hike up through volcanic rocks and ash with the board.
When deciding who to book the tour with you have to consider what you would like to get out of the hike – if you’re in for the fun of speeding down a volcano and mingling with other travelers afterwards, Bigfoot is the clear winner. However, if you would like to support a non-profit organization and go down (and up) twice, Quetzaltrekkers is the better fit. There is another tour operator who offers volcano boarding, TierraTours, but from what we’ve seen, their boards are not very good. Their group boarded down Cerro Negro after us and the some people got stuck not even halfway down.
- Profit goes to help street kids
- 2 runs down (you can opt to run down the 2nd time) for the price of one
- Water included
- Lunch included
- Snacks included between the two runs
- Small groups
- Price: $30.00
- Faster boards
- Laser speed gun to turn it into a competition for the fastest boarder
- 2 free mojitos at Bigfoot hostel after the volcano boarding
- Larger groups
- More serious wounds
- Price: $28.00
Click here to read Ayngelina’s volcano boarding experience with BigFoot (including a cool video!)