Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua
By Andreas Ambarchian
As quite a sedate chap from England, my notion of peril extends little further than drinking my tea before it has cooled to a thoroughly safe temperature for consumption. I was perhaps, therefore, not an ideal candidate to be sat atop a volcano, ready to descend a 700 metre slope on a board best described as a slightly modified bit of wood.
The volcano in question was the Cerro Negro, a great, black mound of rock and pumice situated around an hour outside of the city centre of Leon, Nicaragua. I, along with a group of around a dozen other tourists and our three guides, had reached the summit of the volcano via a 45 minute ascent. Taken on foot, this climb was a little awkward at times, made, as it was, with our boards in tow; however, the upward journey was interposed with plenty of breaks.
Moreover, the vivid vistas afforded by the ascent helped to distract from the effort expended during the journey. The matte black volcanic detritus along which we walked created an arresting contrast with the blue sky beyond. While at the summit otherworldly scenes awaited inside the crater, where smoke emanating from the ground drifted over charred rock.
Having observed the insides of the volcano, we prepared to descend the outer slope. We received a quick safety briefing from the instructors before mounting our boards. I soon found myself peering down a slope so steep that the nadir of which disappeared from view. It was a slightly ominous vantage point but I tried to remain unperturbed; I had, after all, forked out $30 for the privilege.
My trepidation turned out to be unfounded however, as my descent started slowly and never really got going. A combination of poor driving and an undulating terrain meant that I hit the floor more times than a caretaker’s broom, creating clouds of dust each time I fell off. This did mean that I unwittingly avoided the type of high speed tumble to which some others in the group succumbed, but my second run, when I had more control, was a lot more enjoyable.
You may be told by instructors not to put your feet on the ground as you go down the slope but, as long as you don’t perform this manoeuvre when you’re going too fast, it actually gives you a measure of control over your speed. I found balance was quite a problem but you can negate such issues by skimming one of your hands along the ground as you descend.
We were informed by our guides that people “sometimes” fall off; in reality, hardly anybody in our group remained on their board during their descent. Despite this, the worst injuries sustained were a twisted ankle and a grazed forehead.
Choosing a Company
There are a number of hostels in Leon that offer the trip to Cerro Negro. I went with Quetzaltrekkers. Located on 3ra Calle NE, the organisation charges $30 per person (including a $10 deposit) for which you get:
- Transport to and from the volcano
- Equipment (board, overalls, goggles, gloves)
- Provisions: water, food (biscuits, bananas, burritos)
- Photos taken with their GoPro camera, shared later on Dropbox
Given its status as a not-for-profit company, the price offered by Quetzaltrekkers is very reasonable, and I would certainly recommend them; not least because your money is filtered back towards their local community projects. There are plenty of other options available however. The following points should give you an idea of what to consider before making your decision:
- Cost: $30 seems to be about the going rate for groups of four or more. In groups of less than four people expect to pay around $45 each.
- Group size: There were around 12 people in our group, which seemed about as many as you would want. I saw larger groups and it looked like there was a fair bit of waiting around involved, I also couldn’t help but think that there would be a bit of extra pressure with so many people about.
- Provisions: Find out what provisions are offered by the company. Ideally they will supply at least water.
- Equipment: All companies will offer the basics of boards, overalls, goggles and gloves. However, the quality of these supplies may vary from company to company; for instance, we were provided with basic safety goggles, other groups had sturdier ski goggles.
- Extras: Some companies will offer extras with the intention of enhancing the trip. These include speed guns, photographers and additional runs down the hill. Queztaltrekkers offered two runs down the slope and had a guide with a GoPro, as well as very personable guides.
What You’ll Definitely Need To Take
- Something to cover your face, like a t-shirt or bandana. Something to cover the top of your head is also a good idea, I was still finding gravel in my hair the following day.
- Sun cream and a cap: this should help to protect you from the deadly rays of the sun as you make the exposed walk up Cerro Negro.
- Shoes that you don’t mind getting a bit dusty and scratched.
- Water and food (if not provided by the company).
What You Might Want To Take
- Ear plugs: probably not necessary but grit and dust does manage to get into every exposed orifice
- Your own goggles: the goggles we were provided with were alright but a bit leaky
Andreas Ambarchian is a freelance journalist from England. He writes about a variety of subjects including travel, wildlife and sport. He wrote this article on behalf of Tucan Travel, specialists in adventure tours to Nicaragua and all over Latin America.
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