Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

Derek Nicaragua, Travel Tales 22 Comments

If you want an adrenaline rush that involves moving at 50 mph, eating rocks and slashing open several parts of your body, the perfect sport has finally arrived. It’s called volcano boarding and there is also only one place in the world where you can do it – Cerro Negro, an active volcano near the town of Leon, Nicaragua.

This ‘sport’ involves hiking up to the top of a volcano, sitting on a tiny wooden board and then sliding down the steaming mountain to the bottom. Now, this isn’t your normal sledding experience. This isn’t the small hill behind the elementary school. There is no snow. Nor is there any dirt or sand for that matter. You must sled over rough, razor-sharp volcanic rocks ranging in size from golf balls to genetically-engineered grapefruits.

Here’s how it went for me. I was the last of our group to sled down the volcano. Wearing a bright orange safety suit and flimsy goggles, everything started off quite innocently. I pushed off from the starting point, slowly glided along and marveled at the dozens of volcanoes off in the distance. Unfortunately, this period of thorough enjoyment lasted for approximately 7 seconds, right until I realized that I was flying uncontrollably down an active volcano at speeds usually reserved for fighter planes.

At the bottom of the volcano, the tour guide was clocking our speeds with a radar gun. So, as soon as I realized that there was no stopping me, I set my sights on breaking the record of 50 mph.

I honestly could not believe how fast I was going. Black volcanic rock started smashing against my face, dozens of tasty pieces entered my mouth and I could barely hold on as I zoomed along. I couldn’t see a damn thing either and I kept almost losing my balance. But somehow, everything still seemed to be under control…until I said to myself “I am definitely going to crash”. Seconds later I hit a small bump and crashed.

I was about halfway down the volcano when I wiped out. The small bump caused me to fly into the air, flip over, smash against the rocks and accept the fact that death was upon me. My momentum then caused me to roll wildly over and over and over along the painful surface for about 200 feet. When I finally stopped rolling, I just laid there with my face buried in the volcanic rock, finding it slightly absurd that I had actually survived.

My arms and legs were spread out and bent and I could feel blood pouring out of my left hand. But the most unfortunate part was that I still had to get down the second half of the volcano. I had no choice. And so I slowly crawled back to my sled and despite the pain, started to slide down once more.

I attempted to slide very slowly this time but I failed miserably and soon found myself flying down at top speed and enjoying another meal of volcanic rocks. And quite predictably, I crashed once again, just as I was about to reach the end. In an all too familiar scene, I flipped over, tumbled and violently skid along the rocks until I finally landed at the bottom.

For a few minutes I sat there stuck knee deep in volcanic rock as the rest of the group began to pack up and walk towards our awaiting vehicles. I wanted to cry and laugh and scream but the pain didn’t allow me to do anything but sit quiet and still and wonder why I had paid $23 to do such a stupid thing.

Blood dripped from my arms, my legs and my hands and my skin was scraped off in more places than I would have preferred.  It was just plain nasty and the injuries reduced my walking speed to that of a turtle without legs.

Once back at the guesthouse in Leon, I spent 30 minutes in the shower scratching the thousands of tiny volcanic rock fragments out of the open wounds on my body. And trust me, that hurt so much more than it even sounds. I then pasted my body with Neosporin and wrapped myself up in 18 miles worth of gauze.

That night, as my friend Mike (who somehow managed to suffer fewer injuries despite wiping out in a considerably impressive manner as well) & I had a few drinks, we ran into the tour guide from earlier in the day. As if sensing my need for even an iota of solace, the guide informed us that we had both been on target to break the speed record before we had each wiped out. He even consulted his log book of recorded speeds in order to prove he wasn’t just trying to put a smile on a wounded man’s face.

Regardless, this wounded man was instantly beaming with joy as all the intense pain and suffering vanished into the sweet Nicaraguan air. But, as one might expect, this glorious feeling of accomplishment lasted only for a few fragile minutes, as I suddenly noticed blood seeping through the gauze on my right arm and my left leg went completely numb.

It’s been over four weeks now and the scars are still visible. But I must say, despite the injuries, I would highly recommend volcano boarding to anyone passing through Nicaragua. So if you’re ever there, head over to the Bigfoot Hostel (the main tour operator that offers these trips) in Leon and sign yourself up…

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Comments 22

  1. I tried volcano boarding at Cerro Negro in 2013. My experience was actually very different. I was the smallest in the group – as usual, actually. And for some reason, I went down first. It means that I paved the road for the rest of the group, who slid down nice and smoothly, while I constantly had to stop to put the board back where it should be. I somehow managed to get down, but it wasn’t nearly as fun as I had hoped. I surely did not break the speed record, perhaps the slow record. Too bad that you suffered injuries, but I am sure that years on you remember the experience fondly!

  2. Loved this story!! and laughed a lot hehehe !!! Of course, pain ans scars are undesirable, but as we say in Spanish, “¿quién te quita lo bailado?” The experience of volcano boarding is in your memory for ever and nobody can’t take it out from you 🙂

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  4. Earl… how are you?

    Well, I went back a second time – November 2011.

    A friend of my fiance made an offhand comment about our upcoming nuptials and how she could see her flying down the mountain with a veil flying behind her… well that’s all it took.

    11-11-11 we had a wedding ceremony on top of Cerro Negro (not quite legal because of the complications but Gemma at Bigfoot did find a lawyer crazy enough to hike up with us) and then made all the guests slide down with us coming last!

    19 people in total ranging in age from about 32 to 59 absolutely awesome! Some were so slow and scared that they didn’t even register on the radar gun – however, I hit 83kph!!!!! took a spill at the bottom and have a small scar on my nose to show for it – but that is going to be one hell of a video to show at the real wedding in NYC at the end of March.

    We even had commemorative rings made and now the company is using it as part of their photo stream on the website:

    Yeah, I’ll give them a free plug because they did a great job.

    We also made the local free paper el Hoy on 27th November last year and the videos I have are awesome!

    However, it’s not all good news… at the very beginning of the new year, Jose, Bigfoot’s driver died suddenly and very unexpectedly so the Bigfoot extended family is in sadness right now… I’ll always cherish the photo I have with him at the bottom holding the radar gun with my 83 on it and grinning insanely – plus the memory of his stopping on the road on the way back from the beach because we were using the top of the truck as a drum – that was the Saturday night beach party at Los Penitas… great guy and he will be greatly missed!

    1. Hey Mark – That is certainly one insane way to have a wedding, perhaps the most unique ceremony I’ve ever heard of!! Well done on making that happen!

      As for Jose, that is of course sad news. It is nice to know that he made quite a lot of people very happy by playing the role he did with those tours. That is an unfortunate way to start off the New Year though.

  5. I love how that in this article and your new one about canoeing with hippos, crocodiles and sharks, that despite nearly dying you still highly recommend it. Gave me a belly laugh!

    1. Hey Emily – That’s what life is about, experiencing as much as possible, even the things in life that may scare us! I honestly recommend both activities and so far, those that I know who have done the volcano boarding as well, feel the same way…

  6. Hey Earl,

    WOW brother, I just checked the video you posted about the French dude who used his bike for Cerro Negro, that’s beyond sick, I still can’t believe he didn’t kill himself.

    Now I’m pretty sure it should have been super scary to be sliding down that hill on just a wooden board, my god! haha


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  9. OK, now I have done both the Huacachina sandboarding and the Cerro Negro volcano boarding.

    Sandboarding is really, really fun and I would go back and do it in a second – in fact I am going to try and do it in Southern Oregon in the next year or so.

    Volcano boarding is nuts, an hour in a back breaking truck to get there, and hour hike up a steep hill and then 45 seconds or so to get all the way back down – although the beer was a welcome surprise!

    I got grit in my teeth but not one scratch on my and if I hadn’t made a slight directional adjustment I would have done better than the 66kph I was clocked at.

    The guide told us about some bloke who went down the slope on a bike – then when I asked about going down headfirst (like Sandboarding) he looked at me like I was the insane one! I may be 47 but there is time for me to develop a deflector front for a board, take a motorcycle helmet and blast down that thing on my stomach!!!

    Great experience, highly recommended!

    1. Hey Mark – Here’s the link to the video of the guy who went down on a mountain bike:

      Beware though…at the end is the video of when he crashed and broke nearly every bone is his body. It isn’t pretty.

      Please do let me know if you ever attempt it headfirst!!

    1. @TravelingCanucks: The experience sure was intense in Leon. I have no idea how someone hasn’t been seriously injured on that volcano! It’s only a matter of time I’d imagine. I think I’d much prefer the sand version in Peru 🙂

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  12. Awesome – I know it’s insane but it’s going to have to be done.

    Wish me luck for the first week in December 2010!

    Thanks for the story, glad I found your site

    1. Hey Mark – I wish you luck indeed! Just make sure you wear some protective clothing (jeans and a long-sleeve, thick shirt) if you don’t want to end up hobbling around in pain for the remainder of your stay in Nicaragua 🙂

      It really was an awesome experience. Please let me know how it goes for you!

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