Volcano Boarding down Cerro Negro
Ever since I decided I was going to Nicaragua (a whole week before I actually booked my flights), I knew that I ravels in Nicaragua, including my sister as well as my fellow travel friend, Dan, from Adventure Born. As a self-proclaimed “adventure junkie”, I love trying my hand at any physical activity that pushes the limit (within reason of course). Due to the specifics of this activity-needing a volcano covered in ash and not at immediate risk of erupting again, the sport is only available near Leon, and on the island of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean.
It is a very popular activity for most travelers passing through Nicaragua, and there are several agencies that run day trips to Cerro Negro, the location for volcano boarding. This region is also popular for hiking, as there are plenty of volcanoes that have formed along the meeting of the Caribbean and Cocos tectonic plates. While many are deemed to still be “active”, some haven’t had an eruption in over 100 years. Cerro Negro has had its last eruption pretty recently, back in 1995!
While I was consulting with the various agencies, I discovered a company that ran treks in tandem with volcano boarding, allowing me to do both back-to-back. Quetzaltrekkers is an amazing organization that gives 100% of its profits to programs benefiting children in the local communities. All of the workers are volunteers who donate a minimum of three months of their time leading the volcano boarding and various treks for the various travelers and tourists. Not to mention, their slogan is the coolest: “Hike volcanoes, Help Kids”. I mean what better combination is there? Quetzaltrekkers also has a location in Xela, Guatemala, from which they also lead a variety of treks. The guides for my trek ended up being some pretty cool dudes, but I’ll get into the trek details later.
Quetzaltrekkers, like the other agencies, provide you with all the needed gear for volcano boarding: a board, goggles, gloves, and some pretty sweet overalls to protect your clothes from the volcanic ash. They do recommend bringing a bandana or extra t-shirt to also protect your nose and mouth, as speeds can reach up to 95 kilometers per hour!
When we arrived at the base of Cerro Negro, the guides helped us to strap the boards on our back for ease of carrying up the volcano. Our volcano boarding group consisted of 8 people, including myself Standing over 700 meters high, it took about 45 minutes for us to hike to the top, with several rest breaks to admire the view. This was my first time being on a volcano, and it was a pretty cool experience. I couldn’t believe how black the ash was, and how it completely covered the volcano from the summit to the base and surrounding area. Near the top of Cerro Negro, were the old and new craters, formed during the previous two eruptions. Near the new crater there was a spot where we could feel (and smell) the heat of the sulfur vents pushing its way to the surface-so cool!
We then made our way to the designated launch area where the guides gave us a safety talk. To increase your velocity, they told us to lean back on the board and to keep you feet firmly planted. If you wanted to slow down, one was supposed to lean forward and dig their heels in the ash. Of course, I wanted to go as fast as possible haha. As we peered over the edge, I couldn’t believe how steep it was. Our guide told us that before volcano boarding existed, there was volcano “biking” as a guy had rode a mountain bike down Cerro Negro. Now that is something that’s too dangerous for my liking! As we put on all our gear, we all looked like we could be filming the next season of “Breaking Bad”, albeit on a volcano.
One of the guides ran down the slope a couple of hundred meters in order to take action pictures of us speeding down. It was then time for us to brave the volcano and surf to the bottom. One of the others in my group volunteered to go first. I was glad, as I wanted to watch him to learn from his mistakes.
Soon it was my turn! “Here goes nothing”, I thought as I tried to pull my t-shirt up to my mouth and gave myself a big push. Although the first few meters started off slow, I couldn’t believe how quickly I gained acceleration, as I leaned back as far as I could. My speed continued to pick up and before I knew what happened, I fell off my board and wiped out just after passing our picture-taking guide! Dazed for a few seconds, I was alright except for some scrapes on my arms from the volcanic scree. My board was located about 10 meters above me on the hill. It was difficult to climb up this section of the volcano, as it was very steep and there weren’t any footholds.
Jumping back on the board, I then completed the ride down the volcano, although I wasn’t able to reach my previous speeds. When I reached the bottom, my heart was still pumping with excitement. This was so cool! I also forgot to mention that Quetzaltrekkers is the only agency that allows its guests to board down twice if they choose, you just have to have enough energy to climb back up the mountain! Unfortunately, as I was doing the two day hiking trip immediately after, there was not time for me to volcano board and for us to make it to our campsite before dark, but I understood and trained my thoughts to my next exciting activity-hiking and camping out on another volcano!