Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

I arrived at Quetzal Trekkers headquarters in Leon, Nicaragua at 7:30AM, a half hour before we were scheduled to leave. I found a group of four girls waiting outside for the door to open, and after a minute, we were all welcomed inside. I made the reservation with Quetzal Trekkers the day before by calling their office, and once inside, I told the man at the desk my name and he handed me the safety release form to fill out. I put my backpack in a locked room for the day and was given the gear I would use for the day. The gear was in a yellow stuff sack and composed of a yellow jump suit, gloves, goggles, and a filled two liter bottle of water. After another woman and man arrived and we all said our general introductions and at 8, we all climbed into the truck and started on the hour-long ride to one of the youngest volcano’s in the world; Cerro Negro!

DCIM100GOPRO

Upon arrival at Cerro Negro, we all climbed out of the truck and were officially introduced to our volcano-boarding-boards! These are pretty much just a piece of wood with a metal plate on the bottom and a wooden-tile kind of finish at the back to help it slide down the volcano, and on the top, two pieces of wood nailed on to prevent sliding off and a rope to hold onto. Once we were all out and had our boards, our tour guides, johnny and Rachel, started explaining the safety rules of going down the volcano. There are no ambulances or hospitals around, so although the guides have first aid kits, it is always a good idea not to get hurt. They explained that the best way to go down is sitting at the back of the board, holding the rope with both hands while your feet are off the sides of the board to control speed and stability. Another way to control speed is by leaning forward and back, the further back you lean, the faster you will go and vice versa. Johnny also said that if we want to ignore their safety rules, that was fine too…

DCIM100GOPRO
Rachel showing us how to sled

After we all said we understand the rules, we started on the hour-long hike up the rocky volcano. It was more difficult than expected; the rocks on the trail were unstable and every step was a struggle not to slip and gain leverage for the next step. We stopped about every 10 minutes, a total of four times, to make sure everyone was hydrated – on the second hike up, one of the ladies in the group fainted from a mixture of dehydration and anxiety, but after a few minutes of laying down and hydration, she was back up and ready to ride again! When we made it to the point we slide down, we put our gear down and continued onto the peak of the volcano.

DCIM100GOPRO
The rocky terrain of Cerro Negro
DCIM100GOPRO
The peak is just to the left

After taking some photos and enjoying the view, we all went back to suit up and get ready to fly! We all put on our yellow jumpsuits and once Rachel and Johnny were half way down the volcano to provide help if needed, one of the girls asked, “So, who’s first?” and the other man said, “How about the crazy one?” Well, I had just been nominated, not that I was not going to offer anyways! Remember when Johnny said that if we did not want to follow the safety rules, it was fine? Well, I have a habit of trying to do everything the most extreme way, so while most people go down on their butts as recommended, I tried to surf it!

DCIM100GOPRO
Our yellow jumpsuits!Screenshot_2014-06-09-13-20-19

Looks pretty good doesn’t it? Notice the people in the background; I had not actually started gaining any real speed yet. When I finally started, I started to regret trying to surf it, I was pretty much sitting on my feet, holding the rope in one hand and trying to maintain stability and speed with my one free hand – the hand that was holding my Gopro. Along with dragging my camera, in its case, through the rocks of Cerro Negro for about two minutes, leaving it nearly unusable, I also was nearly sideways the whole time because of the resistance on once side and on the way down, johnny called out to me, “Did you remember anything we told you?” I also ended up much dirtier than anyone else in the group! Luckily, on the second time down, I gave my camera, out of its case, to Rachel to record me; sledding this time.

Screenshot_2014-06-09-13-27-39

While not as extreme as surfing it, I gained a whole lot more speed and enjoyed it 100x more! Because it is necessary to use your feet to maintain stability, they end up shooting rocks at you the entire way down, everyone ends up with tons of small rocks in their hair and dirt all over; I even coughed up a rock! The experience was incredible, definitely a bit of an adrenaline rush, although if it is not a big enough rush for you, it is possible to take a bike to the park and ride a bicycle down the volcano; you can even try to break the record speed of 172KM/H! If you decide to do this, it is about 30KM ride away from Leon to the volcano and only a $5 entrance fee into the park, so you can save money too!

I decided to go with Quetzal Trekkers instead of some other, more popular and populated tour groups for a few reasons; first, they are a not-for-profit organization, all of the guides are volunteers, and also rent their boards from another not-for-profit called Sonati Tours. Second, unlike the other companies, they give two opportunities to go down the volcano instead of one, so at $30 per person, which is the average price, they are definitely the best value. Third, the smaller group of 7 was much more enjoyable, calm and easy to be with over the other, larger, louder, and more chaotic groups of around 20, such as the popular Bigfoot Hostel group. At the end, they fed us a delicious lunch of vegetable sandwiches, I had 4, along with cookies and like the other companies, they gave us a free t-shirt. Rachel and johnny were both very nice and fun to spend the day with, I am really happy I decided to go with Quetzal Trekkers!

DCIM100GOPRO
Rachel, Johnny, and myself

I am currently communicating with Sonati Tours to get information about board rentals to solo travelers or small groups so to avoid the additional costs of the tour company, although they were definitely worth it and it does not seem there will be too much money to save either way!

Have you ever done an unusual type of boarding or tried to do something the harder way in hopes of it being more of an adrenaline rush and it ending up failing such as mine? Leave a comment; I love reading stories!

Like The Travel Economist on Facebook and Follow on Twitter, make sure to subscribe to The Travel Economist to get updates about posts and newsletters!
-The Travel Economist