Nicaragua volcano boarding is an exhilarating adventure travel activity that you must do in Central America. People from all over the world travel to Cerro Negro in Leon, to do volcano boarding down the youngest volcano in Nicaragua. Also known as sandboarding, ash boarding, volcano surfing, or, simply boarding, volcano boarding in Nicaragua will get your adrenaline pumping! Essentially, you’ll do the Cerro Negro hike up the volcano, usually as part of a tour. Then, with a need for speed, you’ll experience the Nicaragua volcano boarding spectacle, as you slide down the active volcano.
In this travel guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about volcano boarding in Nicaragua. Initially, we’ll talk about the incredible Cerro Negro hike and then the mindblowing Nicaragua volcano boarding experience. To help plan your trip, we’ll recommend some Cerro Negro tours. But, we’ll also discuss how to visit Cerro Negro independently. On top of that, we’ll dive into the Nicaragua volcano boarding history, Cerro Negro Volcano facts, safety and where to stay in Leon.
We hope you find this guide helpful. For more information about visiting other Nicaragua volcanoes, check out our Momotombo, Telica and Cosiguina volcano guides. Otherwise, check out The 16 Best Hikes in Nicaragua and Hiking Ometepe: 4 Excellent Trails Not To Miss.
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Nicaragua Volcano Boarding at Cerro Negro
The Nicaragua volcano boarding phenomenon takes place on Cerro Negro in Leon. Out of the 19 active volcanoes in Nicaragua, Cerro Negro remains one of the most active! Simply knowing this, makes the Cerro Negro volcano boarding experience feel even wilder. I mean, when Nicaragua volcano boarding outranks running of the bulls and swimming with caged crocodiles (according to CNN), you know it’s a wild activity!
Better yet, volcano boarding in Leon is just one part of the adventure. The initial Cerro Negro hike on its own is an awesome thing to do in Nicaragua. Hiking amongst the geothermal and volcanic activity is an amazing experience in itself. Indeed, if the idea of Nicaragua volcano boarding sounds too much for you, definitely still visit Cerro Negro. There’s always the option to slide down the slopes of Cerro Negro on foot. Or, simply do an out and back hike of Cerro Negro on the defined trail. To explore the stunning crater at Cerro Negro is a moment to savour.
Of course, Beck and I are hiking obsessed. We are super curious and interested in volcano hikes. Initially, we wanted to visit Cerro Negro solely to do the hike. But, we’re really happy we chose to do volcano boarding. It was fun, thrilling and adrenaline-inducing. And, of course, if you’re reading this, we assume you’re not only interested in the Cerro Negro hike. So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details of Cerro Negro volcano boarding!
Sandboarding vs Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua: What’s the Difference?
Many people ask, what is volcano boarding? And, is there a difference between that and sandboarding? To set the record straight, volcano boarding and sandboarding in Nicaragua, refer to the same activity. It’s just a matter of semantics! Technically though, sandboarding usually involves boarding down sand dunes. This is usually done on snowboard-like equipment. So, really, you’re not actually sandboarding Cerro Negro, you’re volcano boarding!
But, there are actually two different ways to do Nicaragua volcano boarding! The most popular choice involves sitting on the board and sliding down Cerro Negro. This is what Beck and I did, and really enjoyed it! For those with snowboarding or sandboarding experience, there’s an option to volcano board down on a modified snowboard. This is also known as Cerro Negro volcano surfing.
Most Cerro Negro tours offer both options. But, you’ll find the majority of people choose to sit and slide down Cerro Negro! After all, this option is much easier. You’ll spend more time on your board, enjoying the ride.
Personally, Beck and I noticed most people who chose to do Cerro Negro surfing spent most of their time falling over. Even if you’re a decent snowboarder, volcano boarding is unique and presents its own challenges to master. On most Cerro Negro tours, you only get one ride down. So, we think, it’s best to choose the easier option that’s quicker to master. That way, you’ll stay on your board for longer. This will ensure you have the best Nicaragua volcano boarding experience!
Cerro Negro Hike and Volcano Boarding Preview
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 3.5 km
- Time: 2–3 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 220m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Cerro Negro Car Park
- Map: Wikiloc
Before your epic Nicaragua volcano boarding experience begins, you’ll need to do some hiking! Thankfully, the Cerro Negro hike is simple and straightforward. Unlike other volcano hikes in Nicaragua (Momotombo, San Cristobal, Concepcion, etc.), the Cerro Negro trail is sturdy and stable underfoot. It only takes around 30–45 minutes to hike up Cerro Negro and explore the crater. After that, the rest of your time is dedicated to volcano boarding.
As part of the volcano boarding experience, you’ll first need time to put on your safety equipment. You’ll then either wait your turn to board. Or, wait for others to finish. Then, you’ll hike back to the car park at the base of the volcano. So, all in all, you’ll spend around 3 hours at Cerro Negro. For a general idea of the Cerro Negro hike and where the volcano boarding takes place, check out the map below.
As you can see from the image below, the hike occurs in an anti-clockwise direction. Once you’ve reached the top of Cerro Negro, you’ll volcano board down the smooth south-western slope.
Cerro Negro Hike
From the Cerro Negro Car Park, you’ll collect your volcano board and safety gear. Then, the hiking begins. From the car park, you’ll enjoy great views of Cerro Negro. It’s not a classically shaped volcano like Momotombo or Concepcion. But, as the name suggests, it’s shaped more like a small mountain or hill. But, don’t let that fool you. As you join the rocky and gradually ascending trail, you’ll soon see that Cerro Negro is indeed a spectacular volcano. And, an active one at that!
After the initial climb, you’ll arrive at a small flat section of the Cerro Negro hike. The views of the surrounding landscape are amazing. El Hoyo Volcano is easy to spot close by. Beck and I would actually hike this volcano after volcano boarding at Cerro Negro. You can read more about the combined Cerro Negro, El Hoyo and Asososca Lagoon tour below.
After enjoying views of the colourful crater, you’ll begin to ascend once more up the Cerro Negro hiking trail. Admittedly, with strong winds, it can be difficult to carry the board and maintain a straight line hiking. Just make sure you’re not hiking too close to the edge!
Soon enough, you’ll reach the summit of Cerro Negro. The trail almost immediately leads to the starting point for the volcano boarding. But, before you take on Nicaragua volcano boarding, continue hiking in an anti-clockwise direction around the wide crater rim track. You’ll soon reach an area of geothermal activity. If you dig a little through the volcanic ash, you’ll find it’s amazingly warm. This is really cool to check out. Plus, the views of the crater and surrounding landscape are unbeatable from here.
It’s Time For Cerro Negro Volcano Boarding
After completing the Cerro Negro hike, it’s time to suit up for volcano boarding. In a vivid green onesie, thick yellow gloves, goggles, a multi-use gaiter and bright orange helmet, Beck and I went for it! Beck was feeling particularly brave, volunteering to go first. Again, similar to hiking Momotombo Volcano, Beck showed me up. Taking it slow and steady on our short warm-up run, Beck found her groove, ready for the main plunge down the side of the volcano. I, on the other hand, went full guns blazing, falling off my board. At least, I learned my lesson before the main ride.
For the main event, Beck and I decided to take off at a similar time. Admittedly, given the steepness of the volcano, we were both a bit tentative to begin. But, after having greater control of the board than expected, we both went as fast as we could. Congrats to Beck – she was triumphant in beating me down Cerro Negro. But, of course, I’ll claim to be a gentleman – ladies first! At least, we both managed to remain on our boards the entire ride and survived to tell the tale!
Once you’ve finished volcano boarding, it’s time to return your gear and head back to the car park.
Nicaragua Volcano Boarding Recap
Volcano boarding at Cerro Negro in Nicaragua is one hell of an experience. Of course, Beck and I are all about hiking. So, we were just pleased with the stunning Cerro Negro hike on its own. But, admittedly, the volcano boarding will go down as the highlight of the Cerro Negro tour.
Cerro Negro Tours
For the best Nicaragua volcano boarding experience, we recommend doing a Cerro Negro tour. Most tours will organise roundtrip transportation to and from Leon. These tours usually depart Leon at 8 or 9am. They’ll provide you with all of your volcano boarding equipment and a tour guide will help you put it all on. Some even provide snacks and drinks. Cerro Negro tours generally cover the entrance fee, which is $5USD. Volcano boarding tour costs are usually $30USD. The most popular Cerro Negro tour operators are Bigfoot Hostel, Volcano Day and Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels.
Most people choose to do volcano boarding group tours with Bigfoot Hostel and Volcano Day. Bigfoot Hostel have the reputation for creating the activity. Whilst, Volcano Day are huge on marketing and has a great presence online. But, the downside to these group tours is that they’re usually heaving with people. Plus, they’re run by international volunteers, who don’t know much else about Cerro Negro or Nicaragua, compared with locals. That’s why we chose to volcano board with Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels.
Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels may not have a flashy website. But, their tours are run by passionate locals, who know a lot about Cerro Negro. They also provide work to locals, which helps these communities. We had an awesome experience volcano boarding with Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels.
Compared with other tour companies, they offer roundtrip transportation from your accommodation in Leon. Their group sizes are small or tailored to private groups. Plus, they also provide more safety equipment. Most other companies won’t provide a helmet! Thanks Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels for protecting our brains whilst we volcano boarded! More on safety here.
Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels Cerro Negro Tour Costs
For all of these extra benefits described above, the Cerro Negro tour offered by Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels is quite reasonably priced compared with group tours offered by other companies. The prices are as follows:
- $30USD/person for a private group of four
- $35USD/person for a private group of three
- $45USD/person for a private group of two
For these options listed, there’s a limited time offer, whereby, if you’re in a group with others and not doing a private tour, you’ll receive a $5USD discount. For example, if four people individually joined the tour, it would be $25USD each. So, if the offer is running when you’re in Nicaragua, this option is actually the cheapest Cerro Negro tour in Leon! Anyway, the tour runs twice daily, departing from Leon at either 7am or 2pm.
FYI – if you don’t wish to volcano board, you can simply just do the Cerro Negro hike. To do this option, it’s $5USD cheaper for any of the options listed above.
Our Cerro Negro Tour Recommendation
We highly recommend combining your Nicaragua volcano boarding experience with other nearby adventures. A Cerro Negro tour is generally just a half-day activity. So, why not explore some other volcanoes nearby? To make the most of our time in Nicaragua, Beck and I combined Cerro Negro volcano boarding with El Hoyo hiking/camping and hiking Asososca Volcano/Lagoon (guides coming goon).
The Cerro Negro, El Hoyo and Asososca tour is a two-day affair. This involves volcano boarding at Cerro Negro in the morning and then being driven to the El Hoyo Volcano trailhead. You’ll then hike up El Hoyo in the afternoon and camp there overnight. The sunset and sunrise from the summit of El Hoyo is incredible.
After enjoying sunrise, you’ll then hike down El Hoyo, towards Asososca Lagoon. You then have two options: continue to Asososca Lagoon for a swim. Or, hike up Asososca Volcano, and then go to Asososca Lagoon. Of course, being hiking enthusiasts, we chose to hike Asososca Volcano and then went to the lagoon afterwards. Besides, Asososca Volcano provides the best views of the lagoon.
Cerro Negro, El Hoyo and Asososca Two-Day Tour Costs
We did the Cerro Negro, El Hoyo and Asososca Lagoon two-day tour, with Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels. They took care of everything, including roundtrip transportation from Leon, camping equipment, food and all of the entrance fees. Here are the costs for the two-day tour without the Asososca Volcano hike:
- $105USD per person for a group of two
- $90USD per person for a group of three
- $80USD per person for a group of four
To include the Asososca Volcano hike, it’s $10USD extra per person.
To book this two-day tour or just the Cerro Negro tour, simply contact Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels on Whatsapp (+505 8993 3714) or on their office landline (+505 2311 0748). Otherwise, drop into their office in Leon to find out more information. Feel free to check them out on Facebook and Instagram.
Getting to Cerro Negro Independently
A Cerro Negro tour is a cheap and convenient way to experience Nicaragua volcano boarding. But, it’s actually possible to visit independently. Although, we don’t recommend this option because it’s very time-consuming and involves a lot more uninspiring walking. Plus, for all the time and effort, the savings are hard to justify.
But, if you’re a super budget traveller, follow these steps. From Leon, jump on a chicken bus to Rota. It should take around one hour and costs approx. $1USD, each way. From Rota, you’ll need to walk around 4km to the El Hoyo visitor centre. This should take around 1.5 hours. At the visitor centre, you’ll pay the $5USD entrance fee. Renting the volcano board and safety gear is $10USD. No helmet is available. You don’t need to hire a local guide or organise in advance. Just rock up and you’re all set for Nicaragua volcano boarding!
Other than a saving of around $13USD, the main benefit of visiting independently is being able to have multiple goes! On Cerro Negro tours, you only get one ride down the volcano. But, without a group tour holding you back, you can board down again and again. Although, each additional round means another hike up Cerro Negro!
FYI – if you just wanted to hike Cerro Negro in Leon without boarding, you can repeat the steps above, but skip going to the visitor centre. That way, your Cerro Negro hike will start and end from Rota.
Nicaragua Volcano Boarding History
So, when was volcano boarding invented? The old story goes that an Australian by the name of Daryn Webb invented the activity in the early 2000s. Apparently, he had experimented with boarding down Cerro Negro with picnic tables and even mattresses! Eventually, they figured a toboggan made of metal and plywood was the way to go! Once they figured the board, it’s said that volcano boarding was born at Cerro Negro in Leon.
This is the popular story. But, we’ve also heard that locals had been volcano boarding Cerro Negro for years prior to this. Locals had been doing this activity and variations of it with different types of boards made from all sorts of materials.
It’s very likely that this clever Aussie was the first to market it, making it a tourist attraction. Fair play to him. Nicaragua volcano boarding is now world-famous!
Cerro Negro Volcano Facts
- Is Cerro Negro active? Yes, Cerro Negro is an active volcano.
- The Cerro Negro Volcano Type: Cerro Negro is a stratovolcano.
- Cerro Negro Volcano Last Eruption: The most recent Cerro Negro eruption was in 1995.
- Cerro Negro Meaning: Cerro Negro translates to Black Hill, which is fairly self-explanatory.
- Other Leon Nicaragua Volcanoes: the Marrabios (Marabios) volcanic chain are a group of volcanoes located near Leon. The main volcanoes include San Cristobal, Pilas, Telica, Cerro Negro, El Hoyo, El Chonco, Casita, Santa Clara, Rota, and Momotombo volcanoes.
- Volcano boarding deaths: 0 – there have been no reported deaths.
A Word on Safety
Of course, Nicaragua volcano boarding comes with risks. Travelling down a volcano on a small board at speeds of up to 100km/hour means there’s a chance you can hurt yourself. Admittedly, most people only reach speeds of around 30–60km/hour. But, that’s still really quick!
Even with all of the safety gear, the most common injuries are from people falling, scratching and cutting their faces. Sure, this isn’t life-threatening. But, untreated infections of these scratches and cuts could be! There’s also the risk of concussion and whiplash from falling and hitting your head. Given this day and age, it astounds me that the popular tour companies don’t offer a helmet. Without a doubt, do yourself a favour and choose a tour company that offers a helmet!
There’s also the chance of sustaining a number of different injuries from falling at high speeds. No need to list these. But, fortunately, with a good technique, you can reduce your chance of falling and hurting yourself.
How to Volcano Board Cerro Negro: The Technique
Thankfully, your tour guide will explain the proper technique to keep you safe. But, it’s good to know about the best technique before you go! We didn’t do any Cerro Negro surfing. So, we can’t comment on that. But, we can detail the proper technique for the most popular option of sitting and sliding down the volcano. Basically, there are two things to consider – speed and turning.
- Speed: the closer your feet are to your bum (the more you bend your knees with your feet rested on the board), the quicker you’ll go! Straighten your legs and rest them on the board to go slower. Or, you can dig your heels in to slow down more abruptly, but – BOTH FEET AT THE SAME TIME! Otherwise, you’ll abruptly turn direction and fall.
- Turning: controlling the board is very similar to controlling a kayak or canoe. Use one of your hands to re-straighten if needed. For example, if your board is veering to the right, use your left hand to re-straighten. The other hand will grip the board rope, which helps you stay seated on the board and also steer, but to a lesser degree.
Where to Stay in Leon Nicaragua
Leon is a popular tourist destination in Nicaragua. With the option of volcano boarding near Leon, you can expect plenty of accommodation options. So, to experience volcano boarding, let’s find you somewhere to stay in Leon.
For those savvy travellers, here are the two most budget-friendly hostels in Leon for volcano boarding:
- Volcano Hostel: offering a pool and shared lounge, there are a lot of perks for staying at Volcano Hostel. Most budget travellers stay here to save cash. They’re often taken aback at how nice this hostel is given the low price. It’s also a great base for volcano boarding from Leon.
- Hostal Lazybones: another backpacker’s favourite is Hostal Lazybones. Similar to Volcano Hostel, this hostel is a great base in Leon for volcano boarding. Included during your hostel stay here is a bar, pool table, shared lounge, garden and pool. Better yet, it’s very affordable!
For private room options in Leon, here are the two best mid-range hotel/guesthouse options:
- Hotel Casa Blanca: Beck and I really enjoyed our stay here. This hotel is located on the outskirts of town in a quiet and seemingly residential area. Unlike most other hotels in Leon, there are shared kitchen facilities, including a fridge. The rooms were spacious, with two fans and A/C included at an additional cost. Hotel Casa Blanca hasn’t been around for a long time. But, the hosts know how to make you feel comfortable!
- Al Sole Guesthouse: this guesthouse is one of the most highly-rated accommodation options in town. After volcano boarding, you’ll have a great night’s sleep in these comfortable and spacious rooms in Leon. With a pool, shared lounge and garden, there’s ample space to relax and enjoy your time here.
What to Wear and Pack For Nicaragua Volcano Boarding
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
By doing a Cerro Negro tour, you’ll be provided with all of the safety gear. But, you should also pack a gaiter, water, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.
For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Or, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Pay an extra $5USD for someone else to carry your board and gear up Cerro Negro: Fun ‘N’ Sun Travels offer this extra perk to make the Cerro Negro hike easier and safer. The extra cost goes towards helping the local economy!
- Best volcano to visit in Nicaragua: other than Cerro Negro, we think the best volcanoes to visit are Momotombo, San Cristobal and Concepcion.
- Travel Insurance: given the potential for injury from volcano boarding in Leon, you’ll want travel insurance. We recommend SafetyWing as a reliable and trustworthy provider.
Have you done any activities more daring in South or North America? Let us know in the comments below.