Nicaragua has a lot of volcanoes, many of them still active. If you end up in the colonial city of Leon in the north, people will definitely try to sell you tours either climbing up one of the many volcanoes or boarding down Cerro Negro. Apparently this activity is number two on CNN’s must do before you die list – or so they tell you.
The story is that a French guy tried to set the record for cycling down this volcano a number of times (breaking some bones along the way). An Aussie in Perth heard about this, sold everything and moved to Leon to figure out how he could board down it. After trying a variety of contraptions such as snowboards, refrigerators and doors (also breaking a few bones along the way), he came up with the device they use today – a variation of a sled.
We arrive at Cerro Negro after an hour-long journey piled into the back of a truck. As we look at the top, everyone is feeling a bit daunted as it looks completely vertical and is sure to be a long climb. The bottom of the volcano is also covered in chunks of rocks so I am definitely wondering how this is going to be safe.
It is hot and sticky but to be fair, the climb isn’t that bad. You have the option of carrying your own board or paying a porter $5 to do so (I paid) and the guide stops every 10 minutes to tell you some stories. When we get to the top, he explains to us different ways to ride the board down – stressing that once you commit to speed, you will not be able to slow down. Someone at the bottom is clocking your speed and you win prizes for being fast.
I was one of the last people to go down so it was interesting to watch people talk up the activity only to go down at the slowest speeds possible once they were at the top. I met a Nicaraguan family on the tour, the mother told me it was her third time volcano boarding yet she was petrified every single time. After all the anticipation, it was finally my turn.
In the briefing, they have emphasized how to find your balance on the board so once I started, I realised that is wasn’t so bad at all as long as you kept your balance. I kept going faster and faster but making sure I was comfortable. Once halfway down, you can see the bottom and you realise it is flat for a long time so you will just wash out your speed quickly. I decided to commit to it and went down pretty fast. It was fun. I clocked in at 62km/ hour and was the fastest girl on the day so I won some prizes.
It was definitely a fun day out and a good way to be touristy and conquer one of Nicaragua’s many volcanoes. Bigfoot’s tour is the most famous in the city so there were about 32 people in the truck. In hindsight, I did not need to book the tour in advance – it can be done anywhere really – and with any tour operator. I’m not really sure if it was the number 2 thing I must have completed before I died but if you are in Leon, it’s fun. You should totally try to go fast though, it’s not as bad as you think. So many people at the bottom realised that if they did it again, they would commit to the speed a bit more.