I had arrived in the cultural city of Leon in Nicaragua just at the right time. I was still high on adrenaline from completing my Advanced Open Water Diving Course in Honduras and just felt like I wanted to do something crazy. We'd had such a long bus journey from the island of Utila and had been looking forward to Nicaragua for so long that it was time to enter the country with a bang.
When Stu mentioned about volcano boarding, I was shocked I had never even heard about it. How is this a thing? Who made this up? I simply couldn't imagine it being done. I knew one thing for sure though, it was exactly the activity we were in the mood for.
THE LAND OF LAKES AND VOLCANOES
Nicaragua is known for it's stunning lakes, warm lagoons and impressive volcanoes. Home to 19 volcanoes (many of those still active) - it's one of the best places in the world to experience these natural fiery wonders. Eight of these reside near Leon (two of which last erupted only in 2015!) making it the perfect city to jot down to your bucket list.
One of the most interesting volcanoes in the area is Cerro Negro. Last erupting in 1999, this ashy 'Black Hill' is the youngest of all volcanoes in Central America. This is the place where dozens of travellers get to hike to the summit and then make their own (very thrilling) way down -- by board!
CHOOSING THE COMPANY: VOLCANO DAY
Multiple companies can be found on the streets of Leon but I strongly recommend the company I went for -- Volcano Day.
Not only do they offer volcano boarding day trips but also other volcano experiences from sunset hiking to overnight camping trips! Their shop is located on one of the main streets next to Via Via Hostel and Big Foot Hostel.
1 Morning Trip (8am-1pm) Volcano Boarding: $30
Included: Transport - Entrance Fee - English Speaking Tour Guide - Snacks - Protection Clothing / Gear (Jumpsuit, Goggles, Gloves plus a Bag to carry it in) - Board - 1 free (very cold) beer - 1 free t-shirt
What to Bring: WATER - Bandana (to cover your face) - Appropriate Shoes / Hiking Boots - Sunscreen - Sunglasses - Action Camera (GoPro)
Do Not Take: Your main / proper Camera (it will only get damaged)
These guys know what they're doing and I can guarantee you will have a fantastic trip with them. Not only is there a guide to explain about the volcano itself and 'train' you on how to board down properly but there are also volunteers there to help out and answer questions. Take any belongings you wish but be prepared you will most likely be asked to leave your rucksack in the vehicle that's taken everyone to the starting point of the hike (we were told there's been no known theft taken place).
This is because what goes up must come down. Anything you take up to the summit must travel back down again with you so there is no point taking your passport, large camera, phone etc unless you want to risk damaging it or breaking it altogether. GoPro's are built to survive this type of stuff so it's fine to take and I actually kept my phone in my bra which ended up ok but the choice is yours. The company capture brilliant photos throughout the day of everyone and upload them to Facebook so you can save them from there for free!
You also want a company that provides good quality protective gear and a proper board. This is because you will pick up speed dramatically and therefore catch the tiny volcanic fragments that fly at you EVERYWHERE (inside shoes, within hair). It can be dangerous so it's really important to wear your jumpsuit, goggles, gloves and bandana like what is advised. You don't want to get the sharp dust in your eyes, mouth or up your nose.
MY VOLCANO BOARDING EXPERIENCE
It was mainly excitement and the happiness of trying out something new that took over me the morning of volcano boarding. We were picked up early by one of the volunteers while we were still having breakfast. I would definitely recommend doing the morning tour opposed to the afternoon as it can get extremely hot. We were first taken to the office in town and briefed on our day ahead. This is a good time to purchase a bandana if you don't have one already and to get water if need be.
The two trucks were loaded with passengers and then we made our way on the hour journey to the volcano. It was a really bumpy ride making it extremely uncomfortable along with the heat and how crammed in everyone was. We passed loads of local farmers and wandering cattle as well as bison's with carts (which we had to stop for to let pass). It did feel good to get a break at the registry office. Here you have to sign your name and can use the toilet and buy any more water or snacks.
Next the trucks took us to the starting point of the hike and we were given the small backpacks to carry our jumpsuit, goggles, bandana, water, gloves and GoPro in. Here, we were given the chance to pay a local $5 to carry our boards for us, if we chose not to, we would carry them ourselves which most ended up deciding to do. I reluctantly left my own rucksack in the truck with everyone else which included my Canon camera and passport. I hated having to leave such stuff unattended but we were reassured nothing had ever been taken.
Then, it was time to make our way up Cerro Negro! The ascent wasn't too bad to begin with as we stopped regularly to learn about the volcano and it wasn't as steep as I had expected. We had been told to carry our boards like a surfboard which was easy at first but started to become a little draining. As we made good progress the views started to get so interesting. Two craters were visible and the contrast between the green landscape and the black volcano that surrounded us was beautiful. After around 15 minutes of hiking, the path ahead became rockier, steeper and a little slippy. As we got closer the rocks started to change colours, there was a blend of browns, blacks and grey formations all around us. It was here we could see smoke and could smell the volcanic gases being released which proved the volcano was still alive and active - so cool!