Volcano Boarding Is Just Slightly Insane

Cerro Negro Nicaragua Volcano Hike
Marching Up the Volcano
Leon, Nicaragua

Racing down an active volcano at 30 mph on a little piece of wood is really fun! But volcano boarding can also be a bit dangerous, as I was about to find out.

Crashing into sharp volcanic rocks at that speed will leave a mark (or ten).

Cerro Negro (Black Hill) is an active volcano outside of Leon, Nicaragua. It’s a relatively new one at only 161 years old. Because the cone is primarily made up of small penny-sized grains of volcanic rock, it’s possible to ride or surf down the steep slope on a wooden sled.

Hiking The Volcano

To start this adventure, we strapped boards to our backs and began to ascend the 2388 ft. (728 m) black mountain of loose rock. The hike up lasts about 45 minuets.

The day was extremely windy which made for a refreshing hike without too much sweating on this black natural oven. But when we approached the top the wind became TOO strong!

Our boards began acting like sails, the wind pushing us all over the place like rag-dolls. The whole group had to hit the deck to avoid getting swept off the top all together.

I’ve never felt so much wind before!

After several minutes hugging the ground, the gusts finally died down and we were able to continue to the “drop zone“.

Cerro Negro Volcano Nicaragua
Active Volcanic Crater

Volcano Boarding For Dummies

There are two different ways to go volcano boarding. You can stand up like on a snowboard, or you can sit down like on a sled.

Standing up may look cooler for photos, but in reality it actually sucks.

You can’t make turns like on a snowboard and you move slower than if you ride it like a sled.

At one point I tried to stand up on the board for a bit, but it was not nearly as fun. When sitting down, your center of gravity is lower and concentrated on the back of the board, creating less friction with the ground and resulting in more speed.

Volcanic rocks are not as slippery as snowflakes, there’s a lot more friction to deal with.

Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro Nicaragua
See You at the Bottom!

Wooden Sled Construction

The volcano boards have a rope in front for your hands as you lean back for maximum speed. You can’t really control your direction with the rope though, it’s only for stability. The bottom of the wooden sled is covered with a thin layer of metal.

There is also a piece of formica plastic glued to the metal which reduces even more friction and gives you extra speed. This plastic needs to be replaced every day, as it burns right off after 1 or 2 runs.

Everyone is given a one-piece suit for crash protection. You also get protective googles and leather work gloves for the same purpose.

While the volcanic stones are very lightweight and easy to break apart, they are also very sharp. They can tear holes in clothing or skin pretty easily without the protective gear.

Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro Nicaragua
Volcano Boarding Race

The Need for Speed!

The slope you ride down is much steeper and longer than you first imagine. In fact it’s quite intimidating.

Of course it doesn’t need to be that scary, because you’re always able to put your feet down and control your speed at any time.

But I was on a mission to go as fast as humanly possible!

So after mentally preparing myself, I sat on my board, grabbed the rope, leaned way back, and off I went!

Starting slowly but quickly building speed as the slope reached a steep 41 degrees. Volcanic pebbles were kicked up into my face. I didn’t feel any pain though, due to the adrenaline rush of speeding down the side of a volcano!

The world became a blur as my volcano sled raced down the mountainside.

But then I lost control…

The volcano board started to turn sideways on me, and to compensate I finally put a foot down. Big mistake! I was going too fast at that point, and when my foot hit the ground I launched forward and sideways, slamming into the rocks face-first.

Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro Nicaragua
Adventure Travel Battle Wounds

The Crash

Volcanic rock is not as forgiving as snow or sand. I found this out the hard way. When I finally stopped rolling down the slope, I realized my bald head felt hot & wet. Was that blood running down my scalp?

I checked to make sure all my parts were still working, located my board, and continued racing down the mountain. I was fine, just a bit more dirty and bloody then when I’d started this crazy adventure.

At the bottom we walked back to the truck and ate Volcano Burritos that had been freshly cooked inside the volcano itself! A hole had been dug at the summit, and a metal box containing the food was buried there. The heat from the volcano had cooked the burritos.

Now it was time to hike back up and do it all over again. ★

Watch Video: Volcano Boarding Nicaragua

(Click to watch Volcano Boarding – Nicaragua (CRASH) on YouTube)

Travel Planning Resources for León, Nicaragua
Company: Quetzaltrekkers Nicaragua
Cost: $30 US (all profits donated to charity)

Packing Guide

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Protect Your Trip

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I hope you enjoyed my guide on Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Is volcano boarding something you’d like to try? Let me know in the comments below!


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (49)

  1. I think I’d like to try it but I’m a bit of a chicken :) so I’m not sure if I’d be able for it or not. The hike wouldn’t be an issue it’s the speeding down the hill at the speed of light completely out of control bit that worries me slightly lol.

  2. My daughter just did this and wasn’t as lucky as you. She dislocated her shoulder. The experience cost her $800 at the hospital. + allergic reaction to the painkillers they gave her and her face has swollen out like muppet features.
    Well she took all the advice B4 going and got World Nomads. I’m sure they’ll wriggle outa paying any claim.

    • Oh no!!! So sorry to hear that. It’s definitely a dangerous activity, even with protective clothing. Not as forgiving as sledding in snow…

  3. I went and the author is on point. It’s a blast! Some additional advice from a guy to dared to hit this at 40 MPH (by choice, you don’t have to). Bring a dust mask, bandana and a hoodie with a drawstring on the hood. Cover all skin, the ash is like sandpaper that will grind the epidermis off. As long as skin is covered with a durable fabric you’ll be fine. Bring duct tape and tape sleeves to gloves and pant legs to socks. This was the root of my wardrobe malfunction, my sleeve rode up and exposed my forearm in a crash. My exposed forearm didn’t do well. Speaking of crashing, the ash is rather soft but sandpaper like. You don’t slide on this stuff like snow or sand, you roll. Don’t resist the roll. If you’re off your sled there is no avoiding it. Bring road rash first aid supplies as “volcano rash” (like the unfortunate pic in the article) is the most common injury. A local showed me the best treatment. Smear raw manuka honey on the volcano rash. You’ll need to bring that, it’s not available locally. It’s anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-inflamatory. It will make the rash ooze and sweat out all the ash from the wound. MUCH less painful and more effective than soap and water. This prevents the “tatooing” that can happen if it heals without all the black ash removed. Once it oozes clean rinse and reapply the raw manuka honey and let it dry. Rinse one last time (likely the next day) and apply a Tegaderm transparent dressing. Change the Tegaderm if a blister of non-healthy colored fluid forms underneath (which shouldn’t happen because of the raw manuka honey) otherwise leave it there. Skin will heal in a couple days with no scarring or tatooing. Tegaderm will fall off on its own when its ready. It may sound holistic, tree-huggery but after trying raw manuka honey when I had limited treatment options it’s now my go-to for burns and abrasions. It works really well.

  4. Looks like you had a great time! I’m going to Nicaragua in a few months and I wanted to do this. I was just wondering, if anyone took any photos of you or do they not offer this service? And how far away is this from central Leon?

  5. Baldy went for the gusto. I see you say that it “sucks” to try standing up. I find that hard to believe, but I guess I’ll find out when I go in a couple weeks.

    • I did this the past summer. The issue with standing up is that you cannot ‘cut’ like you do with snow or sand. That means that you can slide for a while at an angle, and then to change direction you must fall over, re-direct, and slide again. It takes forever and doesn’t actually look that fun.

    • Because I haven’t spend years living next to an erupting volcano. There was no visible ash in the air. Risk of what you’re linking to is pretty minimal. Frankly, living in a major US city would probably be more dangerous to my lungs then an afternoon here. A volcano can be active without erupting ash into the air on a regular basis — like this one.

  6. Hi Matthew,
    nice video! We did this too last summer during our Nicaraguan tour. It sure was epic fun! But how your sunglasses survived? I remember how much rocks were flying at me and I was glad I used the protective mask Quetzaltrekkers provided, otherwise I think it would’ve been the end of my Oakley’s. :D

  7. I live in a town about two hours from León. My sister and mom are coming to visit- to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday! They both want to do this- my mom’s pretty active, but I’m thinking this is too risky for her. Matthew or readers: Opinions? Anyone 75+ who has done this? (I don’t recommend anyone having a medical emergency in Nicaragua if they can help it)

  8. Really cool! Did you have a Gopro on the front of your sled facing you and one facing out? Do you create these videos yourself? This one is really impressive!

  9. I’m going this morning, but wish I hadn’t seen your video and read about the girl in the Comments below who broke her ankle! I still can’t figure out how everyone who brings a backpack and nice cameras gets them down if they go on the sleighs. Do the guides carry that stuff back for you?

    • It’s really not that bad if you control yourself, which is easy to do with your feet. At least up until a point. But if you go gangbusters, it can get a bit wild.

      Some people prefer to run down. Maybe you could get one of them to bring your stuff? But really, everyone I was with just risked it. I burned a hole in my backpack when I leaned back. Make sure to bring extra padding (towel, shirts, etc.) to wrap a camera in. Can’t wait to see the photos or video!

      • I ended up packing light (no backpack), and whatever we had with us at the top (empty water bottle), we just put in the bags we used to carry our suits up, and hung it around our neck. I kept my iPhone in a Lifeproof case, and kept that in my pocket. Others with backpacks for their cameras had to position them between their legs.

        The fastest guy from our group hit around 75km/h, then wiped out hard and lost his glasses. Amazingly, he ran back up and found them. The fastest girls were on the 2-person sled, and also went 75, and wiped out hard too.

        Watching them tumble, I wondered if our guide had any medical training. I know a lot of people have broken bones over the years (like your reader who broke her ankle). I didn’t mind playing it safe, it was still a lot of fun.

        And yes, you can do a walking tour and skip the whole boarding thing. I saw a group running down the volcano before we started our hike up it.

  10. Sorry dude… I have to admit I laughed my ass off when you screamed “holy shit !”. What a ride ! Keep that strong spine.

  11. Matt, I think you have bigger huevos than I ! We did the hike up Cerro Negro 5 years ago but when we got to the top, the downward slope seemed so steep that it freaked us out. We gingerly walked down !

    • I completely understand Daniel. That slope is much longer and steeper than I thought it would be…

      But I was on a mission. :)

  12. Looks like you were speeding pretty fast before that crash! No helmets or safety pads? Excellent job with all the angles and video editing too.

  13. Yep, from that killer wipeout I had! I bought some crutches and continued on the rest of my trip. When I finally got home, I had numerous x-rays & an MRI then got sent to a specialist who tells me I fractured the cartilidge inside my ankle bone and tore a couple tendons. Its quite painful! So much fun but something like this would happen to me haha. I wish you would’ve caught my fall on tape! I would love to see it from a spectator’s view!

  14. I’m still being haunted by Cerro Negro! Matthew, remember the girl who had to hop around on one foot with the banged up leg/ ankle staying at the Tortuga hostel with you?? Thats me! haha. Back home, waiting on surgery still! Hope your travels went well! :)

  15. Looks like you had such a great time! I didn’t pick up nearly as much speed as you did but I’d happily do it again!

    Thanks for sharing!

  16. Yes, I will go sliding down a hill side of sharp volcanic rock. Yes, I will bleed. yes, I will love my scars…like i’m sure you do!! Must’ve been a great ride!

  17. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing when I read the discretion about the lost control part. I could imagine a person slamming a rock. Very amazing.

  18. That looks seriously awesome! Despite the battle wounds, I would still be tempted to have a go (and maybe be a bit wimpy and go a bit slower than you!) :)

  19. OUCH!!!!

    I love sledding, I couldn’t get enough of it in Bergün, but I’ve never tried it on rocks, let alone on a volcano!

  20. A hike of 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. You’ve never hiked with the “Busy Bees” have you?
    You’re quite lucky. Your scars are nothing compared to mine. I endured mental scarring. That’s worse. They are only healed by homemade pies, which I haven’t seen yet. I hope you never have to encounter those two. You’d better send a machete home for me.