25 Kilometers northeast of the colonial city León, lies Volcan Cerro Negro. This volcano is one of the younger volcanoes in the area (less than 200 years old), but also one of the most unique. Thanks to a 1999 eruption and constant volcanic activity, Cerro Negro lacks any vegetation and is covered almost entirely in black volcanic ash. Though only 400 meters high, the hike is slightly challenging as there is no paved path, only loose rock and ash along the rim of the crater. Even then, the hike takes just 45 minutes and rewards you with spectacular 360 degree views that include volcanoes Momotombo, El Hoyo, Telica, and San Cristóbal.
Just as incredible as the views is the descent that awaits you once you reach the top. If you are so inclined, visitors can hike up with a long wooden board and then ride it down the other side. The volcanic ash and rock makes for an incredibly fast ride down the volcano. We jumped at the opportunity to try this and were not disappointed. The ride down lasted no more than 60 seconds and was unbelievable. Going first, I failed to pay attention to the braking instructions and flew down the side of the volcano at warp speeds, only to wipe out (twice)! I have the war wounds to show off including some nasty looking road rash (or in this case, lava rash) down both forearms. I’m still picking ash and rocks out of my ears. Nevertheless, this experience is unlike any other and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an adventure.
My understanding is that a number of tour companies, operating out of León, can set you up with a tour to Cerro Negro. I have heard they are all quite reliable, including Tierra Tour and Va Pues; however, I cannot speak personally to their service. We were lucky enough to go with a friend who had been boarding before, so we drove ourselves to the base of the volcano, where there is a small building renting out boards.
Some helpful tips if you decide to visit Cerro Negro:
-Wear sneakers or hiking boots, as well as long pants. You might even consider a long sleeve shirt to protect your arms should you roll off the board!
-Consider bringing a handkerchief or another clothing item that you can wrap around your face.
-For the same reason, wear sunglasses to keep the rocks and ash out of your eyes.
-Bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
UPDATE: Volcano Boarding was recently featured in the New York Times travel section.