Tall, dark, sandy Cerro Negro (“Black Mountain”) is an active volcano outside of Leon, Nicaragua. Not exactly what you’d imagine as a recreational destination.
Before 2003, when Frenchman Eric Barone broke the mountain biking world speed record on its slopes, adventurous locals and expats had been descending the crater on body boards, surfboards… even mattresses. Before long, getting down the volcano fast became a tourist activity. By 2005, when the first metal and wood sandboard was made, Big Foot Hostel in Leon started operating regular sandboarding trips.
Now, operators run multiple tours daily, complete with protective gear, snacks, and the choice of sit-down or stand-up boards. Riders can control their speed, so it’s safe, unless they want to try to beat the current 53 mph record. However, in its history of 10,000+ riders, Tierra Tour has never had a serious injury. One tour operator, Vapues Tours, has taken riders as young as 4 and up age 78.
Operators pick up riders at their hotels in colonial Leon, which is worth a trip in its own right. Five-hour excursions cost $28 (at time of press) and include entrance to the National Park Reserva Natural Pilas el Hoyo. Forty minutes of easy walking gets you to the youngest crater. After exploring it, you continue another forty minutes to the main crater, which combines incredible views and a presentation from the guides about its formation and history before your trip down.
Photo courtesy of Vapues Tours.