Active adventure travel takes on new meaning when you’re speeding down the black rubble of an active volcano — aka ASH BOARDING, or volcano boarding. The newest darling of extreme sports was “invented” in Nicaragua when locals began plunging down the sides of volcanos on mattresses, wooden planks and, as the rumor goes, even doors and a refrigerator. Eventually, visitors began expressing an interest, which in turn helped advance both the equipment and the tourism infrastructure. Now, volcano boarding is a tourist adrenaline rush with government-approved operators, wooden boards and safety equipment.
While the hike up the ebony Cerro Negro tests some, all are rewarded with stunning views and a breathtaking ride down the youngest volcano in Central America (with more than 20 eruptions since 1850). Whether you decide to take your thrills sitting down (toboggan-style) or standing up (à la snowboarding), and whether you choose to let ’er rip (at more than 50 mph) or take it slow, here are three ways to get started:
WORTH THE MONEY
U.S.-based AUSTIN-LEHMAN ADVENTURES includes ash boarding on a number of its customizable trips to Nicaragua. Zip lining, kayaking, horseback riding, guided hiking, chocolate massages and beach fun are also on the activity menu, leading to a week of fun planned by an award-winning team working with seasoned Nicaraguan outfits. From $2,198 to $2,498 per person, www.austinlehman.com
Want to tailor your own excitement with local legacy? Once in the cities of Granada or León, nearby groups vie for your volcano mojo.
TIERRA TOUR is 100 percent Nica, serving about 4,000 people every year. Its $30 fee includes bilingual guides, transportation, park fees and a short lesson, in addition to boards for sit-down or stand-up rides and safety equipment (coveralls, goggles, a helmet and pads to wear). Call for prices, www.tierratour.com
Run by volunteers, the Central American nonprofit QUETZALTREKKERS focuses on volcano treks whose profits go to helping at-risk Nicaraguan children. Based in León, the group can combine ash boarding on Cerro Negro with trekking additional volcanoes and often lets you board down twice — if you don’t mind hiking up again. $30 (includes a T-shirt and lunch, transportation, snacks, water, equipment, park entrance fees and a guide). leon.quetzaltrekkers.org
To check out the global gestalt of boarding inexpensively with international backpackers, check into the BIGFOOT HOSTEL in León. The hostel was founded in 2005 by sand-boarder Australian Darryn Webb, who helped popularize ash boarding. Private rooms start at $15, and dorm-style beds are available for $6 a night. The hostel offers a $30 daily package that includes transportation, equipment and park fees, as well as two mojitos, beer and snacks at the hostel’s poolside bar to celebrate your ride. www.bigfoothostels.com