The best way to justify extending your stay in León, our favorite city in Nicaragua, is to sign up for some of the day trips and activities you can do around León including Cerro Negro volcano boarding, the Flor de Caña rum tour, the mudslide memorial at Casita Volcano, and León Viejo.
Volcano boarding down Cerro Negro
It should really be called volcano sledding, however, that’s a lot less sexy. Anyway, you huff up a steep trail for about 40 minutes, suit up in day glow coveralls in a vain attempt to keep from getting an involuntary full-body exfoliation, sit your butt down on a piece of wood, grab the “steering” rope at the front, then plummet down the black pumice-covered slopes of Cerro Negro Volcano, hopefully wearing a helmet.
Cerro Negro is an active volcano and the youngest in Central America. Time has not worn down its slopes and the thing is steep–more than a 40 degree grade in places. The volcano is 2,388 feet (728 meters) tall and it take most boarders about a minute to slide, swerve, and sometimes wipe out from top to bottom. One woman topped out at 54 miles (87 km) per hour. In 2002 “high speed specialist” Eric Barone smashed his own world record for fastest downhill speed on a bicycle when he reached 107 mph (172 kmh).
We drove to Cerro Negro but we did not go volcano boarding. However, our friend Matthew over at The Expert Vagabond did and (barely) lived to tell the tale.
Here’s our video of volcano boarders on Cerro Negro.
Flor de Caña Rum Tour
We also drove about half an hour north of León to check out the tour offered at the Flor de Caña rum distillery in Chichigalpa where we learned why Nicaragua’s years of war and revolution were good for their rum, why you might want to think twice before buying a rum made using the “Solera” method (check your labels people), and how to spot top quality stuff (hint: wash your hands with it). There’s more in our story about Flor de Caña tour.
The mudslide memorial at Casita Volcano
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch dumped 67 inches (1,700 mm) of rain on the area around the Casita Volcano triggering a massive mudslide that killed more than 2,000 people.
Now there’s a small museum on the site which includes an eerie diorama which shows the path and scope of the massive flow which came barreling down the volcano at 40 mph (65 kmph). A local man in the museum told us the slide happened in seconds.
A few months after the slide,then US President Bill Clinton toured the destruction and a plaque in honor of his visit has been placed on a boulder that rolled down the slope.
And don’t forget to visit the first León
About 20 miles (32 km) from modern León lies the site where the Spanish originally settled the city in 1524. Now called León Viejo (Old León), earthquakes forced inhabitants to abandon the area in 1610. The ruins of the city, which is one of the oldest Spanish settlements in the Americas, were excavated in 1960 and the place was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.
Here’s more about travel in Nicaragua