Hiking, wading and floating through Nicaragua’s Somoto Canyon
Somoto Canyon National Monument, to give it its full title, is a huge gorge located in the northwest corner of Nicaragua. Reportedly one of oldest rock formations in Central America, the canyon is only 55km from the Honduran border and 60km from the cigar-producing town of Esteli. In our opinion, floating through Somoto Canyon is a ‘must do’ experience if you are in this part of the country.
There are two options for visiting the canyon. One is to stay in the small town of Somoto and arrange a visit from there; this definitely makes sense if you are intending to cross the border into Honduras following your visit. The other option is to undertake a day trip to the canyon from Esteli itself. Tree Huggers are one of the best outfits in Esteli through which to book an excursion. Their price (currently US$25 per person for the 6km circuit) does not include transport from Esteli however. All you need to know about local buses to/from Somoto town is on their website and the journey time is in the region of 1½ hours in each direction.
Upon arrival in Somoto, we sourced a nice place to stay (Hotel El Rosario) and then found the office of Cosermuturma, a local travel company that offers trips to the canyon and which is recommended by Lonely Planet. This didn’t take us long (Somoto is a small town) and after a quick chat with the staff, we signed up for the 6km circuit through the canyon (*) for the following morning.
(*) There are three options for day trips into the canyon. The first is a 12km circuit that takes approximately 6 hours. The second (and most popular) option is the 6km circuit that lasts around 4 hours and the last option involved being paddled up to the gorge by small boat, from where you float back downstream in an inflatable tube. The last option is pretty tame and doesn’t involve any wading, jumping and hiking in the canyon itself. As a general point, any excursion is not advisable in the rainy season (September and October).
The Cosermuerma excursion price of US$25 per person (which is the same as booking it through Tree Huggers in Esteli) includes a taxi to the starting point of the excursion (about 5km from town), the canyon entrance fee, the services of a local guide, a life jacket, the boat trip at the end of the excursion and a dry bag for your camera and whatever else you want to take with you. Make sure you wear appropriate footwear; Teva sandals or trainers, for example, are a good option, and also wear lots of sunscreen, and take plenty of water. The price doesn’t include the return taxi fare as there is the option to take a local bus if one passes by.
We were a group of four and after our arrival at the start point by taxi, we hiked on land for about 15 minutes until we reached the river. We then walked along the riverbed for a while until it was time to jump into the water. It wasn’t too cold and we spent the next 3 hours or so floating on our backs using the life jackets to keep us afloat, swimming, scrambling and wading our way downstream.
In parts it was a little tricky and necessary to clamber up onto dry land before jumping back into the river. The ‘jumping back into the river’ bit was normally feet first but there was one instance when feet first meant a run and jump over a big boulder. The three guys in the group did exactly this but Kirsty, after a bit of psyching up and with no consultation with the rest of us, decided to dive over the said boulder head first into the rapids. The rest of us were a little stunned by this decision but she was OK and we continued down the river with no more incidents or moments of madness.
In places, it was possible to get out of the river and climb up rocky outcrops with the intention of throwing yourself off said rocky outcrop back into the water again. Some of the cliffs I climbed were high and a bit out of my comfort zone but I didn’t realise that until I’d got to the top of them. By this time you had no choice but to jump as going back the way you came wasn’t an option. Anyway, I survived and the jumping was good fun. I was only thankful that Kirsty didn’t want to give it a try; she would have probably tried to dive in headfirst!
Mark’s Somoto Canyon jump
The experience ended with a 15-minute boat ride back through picturesque countryside (it goes without saying that the canyon itself is extremely scenic) to the shores of the river and a 10-minute walk back to the main road from where you can pick up transport (a bus or a taxi) back to town.
The whole thing was great fun and along with our zip wire excursion in Costa Rica, was one of the most exhilarating activities we embarked upon in Central America. We didn’t take too many photos as getting the camera out of the dry bag every five minutes was a bit of a hassle but we did take a handful and some are included in this post.