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Somoto Canyon in Northern Nicaragua offers magnificent frames for an adventurous day out. Swim through Coco River that pierces this unique rock formation named as a national monument, between cliffs 120-150 meters high, and jump off from the Somoto Canyon’s cliff sides into the clear waters.
Many have been volcano boarding down the black and steep sides of Cerro Negro, but this deep canyon that was rediscovered only in 2004, near the Honduran border, still receives few tourists. Somoto Canyon national monument is Nicaragua’s relatively new, cool spot for the adventurous traveler and something not to miss!
*This post is last updated on the 15th of February, 2019.
How to Get to Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua?
Getting to Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua, is fairly easy by bus. We were riding in a pretty full ruteado (a.k.a chicken bus), heading towards the little mountain town of Somoto in northwestern Nicaragua. We boarded the bus in Estelí in the morning and it took about 2,5 hours to get to Somoto, Nicaragua.
Instead of taking a pre-arranged Somoto Canyon tour to this fantastic place, we had opted in going there by ourselves and picking up a guide when getting to the bus station of Somoto, Nicaragua. We’re not so fond of group tours and this was a certain way of avoiding them.
The chicken bus ride wasn’t exactly enjoyable and after arriving at Somoto, I ran straight to the toilet. Meanwhile, Niina caught a guide for us, a guy called Hervín who was one of the guides of the Soriano collective. They are the heads of the Somoto Canyon Tours, committed to responsible and sustainable tourism in this unique Northern landscape.
With Hervín, we took another 20-minute ruteado ride to the Soriano family house, the headquarters from where all the Somoto Canyon tours start. Their little, wooden house is not far from the Pan American highway, and you can’t miss it, because of a large sign on the roadside.
Somoto Canyon Tour – With or Without a Guide?
You can go canyoning through the Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua, also without a guide, especially if you have some previous experience from canyoning. You can just pay the 2USD entrance fee and off you go.
You may get harassed by persistent hawkers trying to make you buy a tour by telling that it’s way too dangerous to go by yourself, but that’s not true. You can do it alone, too, and it’s not particularly dangerous. Just have your common sense with you and you’ll be fine.
But I would still recommend getting a local guide. You will get so much more from the tour accompanied by the expert knowledge and stories of your guide! And, after, all, it’s just about 25USD and it will be money well spent, especially if you hire your guide without the middlemen tour agencies.
We normally tend to avoid guided tours but this was one of those times when we didn’t regret taking one. Hervín, our guide, was very professional and informative and brought his own expertise to spice up the experience.
There are different tour options and you can even have the full 6-hour loop, but be prepared to be in pretty nice shape – you’ll enjoy more if you’re not completely exhausted.
The Most Popular 4-Hour Somoto Canyon Tour, Nicaragua
We had agreed to go on the most popular 4-hour tour, and Hervín gave us a room from the house to change our clothes. We stuffed all our valuables into dry bags which were staying in the house, and our cameras and phones into another, which was coming with us to the Somoto Canyon.
Another, a larger group of people was leaving ahead of us. We were happy that it was only us and our guide going together. Hervín gave us sneakers from their vast shoe collection, so we didn’t have to wet our own shoes. The sneakers fitted nicely and also turned out to be suitable for hiking on the slippery rocks. Then we equipped ourselves with life vests, and it was off to the Somoto Canyon adventure ahead.
Hiking to the Somoto Canyon National Monument
It was only about 1 km hike down to the Somoto Canyon national monument, and we had time to enjoy the views on the way. The trail went through the bushy countryside and soon came to a viewing spot from where you could see all the way to Honduras.
Hervín spoke only Spanish, but luckily he spoke so clearly that even we with our broken Spanish survived some small conversations. He told that this particular area with the proximity to the Honduran border was also popular with drug smugglers. That is why there are lots of police around, too.
Hervín told us that one guy had tried to smuggle 85kg of marijuana from Honduras, but he only got about 300 meters away from the bus station before the police caught him. He got 12 years in jail. And if you get caught with just one smoke of marijuana, you’ll face 5-6 months in prison. Nicaragua has strict drug laws which is a good thing.
These exciting stories of Hervín kept us entertained, and we arrived at the Somoto Canyon in no time.
Starting Our Somoto Canyon Adventure
From this point on the adventure began. It was mostly swimming forward in the bit chilly water of the Coco River which runs through the Somoto Canyon or Canyon de Somoto in Spanish. The scenery unfolding before us was spectacular; the red, rocky cliffs on both sides rose so high that you could hardly see over them. The river water was glimmering in green in the bright sunlight, shining straight into the canyon.
I could barely imagine the awe of the geologists who rediscovered this place in 2004 when they have arrived and saw all this natural beauty in front of their eyes. Fortunately, Somoto Canyon has been declared a protected area as a national monument, as also to keep this site mostly untouched.
After covering ourselves with sunscreen, we dipped into the cool river and started swimming forward, between the mighty cliffs. The river was quite shallow; you could touch the bottom with your feet most of the time. But I was still happy about the life vest, I didn’t need to stress out and was able to enjoy this experience thoroughly.
Caves in Somoto Canyon in Northern Nicaragua
It was absolutely awesome to just slowly swim and float through the Somoto Canyon. Sometimes we stepped out from the water and hopped from cliff to cliff, hiking on the slippery rocks. We also stopped to take pictures always when we wanted to. Hervín always dug up our cameras from the dry bag and waited patiently.
Occasionally Hervín showed us huge spiders with long legs, hanging on the wall near the waterline, and we also saw little bats flying around. The rock walls were spotted with tiny holes, inhabited by the bats.
Then soon came a place where you could jump into the river from a cliff point 4 meters high. I chose to just slip my way through a narrow gap along with the river, which did not prevent me having a full plunge into it, but Niina jumped down.
Jumping Off the Cliffs in the Somoto Canyon
The journey consisted of swimming and hiking alternately on the rocks for three (3) kilometers through the canyon. It felt much longer, though. The whole route is about 8 km altogether.
On the last third of the river was the highest jumping point, on a spot where the river is pretty wide between the rock walls. Here we caught with a bigger group which had been traveling ahead of us. Here is also the spot for the daredevils to show their skills. On the rocky walls, there are several jumping spots at different heights: 8, 16, and 21 meters.
I climbed with Niina and Hervín to the first edge of 8 meters, but with no intentions to jump off. Yes, I may be a bit of a chicken, I admit, but I’ve just not ever been fond of jumping in the water. Actually, I’m quite terrified of diving into the water from high points. Instead, I was there to catch on film when Niina leaped off the edge and plunged into the shimmering water below.
People took turns in jumping from various heights, and it looked like they had a blast. I bet they did. I just floated around, admiring the natural beauty of this place, its untouched corners, and unique features.
If you love jumping from high places, just remember that it’s hazardous, tooI You can potentially seriously injure yourself, so be careful! In this spot, you have to jump far enough, as not to hit any rocks at the bottom of the river, for example. So, take a careful look where you’re jumping! So, there you go, you had a warning.
The Bravest Jump to the Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua
Our guide Hervín and his brothers who were guiding the other groups showed off their skills and jumped off many times from the cliff. Hervín was the bravest and did the highest jump from 21 meters. It seemed like he climbed upwards forever on the rocky wall until he was seen only as a small spot, and then leaped sharply off the cliff. It looked terrifying, but he pulled it off professionally. Everyone was impressed and made big applause to him.
Unfortunately, soon after our adventure in the Somoto Canyon was over; we had swum through this fantastic crack in earth’s surface, and it was something to remember, for sure.
We still had to walk a little way back to the Soriano Family house. A chicken dinner was waiting for us, and after our 4-hour tour with surprisingly much physical efforts included, it was more than welcome.
Our 2-hour chicken bus ride back to Estelí in a packed ruteado wasn’t the most convenient ending to the day, but it didn’t matter since we’ve had such a great adventure. And at the end of the day, we ended up having bad burgers in a casual restaurant but fortunately accompanied by cold beers.
When to Visit Somoto, Nicaragua?
The water in the Somoto Canyon rises too high during the rainy season, between November and February. During that time the canyon becomes inaccessible. Hervín also told that during that time he has to go to work elsewhere, like to Costa Rica or Mexico. You can visit Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua, during any other month of the year, though. So, there is plenty of time in a year to go to see this amazing natural wonder.
Where to Stay Near Somoto, Nicaragua?
If you’re wondering where to stay while visiting the Somoto Canyon, I’d strongly suggest staying in Estelí. It’s a bit bigger town with more services and you can also do other, awesome tours and activities, like going to visit a cigar factory.
Wear comfortable, light clothes in which you are prepared to swim in if you’d want to and wear your swimwear underneath. If you’re going independently, bring at least:
Dry Bag – this is ESSENTIAL! Don’t go without!
Good shoes, preferably jogging shoes or similar, in which you’re going to swim in
Enough drinking water
Some snacks (protein bars, etc.)
Camera – action camera and/or your regular one
Where to Book Your Somoto Canyon Tour, Nicaragua?
The six Soriano brothers mainly run the tours as cooperation, with few outside guides as help. You can also book the Somoto Canyon tour from the Treehuggers restaurant in Estelí or from the Nanamcambre Tours, who as a first company, has established small rock climbing tours to the Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua.
We preferred to book straight from the Soriano brothers, ensuring that no middlemen cut a share from the profit. We also think that you shouldn’t visit the Somoto Canyon without a guide. It may not be that dangerous to go alone, but you will get a richer experience out of your visit if you have someone to tell you great stories and information about the canyon as you go.
Our tour was cheap, only $25/person. Just note that this price has probably gone up, though, since we were there in 2014. But I’d recommend booking the Somoto Canyon tour as we did, avoiding the middlemen. That way, you’ll also be contributing straight to the sustainable tourism the Soriano brothers the practicing.
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