The Somoto Canyon in northern Nicaragua is an amazing place not just to see, but to experience. A different adventure is just past every boulder with opportunities to cliff jump, swim, tube, rappel, explore caves, ride horseback and boat your way down the Rio Coco between the towering walls. Somoto Canyon was “discovered” in 2004 by Czech and Nicaraguan scientists (although locals have known about it for centuries), so the tourism scene is still developing. The canyon runs for about 5km. It’s water-eroded walls drop straight down to the clear river 150m below. Most of the canyon is extremely narrow at 10-15m across, narrowing to 5m in places, giving you the feeling you are winding through a deep scar in the earth. A protected area of 170 hectares surrounds Somoto Canyon and is mainly forested hills. There is an abundance of plant life as well as many species of birds and smaller animals contributing to the already rewarding time spent in the canyon.
Visiting Somoto Canyon: The closest place to stay to Somoto Canyon is in the village of Sonis right near the canyon entrance. The villagers have organised a co-operative headed by Henry Soriano that covers all aspects of visiting the canyon. All proceeds directly support the community. Alternatively, you can visit the canyon from Esteli which is a great base to explore many parts of northern Nicaagua. In Esteli, book your trip through Tree Huggers, a friendly non-profit tour agency that works directly with the Sonis community. (They are also a great source of information for all sorts of other excursions in and around Esteli).
Somoto Canyon Tour: There are three different tours available for Somoto Canyon. The most extensive is a 6 hour, 12km route that covers the entire canyon as well as a few bat caves and has the most hiking. The most popular option (described below) is the 3-4 hour 6km route that takes you directly into the canyon and out the other end. If you are less inclined to physical activity there is a 2-3 hour ‘lite’ tour where you are paddled up the river, then float down through the canyon in a tube.
What Is Incuded/What To Expect: Your tour will begin in the small village of Sonis. If you’re coming from Esteli you have to find your own way to Somoto (a 1.5hr bus/30 Cordobas), where your guide will meet you and bring you to Sonis. There, you change into your bathing suit and are offered water shoes and a life jacket (take the life jacket and remember everything you bring will get wet). The guide will have a dry sack for things that you want on the hike – a snack, camera etc – but can’t get wet. Everything else will be left, locked in the guides house. You start with a 1km walk down the highway where your guide will explain about the history of the area and the people living there, followed by a 1km hike through farmland/forest to the canyon. You then continue down into the canyon to the river below, which you follow by hopping from boulder to boulder and along the extremely narrow river bank. Eventually the canyon walls plunge directly into the river and you float/swim down the river to your first stop. This is where you have the opportunity to do some cliff jumping. There is an 8m jump, a 10m jump and for the very brave (or crazy) a 20m jump. There is also the option (additional cost) to climb and rappel about 60m of the canyon wall. The next part of the canyon is the most spectacular. Again you float/swim through the narrowest sections (often only 5m across) with the walls towering above you. Along this section there is another place for cliff jumping, with a somewhat intimidating 15m jump. Shortly after you will come to a small beach/river bank where you can get some sun, warm up, and have a snack. After this there is the third section to float/swim down the river, winding through some more spectacular canyon scenery.
Now, finished with the swimming, you climb into a rickety row boat to relax for the final section of the canyon. The view you get in this last section of the canyon is famous across Nicaragua and is the picture on the 50 Cordoba note. When your river adventure ends there is a 1km hike up to the top of the canyon with panoramic views of the incredible scenery you just came through. Getting back to Sonis you are rewarded with an excellent meal cooked up by one of the local ladies, followed by a swing in the hammock while you wait for a bus back to Somoto or Esteli. Make sure you brought a change of clothes for the bus.