Passing a few women washing their clothes in the river and drying them on the warm volcanic boulders on this sunny Sunday morning, we are entering the Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua, a beautiful playground of soft boulders, steep cliffs, clear pools and wild rapids for a 6-hour self-guided canyoning adventure.
The Río Tapacalí is fairly wide and shallow at first. Three noisy giant kingfishers speed by and disappear behind the trees. A few white herons fly up as we approach them, while we jump from stone to stone in an attempt to spot some of the frogs we hear. Soon, the river gets deeper, as it is squeezed between vertical cliffs and we have to get wet: first knee high, soon we are swimming into the warm waters with our dry bags on our backs. Climbing up the cliffs to find some great diving and jumping spots, we are taking our time to enjoy the natural beauty of the canyon.
A few cooler dark caves appear on both sides of the canyon, inhabited by some bats and scorpion spiders. The bats that are not taking a nap in the caves elected the shade of a funny hole through one of the vertical boulders rising out of the water. All of a sudden, about 50 of them take off as one of us decides to jump through the hole where they are hanging!
The path is easy as we just have to follow the Río Tapacalí, down from a bridge along the Panamerican Highway, to the community of La Ceibita, passing the birth of the Río Coco that will make it to the Caribbean Sea about 700 kilometres further. This is where the medium 4-hour version of the canyon starts. Indeed, a bit further down, we are catching up with the first group we encounter: about 20 people in bright life jackets accompanied by some very young and frightened kids are slowly and noisily making their way down. Re-discovered recently and now used by tour companies, the Somoto Canyon has become a very popular attraction among locals and tourists alike.
At around mid-day, the sun lights up the most beautiful part of the canyon featuring vertical volcanic cliffs, small waterfalls, and crystal-clear pools. One of them is about one kilometre long, and while we are swimming it, we are coming across lanchas (boats) filled with locals. We are getting closer to La Ceibita and we are seeing more and more people. A bit further, kids are cooling down in the river, splashing water at each others, jumping, and showing off their swimming skills while their parents are discussing on the shore.
The sun starts losing its strength and the river gets shallower. People on horses come in to enjoy the last sunrays near the water as we are making our way out of the canyon after a great day. The Somoto Canyon is truly a natural wonder which is a ton of fun to explore!
Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen (text & photos)
- In the dry season, it is completely ok to self-guide in the canyon.
- Good quality dry bags are a must as they will be thrown into the water and swum with. They are very hard to find in Nicaragua, but guides will provide some if you are going with a tour.
- There are not too many stores around, so bring your pick nick.
- The best way to spend the day in the canyon is to sleep in the community of La Ceibita, only 2 to 3 km from the start of the long tour. Families will be happy to host you and cook for you.
- There are 3 options to explore the canyon: the long one (described here and taking about 6 hours), the medium one (starting after a 1km hike to the birth of Rio Coco, about 4 hours to complete), and the short one (just going to the river in La Ceibita).
- For more photos, take a visual tour!
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!
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