If you ask me, I would say the northern part of Nicaragua is underestimated. Since a lot of Nica travelers fly over for about 3 weeks, they try to squeeze in a couple of cities, volcanoes and beach fun before they take the plane back.
That’s a pity, because the Northern Highlands offer misty cloud forests, idyllic country side landscapes with the best coffee and tobacco plantations, and beautiful valleys and canyons. One of those canyons is the Canyon de Somoto. If you are looking for some action in and around the river, this canyon is the place to go to.
ABOUT THE SOMOTO CANYON
The Somoto Canyon is situated in the north-west of Nicaragua, about 20 minutes from Somoto and only 5 kilometers from the Honduran border. It is one of the oldest rock formations in Central America and the place where the Rio Tapacali and Rio Comali (from Honduras) form the Rio Coco, which travels all the way to the Caribbean coast (and with this length has the honor to be the longest river in Central America). The water cut out cliffs that reach between 120 and 150 meters high. It’s the perfect spot to hike, tube, climb, float, and jump the rough terrain.
CANYONING IN THE SOMOTO CANYON
There are several tourist offices in Estelí, Somoto and Sonis (just at the entrance of the Somoto canyon) that offer tours. They vary in length and adventure. You can choose to go tubing, and float down the river, or pick a hiking trail to visit one of the miradors or go for the canyoning experience. We wanted some excitement and chose the long Somoto Canyon tour, which meant about 13 kilometers of hiking, climbing and floating through the canyon. The tour will last about 6 hours (start at 8:00 get back in Sonis around 14:00). They offer shorter tours as well, however, in my opinion it’s not too hard since you will float/swim a lot downstream. The hiking part is only about 6 kilometers in total.
During the canyoning tour you will hike about 2 kilometers to the Rio Coco. You will go alongside and through the stream for 7 kilometers. The final kilometers are an easy hike back to the trailhead. We loved the middle part, in which we crossed, jumped and swam in the river. Get rid of your fear of heights, since you will need to jump off a cliff of about 8 meters high 🙂 Some parts are tricky, and for sure you will get some bruises and scratches, but that’s part of the experience.
CANYONING IN THE SOMOTO CANYON ON YOUR OWN
We like to explore most of the parks and places ourselves (and in that way save some money too), however, we were very happy that we found our tour guide Marco Antonio. First of all, he took care of the life jackets (obligatory), shoes and a waterproof bag. Which was great, since you’re in the water for about 60% of the trip. He made sure we took our time and he showed exactly where (and where not) to cross. It is definitely too dangerous to do this tour on your own.
HOW TO GET TO THE SOMOTO CANYON FROM LEÓN
From León you will need to take the bus to Estelí. There are 3 direct buses a day, the first one at 5:20 in the morning, but also around noon and in the afternoon. The bus arrives at Terminal Sur (South). Most buses to Somoto leave from Terminal Norte (North). However, there is also an express bus from Managua all the way to Somoto, that leaves from Estelí at Terminal Sur. Inform in the bus or at the busstation whether it’s necessary to get a taxi to go to Terminal Norte, or whether you can just wait patiently at Terminal Sur for the express bus. In Somoto, catch the bus to Yalí and get out at highway location marker KM 230. This is the Sonis community right at the entrance of the canyon.
HOW TO GET TO THE SOMOTO CANYON FROM MANAGUA
Buses leave about every hour for Somoto from Mercado Mayoreo. There are 2 options to get to Somoto: the chicken bus or the express bus. I would advise you to wait for the Contran Express bus. This bus will cost you probably $1 extra, but will skip the tiny villages and drives all the way to Somoto without stops in between (except for Estelí). In this way, you will save a lot of time (at least 2 hours). The blue express bus leaves from Mercado Mayoreo 4 times a day and goes all the way to Somoto. From there you can either take a public bus or a taxi to Sonis, a little community at the entrance of the Somoto Canyon.
We use the website of Thebusschedule.com often to check the bus route. Note: pretty often they advise you to change buses, however, a couple of times we had the luxury to continue with the same bus. Just check with the bus driver what the final stop will be.
WHAT TO BRING DURING THE SOMOTO CANYON TRIP
All tour agencies will have life jackets, shoes/sandals and a waterproof bag for you.
The only things you will need to bring are:
- Water (there is no possibility to buy any during your trip)
- Some energy bars/bananas
- A mobile phone or camera (at your own risk, it might get wet)
Make sure you wear your swimsuit under your hiking clothes.
WHERE TO SLEAP NEAR THE SOMOTO CANYON
We didn’t have a plan before heading to Somoto. At the bus station we were awaited by tour guide Marco Antonio, in a green t-shirt. He was a member of the agency that organizes Somoto trips and patiently waits for tourists at the Somoto bus station every day. Marco Antonio recommended us to stay in Sonis, next to the entrance of the canyon. That’s why we jumped into a taxi with him and ended up sleeping in the finca (farm) of relatives of Marco Antonio. Doña Amalia took really good care of us. They cultivate corn, beans, yucas, mango’s and coffee and get eggs and meat from their own animals. I can strongly recommend staying at one of the finca’s, it’s a great experience and you learn a lot about daily life at the Nicaraguan countryside.
It’s also possible to arrange the trip from Estelí or Somoto. The only difference is that you will have to get up a littler earlier, since you have to travel 1-2 hours extra to the canyon.