Get wet and dirty: hike towards Cascada Arcoiris in Reserva de Biósfera Bosawás, Nicaragua

Yes, I guess you got the point while reading my blogs. My boyfriend and I love hiking.
And since the area around Matagalpa, in the Northern Highlands of Nicaragua, is home to almost 50 waterfalls, we decided to hike towards one of the biggest: Cascada Arcoiris (the Rainbow Waterfall). It is not a difficult trail, but the mud makes it very interesting.

Want to get wet and dirty? Read on.

After a couple weeks in the sweltering heat of León, we traveled north towards the Northern Highlands of Nicaragua to cool down. This area offers you a lot of cloudforest reserves, where you can hike beautiful trails. We enjoyed the Somoto Canyon near the border of Honduras and the Miraflor Natural Reserve near Estelí. In Matagalpa we did see a lot of tour agencies offering a trip to the popular Cascada Blanca. However, after speaking with a local we decided to create our own trip and travel a little further towards Cascada Arcoiris. This waterfall is located in the Reserva de Biósfera Bosawás. The water falls from about 80 meters above your head (some say 60 meters, some say 100 meters, let’s stick in between), from the top of the cliffs of Peñas Blancas (1,445 meters).


The journey towards Reserva de Biósfera Bosawás and Peñas Blancas is not hard, however, it is quite long if you head there from Matagalpa. But, we were there and we decided to go there anyway. You can sleep when you’re dead, right?

In order to get there you will need to take the bus towards El Cuá-Bocay. It leaves from the Guanuca station in Matagalpa. Note: this is probably a different station than the station where you arrived, so look it up on Google Maps.
The bus leaves five times per day. The first one at 6:00 and the last one at 13:30.

Let the bus driver know you are heading to Peñas Blancas and ask him (or his sidekick) to warn you when you reach Empalme La Manzana, that is about 14 kilometers before El Cuá.

You will stop in a sharp bend heading left and will find a bus shelter on your rightIf you are unlucky, like we were in the rainy season, you will almost have to swim towards this shelter and wait till the rain stops. All the water seems to collect here. The bus takes about 3 hours to get there. We paid C$30 ($1) on the way to Empalme La Manzana and C$25 back to Matagalpa. (I still don’t know why you always pay less when you go back.)

Once the rain has stopped you can hike from the bus stop towards the entrance of the Cascada Arcoiris trail. Head right, away from the mainroad. You will pass a couple of small houses (where you can sleep over in case you missed the bus). After about 500 meters you will find the Centro Entendimiento con la Naturaleze (CEN) where you will have to pay C$150 ($5) per person to enter the trail behind the fence.


If you are planning to hike the Cascada Arcoiris as one-day trip from Matagalpa, you might want to take a look this checklist. Especially if you are traveling during rainy season (May to November).

  • Good hiking boots (they will get dirty for sure, but some grip is very useful)
  • Rain jacket (though my boyfriend survived in his plastic poncho)
  • Bottle of water (also, you can buy sodas on the bus ride)
  • Some bread or snacks for along the way (you can’t buy those over there, you can however get a meal after your hike)
  • Waterproof bag with dry clothes (you can change at the CEN)
  • Flipflops (very nice in the bus back to Matagalpa)
  • Phone to take some pictures (it was too gray and too wet to take nice pictures with a good camera)


2 different trails
There are 2 trails that lead to Cascada Arcoiris: a 2 hour round trip to the foot of the waterfall and a 4 hour round trip that leads to the top of the macizo, so you can see the water falling down. You can choose to hike with a guide, it’s included in your entrance fee.

For the 4 hour round trip I would definitely recommend a guide. Since it was still raining cats and dogs, we chose the 2 hour journey. We decided to hike without a guide in our own pace, and only took their walkie talkie with us in case of emergency.  

Since the path up is really, really, really muddy, they also rent out rainboots. We didn’t rent them, because we clearly underestimated the situation and trusted on our hiking boots. The first kilometer we carefully ascended our way full of good spirit to NOT get our feet wet. Of course we didn’t manage to do so. So once we slipped and got our shoes soaked, we increased our pace and climbed up somewhat more fiercely.

It is said to be an easy hike, a 2 hour round trip. However, during rainy season it is a different story. It took us at least 2 hours to get up and 1 hour to get down. We had to cross a small waterfall close to the end of the climb, but because of the rain falling down the water level reached waist height. I can tell: it was quite challenging to cross there. Yes, we used the walkie talkie for some help in this!
– Cambio y fuera – (Over and out)

Once you get at the foot of the waterfall you can stay as long as you want. You can swim or shower in the water, I guess that must be lovely in summer (November-May). I also guess that you can see the rainbow by then, during our trip the sky was colored 50 shades of gray, so no chance. In our case, we didn’t need to swim nor shower, because we were already soaked. We took a quick picture before we started our descend.

Once you get down you can eat and drink at the CEN (there is a toilet with a very nice jungle view here as well) or ask at one of the houses you pass when you walk back to the mainroad.

We took the bus of 14:00 back, there is one around 15:30 as well, that’s the last one heading to Matagalpa. Just ask about the current bus schedule at the CEN. On the way back you will probably have to stand, but that is no punishment at all with Gloria Gaynor, Boy George and Pink Floyd playing from the speakers.


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