We jump, hop and skip across the river stones alongside cows lapping up the water. The sun sinks lower over the surrounding hills, a fading shade of green and mottled browns as the remaining moisture of last year’s rain is soaked up from the land. The light casts long shadows across the white, sandy road that winds higher through the trees, their tops shining in the golden light.
A path to the left leads us to the mirador, a small wooden hut overlooking the Rio Coco meandering through the valley, its bends hiding the canyon from sight. Sunshine streams down onto small coloured boats rowing back and forth from the canyon pools and we sit, bathed in afternoon light, looking out at the spectacular view. Nicaraguan hills punctuated by sharp peaks fall away behind us and the untouched forests of Honduras mark the horizon to our front.
We sit cooling off after the steep walk and smile. If such beautiful views can be found on a short afternoon stroll, we can’t wait to see what the canyon will reveal to us tomorrow.
Our adventure through Somoto Canyon begins on the banks of Rio Tapacali. Dressed in our sturdy water shoes and life jackets we jump between rocks streaked with veins of jade and quartz alongside dry grasses and leafy trees that cling to the steep walls of the canyon.
During heavy rains the canyon is inundated with torrents of water raging through the narrow passage several metres higher than where we stand. Now, long after the rainy season has passed, the rapids are gentle and rock formations, often hidden by high waters, are left uncovered.
It’s chilly in the shade of the cliffs but one by one we slide into the deep pools and push off downstream, fully immersed in the water. Over the course of 6 hours we clamber through stone archways, climb through chambers of rock, scramble along cliff faces and jump between boulders. Families of bats disturbed from sleep whoosh by us in the caves and birds twitter in the trees overhead.
We float downstream on our backs, paddling gently in the still and silence, alone between the steep walls of the canyon, and we realise we are truly in a spectacular place.
Later, we emerge onto a white pebble beach and warm our backs in the sunshine. Here marks the start of the Rio Coco, the longest river in Central America, from where it begins its journey to the Caribbean.
As we venture further into the canyon we reach what many have been waiting for. Rocky perches at various heights from which to leap off with a divers’ grace (or belly flop from in spectacular fashion). Our guides, experienced at diving, backflipping and just about any form of mid-air acrobatics, are the first to climb up with huge smiles on their faces to show us how it is done.
It seems around each bend we find another rock to climb, another cliff to scale and, to the delight of many, higher and higher points from which to propel themselves into the air with the echo of our cheers cutting through the silence in the valley.
Here, where forests bleed into grey clifftops and blend into white rock that cradles still pools, where there is no sign of human disturbance and no sound but that of our calls and birdsong above.
Here, it feels we are discovering it all for the first time.
With arms and legs weary after our 14-kilometre journey through the canyon, we are happy to be led to our bright red boat that will take us down the rest of the river. The sun, now high in the sky, hidden for most of the day as we moved through the valley warms our faces as we walk back to the cottages for a well deserved lunch.
We thoroughly enjoyed our experience with Somoto Canyon Tours on the 6-hour adventure tour and hiking in the surrounding areas. The guides were friendly, knowledgable and safety conscious and allowed us to really take our time in the canyon.
Many people visit on a day trip from Somoto or Esteli and do the 4-hour tour but we would highly recommend staying at least one night and doing the 6-hour adventure tour which takes you through both the upper and lower sections of the canyon. A 3-hour discovery tour is also offered which is a more leisurely canyon experience where you are led up the lower canyon in a tube.
Somoto is about 1.5 hours from Esteli by bus. Pick-up at the bus terminal in Somoto can be arranged.
Tours include lunch, all equipment, entry fees to private and protected areas around the canyon, the boat ride at the end of the tour and transport back to the bus terminal in Somoto.
Horseback riding, hiking and rappelling are also offered.
3-hour Discovery Tour: $20
4-hour Adventure Tour: $25
6-hour Adventure Tour: $30
Private Double: $20
To fully experience Somoto Canyon Tours our stay was provided free of charge. However, all opinions and recommendations are our own.