Canyoning is, far and away, my favorite extreme activity. I first gave it a go in Austria in 2006, and the memory of floating on my back down a deep ravine with a slight mist falling from above is one that I think of fondly, nearly every day. I don’t have a single photo from that day, and in some ways, it’s for the best. The experience is etched in my mind as otherworldly—something that cannot be repeated. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try.
And so I found myself on the side of a highway in Nicaragua, just before the Honduras border, waiting for a man named Bayardo. I had an embarrassingly broken conversation with him the night before, and I was pretty sure he said to meet at kilometer 230 at 10:30am. But it may have been that the trip started at 2:30 and we were walking between 10 to 30 kilometers. I couldn’t be sure.
Bayardo soon arrived, ushering us to park our car at his modest home in a small village community where dogs roamed freely and children played barefooted outside. He offered us two lifejackets (we declined), collected our belongings that we didn’t want to get wet, and we were off—down the trail to the infamous Somoto Canyon.
Nicaragua’s Cañon de Somoto was only recently “discovered” by gringos, although the locals obviously have known about its giant presence for quite some time. But why simply bask in the knowledge that a canyon exists when you can hurl yourself off some rocks? Exactly, I can’t think of a reason either. And that is exactly what we did for approximately 2 hours—climbed up large rock formations and hurled ourselves off of them into the deep pools below. In-between jumps we swam peacefully through the calm river, catching glimpses of the hot sun that somehow made it past the 30m+ rock walls. There are few places in the world with the perfect conditions for canyoning, and it was my luck that Nicaragua is one of them. And this time, I had a camera.
WANT TO HAVE A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE? HERE ARE THE IMPORTANT DETAILS:
Getting there: The canyon is a 1-hour drive from the town of Estelí, which is famous for cigar production. We stayed the night there and then drove up in the morning. You could also take a chicken bus to Somoto. It’s about 4.5 hours by bus from Managua.
Hiring a Guide: A friend had been to Somoto twice and recommended Bayardo. He lives off of Hwy 1 (Panamerican), very close to the trailhead and offers his home as a place to change, have lunch afterwards, etc. He works with a small group of other guides from the community, so if you don’t get him, you’ll get one of his buddies. He speaks Spanish only, so be sure that someone in your group puede hablar un poco Español. Bayardo Soriano—phone: 505 8615 7953.
What to Wear & Bring: I wore shorts and a quick-dry t-shirt to avoid getting sunburned. I suppose you could go in a bathing suit, but most folks seemed to be a bit covered up. Tennis shoes, Tevas, or similar are essential for scaling rocks and absorbing the “smack” as you hit the water. If you don’t have a waterproof camera, no worries, as the guide will carry a dry sack and can snap shots for you from a safe (dry) distance.
The Cost: There are two main distances for the tour—long and medium. The long tour includes more walking and begins at some caves above the canyon. We did the medium length, which typically lasts around 4-5 hours (we were done in about 3 as it was just the two of us). It cost $15 per person, plus a small tip.
Seriously, don’t be lame. Do it.