SOMOTO – On Nicaragua’s list of places-less-traveled, there are destinations that qualify as “off-the-beaten-path,” and then there’s SomotoCanyon, a place that is so far off the unbeaten path that it was only recently “discovered” last year.
Discovered parenthetically, of course, in the same way that Christopher Columbus – or perhaps the Chinese, as new evidence suggests – “discovered” the New World. The locals always new it was there, but they kept it to themselves (see separate story).
Now this majestic, stone-walled canyon, carved by thousands of years of waters from the Río Coco, has become Nicaragua’s newest attraction, luring a growing trickle of adventurous travelers to its cool, clean waters, perfect for taking a swim, floating in an inner-tube, or using the canyon’s echo to impersonate legendary Fenway Park announcer Sherm Feller (NOW BATTING… batting…batting.. THIRD BASEMAN… min….min…NUMBER 26, WADE BOGGS…oggs…ogs ).
Since being unveiled to Nicaragua and the rest of the outside world last year by a Czech geologist, the canyon – known by Somoto residents as “La Estrechura,” or “the long, narrow place” – has become a newest poster image in the promotional campaign of the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR).
The canyon was even visited and christened last year by a government delegation headed by then-INTUR president Lucía Salazar.
Despite its tranquil beauty, visiting the canyon is only for those of able body, nimble feet, and a hint of youthful reckless abandon.
Entering the canyon requires an at times treacherous hike over sharp rocks, climbing up and down rock faces that hang over water, and balancing your way over logs suspended over the river. For the accident prone, there are plenty of opportunities to twist an ankle, scrape a knee, or fall in the water.
But if you can make it to the end of the 3-km adventure hike, the reward is well worth the trek.
The pristine mountain water flows refreshingly cool, offering a perfect swimming hole to escape the late morning heat in the Northern Zone.
The park guards who accompany you once you pass the entrance gate will bring inner-tubes to float on for those who don’t want to swim entirely (you’ll get wet regardless).
The deepest part of the river, where the water is up to 15 meters deep, offers those who are brave/crazy enough an opportunity to try jumping off the cliff into the pool below (seen, not personally attempted, and not endorsed).
For those planning to swim, it is recommended that you wear your shorts under a pair of pants for climbing/sliding on rocks. Sneakers are a must, and expect to swim in them to combat the river rocks.
Since the canyon is a new tourist attraction, the path is not marked and a guide is a must. It takes a little more than one hour to hike in and out of the canyon, depending on the group size and agility. The best way to see the canyon is to wake up early in Somoto and leave for the canyon around 7 am to beat the day’s heat. Bring water and 10 cordobas ($.65) to pay entrance into the canyon.
An INTUR-recommended guide is Somoto local Gonzalo Hernández. Call or email him to negotiate a rate (tel. 821-8931, email@example.com).
Somoto, the capital city of the northern department of Madriz, is a 3.5 hour drive on the Pan-American Highway heading north of Managua.
Where to Stay: Lodging options are simple. Hotel Panamericano, on the park, starts at $15 a night for a private room (722-2355).
Where to Eat: Restaurant Almendro. South side of park. Good, inexpensive food.