Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua. Man in the distance sitting in a stone contemplating the peaceful stream of water flowing through the rock mountains. Beautiful dry summer natural scenery.; 
Monumento Nacional Cañon de Somoto

Shutterstock ID 1822814987; your: Bridget Brown; gl: 65050; netsuite: Online Editorial; full: POI Image Update

Rio De Luz/Shutterstock

Monumento Nacional Cañon de Somoto

Top choice in Northern Highlands

The Coco (or Wangki), Central America’s longest river, runs all the way to the Caribbean, but its first impression may be its most spectacular. Gushing from underground, it has carved solid rock into this 3km-long gorge that drops 160m, and at times is just a hair under 10m wide. Protected as Monumento Nacional Cañon de Somoto, the canyon is an unmissable experience.

There are three routes to explore the canyon. You won’t always have comfortable footing, so reef shoes or sandals help a lot, and you’ll have more fun if you’re fit. Within the canyon proper there is one deep stretch of about 200m where you'll have to swim (tours will always supply life vests).

The full six-hour, 13km circuit will take you to two bat caves well above the rim before you hike down to the river, boulder-hop, swim through (small) rapids and leap off 8m rocks into deep swimming holes. This version is highly recommended for nature fanatics, as you'll hike through pristine landscapes and get to see the point where the Tapacalí and Comali rivers join at the birthplace of the Río Coco.

The most popular option is the four-hour, 6km classic loop: you head straight to the far entrance of the canyon, from where you’ll swim, hike and leap beneath slate-rock faces and jagged peaks until you reach the exit.

For those who are adverse to exercise, there is also a three-hour 'lite' tour where you are paddled up the gorge a short distance in a small boat and then can splash around in the canyon mouth or float around in an inflatable tube.

Following a couple of incidents, local guides (US$15/US$20 half-/full day for up to five people) are now mandatory if you want to venture inside the canyon. In addition to having expert knowledge of river conditions – which can become dangerous during the wet season – guides also blend local insight with adventure and create a richer experience, though very few speak English.

Guides from the local community of Sonis, at the entrance to the reserve, have formed a fantastic community tourism organization called Somoto Canyon Tours and work on a rotation basis. Another option is to visit with one of the guides from local tour operator Namancambre Tours (found in Somoto town).

To visit the canyon take any El Espino–bound bus (US$0.40, 30 minutes) from the bus terminal to the trail head at Km 231 near the community of Sonis (look out for the sign), where you will meet your guide. A taxi will cost around US$8. From here it's a 3km hike to the canyon, including a river crossing that may be over a meter deep. The last bus back to Somoto passes through at around 5:30pm. If you're coming from Honduras via El Espino – the Del Sol bus line has an authorized stop right at the entrance – there's no need to go into Somoto. The canyon often closes in October, when the water is too high. Call the guides to check on conditions.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Northern Highlands attractions

1. Iglesia Santiago

5.42 MILES

This wonderfully understated adobe church fronting the shady Parque Central was constructed in 1661, making it one of the oldest places of worship in…

2. Reserva Natural Tepesomoto-Pataste


Somoto's 'other' natural reserve, around 15km to the southwest of town, is rarely visited but has a hiking trail and is a popular spot for horseback…

3. Monumento a San Francisco

16.32 MILES

This simple monument is a popular teenage hangout at night, but also remains a vessel for many an abuelita’s (grandmother’s) humble prayers. The views…

4. Parque Central

16.67 MILES

The undisputed star of the town center is Nicaragua’s finest Parque Central. Former mayor Fausto Sánchez was a botanist, and he planted hundreds of…

5. Templo Parroquial de Ocotal

16.7 MILES

With mossy columns, twin bell towers (although one was actually built in 2003) and a faded, chipped facade, the baroque-neoclassical Templo Parroquial de…

6. Mirador

19.27 MILES

This faux control tower lookout at the Parque El Avion offers fantastic views of the town, its tiled roofs and palm trees jutting out of a canopy of green…

7. Parque El Avion

19.27 MILES

Condega’s most unique attraction is the riveted twin-engine bomber used by the FAN (Nicaraguan Air Force) to bomb the region. It was shot down on April 7,…