Just a note. In Somoto Canyon Sam’s Canon camera broke (not on the hike, the day before). So from this post forward all the beautiful pics he took will be, well less beautiful. We have had to use our tiny waterproof camera for all pictures moving forward. We tried to get the camera fixed in Central America but nobody had the shutter repair parts so we had to ship it to the US. We are going to get it back in Colombia when a friend visits in late June. So until then, we will test our photo skills with a simple point and shoot =).
Not far from the Honduran border in Nicaragua lies Somoto Canyon in a sleepy part of Nicaragua where mules are still the most common form of transport and there are still more locals than gringos.
After a long drive and a fairly mellow border crossing we were happy to find a camping spot overlooking the river near the canyons mouth at the small finca Quinta San Rafael. We relaxed for the night watching the mules drink in the river with plans on finding a guide to take us up the canyon the following day.
While we were eating breakfast the next morning we kept looking at the river into the canyon and basically thinking how hard can it be to just hike up the canyon alone? We decided we would just go for it and if it was too sketchy we would turn back and find a guide.
From Quinta San Rafael you can follow the dirt trail along the river. Soon the trail turns to rocks and then the rocks turn into cliffs and you have to swim. And swim…. In true Erica and Sam fashion we did not research this hike much and did not realize that it was more of a swim than a hike. People who take guides get life jackets which makes it a little easier physically. We are both strong swimmers and familiar with slot canyon hikes (Sam grew up in Utah) so we were comfortable on this hike, but if you are not ready for swimming long distances in steep canyons with no exit out, I would suggest a guide and a life jacket.
Also, we found out after our adventure that the guides start the hike going down river where we were hiking up river. At one point in our swim we got to a wall with a waterfall that was VERY difficult to get up. Sam used his rock climbing skills and pulled himself up somehow and then helped me get up. Most hikers jump from the cliff into the water when they are coming the other direction (we did this on our way back). Be prepared for this, it is the only really tough part of the up river solo hike.
Other than the long swims in the steep canyon walls where we could not see when they would end (a little sketchy at moments) the hike (swim) was really fun. We spent almost six hours hiking into and all the way back out of the canyon. Just be prepared for everything you bring to get soaked and bring fresh water and wear sunscreen. This was a great way to start our time in Nicaragua.