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Cliff Jumping In Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua

Posted by Emily Henkel on 11/2/23 11:41 AM

ILP Adventure

Swim between slot canyons, go cliff jumping, and body raft down the rapids — we love the adrenaline rush of Somoto Canyon! 

If you want a vacation full of stunning views and heart-pumping adventures, say "hi" to a trip to Somoto Canyon in Nicaragua. It's one of the top-tier destinations our ILP volunteers just can't get enough of. Maybe it's the plunging valleys, the charming homestays, or the trip through the actual canyon itself, but it's an experience you really can't miss out on. Out of all of the Nicaragua vacations our volunteers take during their semester, Somoto Canyon is often the absolute favorite thing.

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The ILP volunteers who get to call Nicaragua home for an entire semester get the chance to really experience what this country has to offer. One can’t-miss experience is spending a weekend cliff jumping and swimming through the gorgeous Somoto Canyon. Here are the insider details about this trip: 

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Okay, What Is This Trip Like? 

First off, know you'll be with a guide so you'll have help as you navigate the trails and the best cliff-jumping spots. There are several methods of exploring the canyon itself, which we've broken down in a few sections (just know it's a mix of hiking, swimming, jumping, and body rafting ... what a rush!). 

We have tour recommendations below, but to give you an overview of what a half-day adventure looks like in the canyon, here’s an outline: 


To get to the cool water, you’ll first need to trek less than a mile, following your guide through the green brush (peek the border of Honduras here!) before you trek into the canyon. The hike follows the river for a bit, then you'll get the green light to get into the water.


You’ll do most of the next bit in the water, diving into the blue-green river that snakes its way between the sheer cliffs. It’s hot and humid in Nica, so the water feels quite refreshing but does feel pretty cool at first. 

Depth-wise, you can touch the bottom most of the time, but some points do get a bit deep (a life jacket is handy for this portion, provided by your tour guide). At some points, you'll need to get out and hike through a couple of cliffs before getting back into the water. 

You’ll be swimming and hiking on the cliff face for about 2.5 miles until you reach the jumping cliffs. 

Cliff Jumping 

There’s a section where the canyon opens up a bit and the water plunges deeper between the rocks, creating the perfect jumping off point. Cliffs of all different heights are suspended above the water, so you can choose the levels you feel the most comfortable with (there are 8, 16, and 21 meter jumping points). Best to leave the top jumping off points to the professional guides — it’s quite the stunt!

The cliff jumping points do open up to create a rather wide pool where you can hang out and swim around while you leave jumping to others in your group if you’d rather just watch. You'll need to swim between the jumping locations, but keep an eye out for the little caves around the canyon. One ILP group was able to peek their head into one of the caves to see a colony of bats flying around, then found a perfect little spot on dry land to have a snack before continuing down the river. Your guide will point out a few things, like more info about the bats and exactly where the Coco River officially forms. This canyon is where the Comali River (from Honduras) and the Tapacalí River combine to form the Coco River, which runs through the entire isthmus of Central America. 

ILP Nicaragua

ILP Nicaragua

Body Rafting 

Okay, this may be the most fun part of your tour, best told by an ILP volunteer: "Then, we continued down the river. We got to a place in the river where the Nicaraguan river and the river from Honduras collide and we took a break there, eating bananas, drinking water, eating Oreos, and taking pictures.... After the break, we continued down and this is where we started to get a little confused because we were told we would be rafting, swimming, and hiking but we had been on the river for a couple hours and hadn't seen any rafts.

"So we started to question what we were going to do for the next couple hours on the river. As we were floating down the river we started to hear what sounded like a waterfall and got even more confused. How are we going to get down those rapids? Just then, the guide looks at us and tells us we are going down floating. Just lay flat on your back and slide down these little patches of white water! Now, this was an experience that is really hard to explain (and I have no pictures because we were busy falling down a river) but picture a river where there is a patch of fairly calm white water, and going down with nothing more than a life vest. It was so awesome and so cool to feel like a fish floating down!"

You'll likely have a few bumps along the way, but it's often people's favorite part of the canyon. You'll finish your trek with some more swimming and hiking spots, and a mandatory jumping spot where hiking and floating isn't an option — "We had to walk along the edge but the only way to get back to the river was to jump it looked so far but we did it anyway and then looking back up at it it was like 10 feet and we all felt like babies haha. We finally got to some little row boat and were rowed about a mile down the river to the spot where we got out and hiked back home. The huge adventure was over!" 

+ Tour Extras And Options

That’s the general outline of the canyon, and what comes next might fluctuate according to your tour. Some may have you hike out and see you back on the bus, or you may have a lunch included. Some tours have a 4-hour option, while others are more of a 6-hour tour. The shorter tour does not have mandatory jump spots which is something to consider if you'd rather avoid the cliff jumping. Make sure you check the details of your tour to know the exact itinerary.

ILP Adventure in Nicaragua

ILP Adventure

What Tours To Book With 

It was mentioned before, but this is an excursion best done with a tour: they’ll lead you through the canyon, point out the best way to swim/hike through safely, show you the jumping off points, and will give you the necessary gear (like a lifejacket). Here are a few tips from ILP volunteers when it comes to picking a tour guide: 

Somoto Canyon Tours 

Multiple ILP Nicaragua volunteers have trekked with Somoto Canyon Tours before, which comes highly recommended. They have a couple of package options that are very affordable. Their 4-hour $25 package takes you through the canyon with a tour (you’ll do some hiding, swimming, boating, and jumping), plus you’ll have lunch and proper equipment (life jacket, dry bag, and river shoes) provided.

They also have a $30 package for a 6-hour adventure, giving you everything in the first tour, plus a longer trek through the canyon up to some caves which are home to Nicaragua’s fruit bats, plus a few other high points. 

Get the details of both tours here. 

They also have cabins nearby if you'd like to stay there for the night and make this more of a weekend adventure. Here's what one ILP volunteer had to say about her stay: "We stayed in the mountains in a little lodge for $8 a night. This place was amazing! The owner, Henry, showed us around a little when we arrived and told us we could walk down to his farm that was about half a mile down the road. We walked down there and Henry's brother gave us a tour of all the plants, he showed us their pigs, chickens, donkey, dog, and lastly the bees. They had over 9 hives of bees —  it was crazy! We walked down past the tomato plants, avocado trees, mango trees, and so much more! It was really cool. Then we got back to the lodge and they had dinner prepared for us: a huge plate of rice and beans, with a chicken or veggie option." 

You can also add a horseback riding trip to the tour if you'd like (that's a fun way to fill the rest of your day if you're staying the night and doing the canyon tour in the morning). 

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What To Look For In Other Tours 

You'll likely find other tour options through your hostel (our ILP Costa Rica volunteers love vacationing in Nicaragua!) or just by searching online — we suggest picking a tour that includes lunch (it’s an 8 km minimum trek through the canyon and you’ll come out hungry!) plus the recommended equipment: At the very least, a life jacket, though a dry bag is also a big plus.

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Getting To Somoto 

You have a few options. Some tour options handle the transportation from Managua (and Esteli) or you can take public transportation and get to Somoto on your own schedule. This post about traveling by bus in Nicaragua may help you out, but we’ve broken it up in a few more bite-sized steps to help you out even more:

From Granada To Managua

According to Centro Coastings, it’ll take you just under 1.5 hours to get from Granada to Managua. You can take a chicken bus (they’ll leave from all over Granada at all hours of the day — talk to your hotel/hostel or, ILP volunteers can chat with their Local Coordinator). Chicken buses are about $1.50 to ride. You can also take a microbus. Microbuses to Managua leave when they are full and typically run from 5:00 AM to 9:00 PM on weekdays, from 5:30 AM - 8:00 PM Saturdays, and 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM on Sundays.

Catch these buses at the small station on a street at the southwest corner of the Parque Central called Calle Vega. The microbus will arrive at the Central American University in Managua (The UCA).  

Once you arrive, you'll need to head to another bus station to catch your connecting bus. The Esteli bus leaves from Mercado Mayoria station, so you’ll need a take a taxi there. Shouldn’t be more than $4 USD if you haggle down the price. 

From Managua To Esteli 

Like mentioned before, you’ll need to get yourself to the Mercado Mayoria station to catch your Esteli bus.

There are a couple of options: The Espresso bus leaves pretty much every hour from 4:30 AM to 6:30 PM — when it’s busy, they will leave every 15 minutes, alternating between the express bus and the regular bus. It’ll take you 2.5 hours to get to Esteli. The Regular bus takes 3.5 hours. Plan on paying about $3 USD for your ticket to Esteli. 

Most ILP Volunteers hang out in the city of Esteli for the night and maybe the next day if you're interested in these Esteli adventures, then wake up early to catch a bus from Esteli to Somoto. 

From Esteli to Somoto 

Esteli from Somoto has a chicken bus that leaves at 7:00 or 7:30 AM (We’ve heard both options — got to love the casual bus schedules in Nicaragua!). The buses run frequently, at no exact schedule. It’s about a $2 USD ticket and should take around 1.5 hours. Pickup to Somoto is at the Contran Sur Bus Station on the Pan-American Highway in Esteli.

If you get the early bus, you’ll get to Somoto before 10:00 AM, which is when most tours begin.

Check to see if your tour company will pick you up from the bus station, or you can take a taxi ride (play on haggling to get a $5 fare for the 15 minute ride to the Somoto Canyon Entrance if your tour does not arrange any sort of pick up and just meets you at the entrance). 

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+ A Few Tips 

What Should I Pack? 

You’ll want sunscreen and shoes you can walk/swim in. We love adventure sandals like Chacos and Tevas because they have good grip and do well in the water. Hiking boots and tennis shoes are too heavy when wet, and are not recommended. 

Your guide and tour group should provide life jackets. Most of the time, you can touch the bottom of the river filled canyon, but it’s a nice reassurance.  You’ll 100% want a dry bag to hike with (and keep your phone, wallet, and other valuables) safe and dry, so bring that if that isn’t already included in your tour.

Wear a swimming suit, too. You may want to bring a change of clothes if you are traveling right after your tour, so you're not riding home in wet swimming suits or hiking shorts on your bus ride back home. 

Check with your tour, but some snacks may be included or you may want to bring your own for a mid-day break. 

When Should I Visit? 

These tours are open year round, but water levels do change according to the season. In the dry season (November to April), water levels are lower and the river has a low current. The river is easy to navigate and some swimming sections are hike-able. In the rainy season (May to October), the river runs faster and you may run into some natural water slides created by the current in the canyon. Rarely, the area floods and tours are cancelled. 

Should I Day Trip Or Try This On A Weekend? 

The tour time can vary, but most tend to be 4-6 hours, plus you’ll need to factor in transportation time if you're trying to fit this into a day trip rather than a weekend option. It can be done (with private transportation or a tour pick-up) but makes for a long day. 

Most groups tackle this adventure on a weekend, either stay in Esteli for part of their time or staying in the lodges and cabins near the canyon for a night to break up all of the bus time. If you'll be heading here from Granada, most ILP groups plan to head to Esteli on a Friday (arriving in the evening), then make the 2.5 hour bus ride to Somoto Saturday morning to make it to their tour time slot. Some head back to Esteli, or stay the night here and travel back on Sunday. 

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ILP Nicaragua

Ready to experience Nicaragua? (Of course you are) 

ILP Volunteers have vacation days and weekends off to explore places like Somoto Canyon + about a dozen other places we love (like Nicaragua's Corn Islands or the glowing volcano in Masaya).  See what an ILP semester in Nicaragua is all about!

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Topics: Central America

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We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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