“It’s so incredibly quiet here,” was my main thought while being pulled upstream in an old truck tire, admiring the steep rock formations at either side of the Somoto canyon.
Somoto is a small mountain town in the Madriz department, close to the border to Honduras. Its two main tourist attractions are the canyon and the famous rosquillas, a cookie made from corn and cheese in wood fired stone ovens.
During this fun Nicaragua tour, organized by the competent SchuVar Tours office in Managua, my daughter and I had the pleasure to experience both attractions first hand (or first bum, should I say!).
Entering The Cañon
After a 4 hour ride in a well air-conditioned bus, we arrived at the entrance to the nature reserve. Our local tour guides Jepe and Miguel prepared us with life vests and the instruction “everything that goes into the canyon comes back out” (well, I sure do hope so!).
On the way down, we were rewarded with a beautiful view over the birth region of the rio Coco, the longest river in Central America. Although we were in the rainy season (May to October), the river had relatively low water. Every tour member managed the river crossing on foot without getting their shorts wet.
The second crossing was a bit trickier. We had to get 19 tour members plus 2 guides into two small lanchas (rowing boats), strategically distributing the weight. When we finally set off, the water line was just an inch below the boat’s rim. The entrance to the Somoto canyon proper was unmistakable, with towering sand colored rock walls on either side, topped with green hoods of tropical vegetation.
Now the real adventure began! We switched transportation medium… from boat to tire. Well, you didn’t have to do this. You could just relax, enjoy the beautiful setting and take a leisurely swim in the clean water.
But if you get the chance to tour the Somoto canyon, I highly recommend you place your bum in one of the “neumáticos” or tires. Young Nicaraguan boys pull you upstream and make sure you aren’t floating back down before you’ve reached the turning point.
It’s fabulous! You sit safely in the cool waters and lean back to watch the stripe of blue sky above you shrink as the canyon walls are closing in. A few hundred meters upstream we stopped. The young locals and our tour guide Jepe fearlessly jumped from the edge of the steep canyon walls into the water. Phew – no, thank you, not for me 😉
On the way downstream we had to master a few rapids… that was the best part of the tour! Just make sure to lift your behind to avoid any “bumpy” contact with the river bed.
Wet and happy we made our way back to the bus. Tip: clothes dry quickly in the Nicaraguan sun, but it’s still a good idea to bring a second shirt and trousers. You can change at the park’s entrance building.
Rosquilla Bakery Visit
The second part of this Somoto Nicaragua tour took us to one of the 53 rosquilla bakeries in town. Butter, corn, milk, eggs, sugar and Nicaraguan feta cheese (“cuajada”) are the ingredients for this crispy delicacy. Normally you get to see the whole production process. When we arrived late in the afternoon, they had already finished for the day.
We witnessed the last bit of the manufacturing though… removing the big trays with ready-to-eat rosquillas and viejitos (also called ojaldras) from the big stone ovens. Sampling the fresh biscuits with a hot cup of strong, locally grown coffee was a delight!
We ended up buying 8 bags of different types of rosquillas, for $1 each.
We were then taken to our accommodations for the night. Most of the group stayed in the brand new “El Portal del Angel.” Three of us, including me and my daughter, spent the night at the “Hotel Colonial” close to Somoto’s central park. The Colonial is a beautiful old building with 30 to 40 rooms arranged round a courtyard. It has seen better days though. The rooms are in dire need for a renovation.
Fiestas Patrias Parade
The next morning we concluded our Somoto tour by watching the Fiestas Patrias processions. Throughout the month of September, Central American countries celebrate their independence from the Spanish crown. The festivities culminate on the 14th and 15th, in memory of the Battle of San Jacinto (where the Nicaraguan army defeated North American invader William Walker) and the Declaration of Independence from Spain in 1821.
The Hotel Panamericano crafts shop sells handmade artisan products and delicious local coffee (Café Cabaña). Ask the owner to show you his collection of cut glass work from around the world.
All across the country, students hold parades through the streets of their neighborhood, presenting traditional dances, poems and songs. The sheer number of groups in Somoto was astounding. Kids of all ages marched along, waving flags and patriotic banners. Most were dressed in their blue and white school uniforms, decorated with colorful sashs. Some had carnival-like costumes, performing dances to the rhythmic music.
Most interesting for me was to watch the children’s faces… some were excited, smiling proudly in every camera. With others, you could tell that they’d rather spend the Saturday morning at home, playing and chatting with their friends!
It was time for our tour group to leave Somoto… taking with us fond memories, a ‘burro’ (donkey) made of clay and 8 bags of rosquillas!