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Estelí is a small town found in the north of Nicaragua. It’s similar to Santa Marta in Colombia in the sense that it is used as a springboard for the discovery of other places including Somoto Canyon National Monument, which can be explored with as part of a tour, or how we roll: self-guided Somoto!
There isn’t much to Estelí, similar to León (although different because there is lots to do in León – check out our post on things to do in León), it’s just a real-life town. people go to work, hang out in the central square using the free WiFi (!), and the church bell tells you when to wake up (or an air raid siren in Estelí’s case!) Do expect to see men in cowboy hats and boots, very cool!
Rico Restaurants in Estelí
There are a few over-priced gringo restaurants in Estelí. We spent a couple of afternoons in Luz y Luna Cafe, using the Wi-Fi. For dinner, we mostly opted for Nicaraguan fare (meat, rice, beans, tortilla, 80 cordobas / £2) or street food which was similar with the addition of papas, fried potatoes with meat and veg inside (same price). Churros filled with dulce de leche were awesome too!
Somoto Canyon National Monument
The main reason that travellers head to the north is to hike Somoto Canyon, and rightly so, it was beautiful. Large overpowering rocks with blue waters, your voice echoes, definitely a feeling of inferiority to nature is captured there!
Please excuse the quality – taken from action cam!
Here is the action:
Somoto Canyon Guided Tours
There are many guided tours around Somoto Canyon for varying abilities. The shorter four-hour tour takes you through the canyon withthe opportunity to swim and some companies even organise tubing but the tranquilo kind, no rapids!
The longer tour takes six hours and offers a variety of hiking, canyoning, swimming, jumping off rocks, and a boat trip.
The companies appear to provide waterproof bags – this is essential!
Self Guided Somoto Hike
After being ripped off in Ometepe, we opted to attempt a self-guided Somoto hike. It wasn’t massively successful in the sense that we didn’t see the whole canyon but we did hike, canyon, swim, and jump off some rocks so a good day out!
Self Guided Somoto Canyon Fail
After entering the park, do not continue down the path, take a right at the houses (down a garden path almost), an easy mistake to make! We hiked along a path then began climbing on rocks to avoid the water for as long as possible, this took over an hour. After one fall (me), one lost hat (Craig, he managed to retrieve it!) we couldn’t escape the water any longer. Stupidly Craig had his mobile phone, so we had to do a few manoeuvres to ensure it didn’t touch the water (thrown to me in the water, from Craig on a rock / bag on top of head whilst wading), this was a challenge.
After some swimming and watching a tour group do some jumps, we lunched and headed back which took under an hour.
»»» Like swimming? don’t miss Nicaragua’s answer to paradise
Estelí to Somoto Buses
There are frequent buses which run from Estelí to Somoto however there is no specific time. There is definitely a 07:30 express bus which most tourists use (75 cordobas / £1.88) each from the Cotran Norte bus station on the Pan – American Highway. The journey took 1.5 hours. From Somoto we took an overpriced taxi to Somoto Canyon (150 cordobas / £3.76) for about 15 minutes. The driver dropped us off at a tour company who tried to sell us a tour, we politely rejected and headed for the entrance. A ranger then tried to sell us more tours, again we rejected and set off on our way.
The way back was a bit of a disaster. After waiting twenty minutes in basking sun, we hailed a taxi for 15 cordobas / 38p, then our chicken bus broke down. Option one: hang out by the side of the road with the other 30+ passengers and hope not to die in the heat. Option 2: walk back to bus start ion and wait on next bus, probably around a forty minute walk. Thankfully we hailed a taxi and caught next bus (journey around 2.5 hours).
Where We Stayed
Warning! Excitement levels high! Hot water in the shower for the first time in six weeks, all thanks to Hostal Los Altos. This very European feeling, beautifully decorated hotel offers escapism in Nicaragua. The compact room had air con, a TV, and clothes storage.
A choice of breakfast was included and dished up in the outside dinning room, a lovely way to start the day.
The family run hotel staff are a delight and helped us with advice on bus times and availability of ATMs via email (there are ATMs in Estelí!)
Facebook: Hotel Los Altos, Estelí
Contact: +505 8858 1662
Cost: Approx. £54
Estelí is an easy town to spend a few nights in, using it as a gateway to nature’s fincas and Somoto Canyon.
Have you been to Nicaragua’s north?
Feature image by Tobias Eder via Flickr CC 2.0
Thank you to Hostal Los Altos for the two nights stay, an honest review as always
12 thoughts on “Easy Estelí and Self Guided Somoto”
I have lived in the north of Nicaragua for 11 years and I love do it yourself trips. However I have come to realize that many gems of Nicaragua can be easily missed when you don’t use a tour guide. This I think is because there is just not enough information out there to make doing it by yourself easy. For example, many people think there’s just not much to do in Estelí but there is, you just have to know where to find it, which is a where a guide comes in. Did you check out Miraflor? Coffee production? Cigar production? All the local artisans? Tisey? The stoneman? The waterfall? There’s enough to fill at least 4 days of really cool experiences.
In the future, win more articles like yours maybe it will brcome easier but until Nicaragua is more highly publicized in the tourism industry guides will continue to be indispensable for a truly great experience, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.
Ah I would love that we were a small part of helping tourism in the north grow! Thanks for finding us.
Hola Gemma and Craig
I love your web page. I’m trying to get to Somoto Canyon., but I can’t seem to find out how often and what time buses leave from Esteli to Somoto. Everyone talks about taking the one at 7:30, but surely there must be some that run later. Do you have any info that you can share with me re: this subject?
I’d appreciate anything that you could tell me. I’m a 75 year old woman, but I’m in good shape, I’m very energetic,, probably as agile as a woman who’s in her 50s, a decent swimmer, but I’m rather afraid of heights. Do you think that it would be a mistake for me to go to Somoto? I will trust your opinion.
Thanks in advance for your advice.
It isn’t a very tasking hike really, a bit slippy at time. Just remember that there is swimming too (and no way around it!) We took the 07:30 bus which seems to be the most popular bus that tourists use as it is the express. When we asked our hotel and a cafe which bus to take they both recommended this one. It does say online that buses are frequent and there were a few for the return but it would be a case of arriving at the bus station (there are two remember) and waiting on the next one (after the 07:30) one. Hope this helps! It is very beautiful up in the north 🙂
Hi! Thank you for sharing this. We are in Nicaragua now and we planning on going to Somoto. We had gave up when we saw the prices of the tours, but then (thanks to your post) we found out that it is posible to go on your own!
I would like to ask you if it worths going there if you can’t swim? I heard that there are some places that you can only cross swimming. I am travelling with my girlfriend and she can’t swim. So we were thinking about doing the hiking from the entrance to the part were you must swim.
Does it worth? Or there is nothing to see in this path?
Glad you found us Renan! You do have to swim at points. You could do a short hike to the water, you’ll see the canyon and pass other crayoning most likely.
Thank you for replying!
We have just arrived in Somoto. We will try to go to wherever we can. If we can at least take some pictures of the canyon, it will be cool! 🙂
Yes, no way of your camera getting ruined! Come back to me and let me know how you get on!
Thanks very much for your helpful tips, we went today so just thought would write what we did if it helps others. We went to the Norte bus station and got a 7:30 chicken bus for 34c to Somoto, there were 4 other tourists who had arranged a tour paid between $20-25 as far as we could tell and their guide met them at the bus station where they got a taxi and had to arrange transport back themselves.
We waited at the bus station for the next bus to El Espino (the border with Honduras), we told the bus helper Canon de Somoto, but also kept track with Mapsme. This cost 10c each.
We saw the company signs but continued down to the tourist office, there were local guides there the short tour (1.5 hours) was $10, the medium tour (3 hours) $15 and a long tour (5 hours) was $20
We went with the middle tour and had a great time, the guide David spoke just Spanish but we managed to communicate and he was so patient with us. The price included the entrance fee and the boat for the longest part of what people would swim.
It’s rainy season at the moment, but we obviously can’t compare to other times, we were in the water quite a lot and although we are good swimmers I was glad we had lifejackets just so we could float and enjoy it a bit more.
Hope this helps for other people who find your helpful info!
This is super helpful thank you Connie and Stephen! Are you loving Nicaragua?
Our first impressions weren’t what we had expected with pushy / overcharging tricycle tuktuks in Leon when we first arrived, which was different to El Salvador / Honduras where everyone wanted to help us. But we soon went to Las Pinetas and stayed in a local guesthouse where we experienced the most amazing hospitality from 4 Nicas starting a business and the rest so far has been excellent – you’ll have to come back to Esteli to find Alberto who carves into the rock edge and the waterfall, we had a great day today doing that.
So fingers crossed with your tips we should continue to love it 🙂 thanks again!
Oh sorry to hear that! We never used any of the tuk tuks, I never really saw any? I adored Las Penitas, we actually lived there for over a month volunteering in a hotel! Happy travels