Somoto, the capital city of the department of Madriz in Nicaragua, is located approximately 12 miles from the Honduran border crossing of El Espino. A relatively quiet Spanish colonial town, it has a cool climate due to its elevation and surrounding mountains. Like many other cities in the country, much of Somoto’s activity also centers around its parque central and the nearby hotels provide a wealth of information about the area’s attractions.
Originally inhabited by a variety of indigenous tribes (especially the Chorotegas), the town was eventually constructed in a grid-like formation by the Spanish Colonials.
In the 20th-century, the area saw action during the fighting of Augusto Sandino and his army and some structures still show some of the scars along with the proud murals of Sandino and Carlos Fonseca. Today, it sits as a friendly border town that provides visitors with several attractions:
Mirador – Located on a hill on the northeast edge of town, it provides views of the surrounding 900-foot mountains and of Somoto down below.
Iglesia Santiago – Located near the parque central, this charming church was built in 1661 and still consists of its original adobe structure.
Piedra Pintada Museum – Located at the parque central, this small museum houses a fairly large collection of archaeological artifacts found in and around the city.
Exploring Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua
For many years, the town was just a brief stopping point to get some rest and food before heading to Honduras. But that changed in 2003, when a pair of Czech scientists made a geological discovery of a lifetime.
Located approximately eight miles west of Somoto, the Somoto Canyon (also known as the Cañón de Somoto) is a gigantic geological formation where the Río Coco begins. Discovered in 2003 by a pair of scientists working for the Nicaragua Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER), it is less than 30 feet wide but stretches for more than approximately two miles. At various points, the solid granite canyon reaches heights of more than 650 feet and includes jagged cliffs and a number of caves.
In 2005, the Somoto Canyon (that dates back more than five million years) was declared a national monument by the Nicaraguan government and is managed by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources Department (MARENA). Now part of the Reserva Natural Tepesomoto-Pataste, the trailhead to the canyon is located at a well-marked sign on the main highway to El Espino. The two-mile trail winds its way down across the river and eventually to the bottom of the canyon where there are boats ready to take visitors on further. There are two overall ways to see the rest of the canyon:
Without a Guide – At the bottom of the canyon, boats take visitors upstream as far as they can go. Then, inner tubes are used for flotation for the rest of the journey, since the walls become too steep for walking in the deeper regions of the canyon. But the water is refreshing and clean and well worth the effort.
With a Guide – A guided journey is usually achieved by a different route further upstream and continues through the entire length of the canyon. A good informative guide will show you the way to a different entrance in the north and also provide inner tubes and life jackets.
Visiting the Rosquilla Workshops in Somoto, Nicaragua
Many towns in Nicaragua are recognized for their specific specialties that range from handcrafted furniture and rocking chairs to ceramics and pottery. Somoto is nationally known for its delicious cornbread snacks called rosquillas. They come in different shapes and sizes and are made from corn, cheese, and herbs, with a few versions sweetened by cinnamon and molasses.
Approximately three dozen workshops of different sizes currently exist in Somoto. On average, a single workshop can produce between 6,000 to 15,000 rosquillas per day, and it is big business for the families that work there. It is worth a visit to view the making of the product, which is a fairly involved process that consists of four important steps:
After a thorough inspection of the corn, the best grains are selected and cleaned.
The grains are ground and weighed, cleaned and baked, and then re-ground.
The ground corn is mixed with Cuajada (the traditionally-used cheese) and shaped into a variety of cookies and rings in different sizes.
The rosquillas are watched closely and toasted in a wood-fired oven.
Outside of Somoto, many locations and vendors throughout Nicaragua have taken advantage of these marketable snacks by selling bags of rosquillas that claim to be from Somoto when they are not. But after tasting the real version (especially right out the oven), you will quickly realize that all of the others are tasteless in comparison.
For visitors who venture into the northern highlands of Nicaragua, their itineraries usually include stops in either the coffee-center of Matagalpa or the cigar-making region of Estelí. But further north toward the Honduran border sits a quiet colonial town that offers not only some of the best locally-made snacks, but one of the greatest natural discoveries of Nicaragua.