Sumidero Canyon Adventure
Located just 30 miles away from the busy centre of San Cristobal is the Sumidero Canyon. Formed over the course of a million years, teaming with wildlife and beautiful nature, this excursion feels like a real trip through time and is certainly worth a visit.
Viewing the canyon from below is the only way to sense its true scale. Boat tours are relatively cheap. Ours was a pre-packaged deal organised by the hostel we were working for. It cost us 300 MXN each and for that, it included all transportation, entry to Sumidero, and stops at the various viewing points atop it.
The journey from San Cristobal was short and once off the bus, we were ferried into a holding dock. After swerving the gift shop and lining up for life jackets we eagerly joined the queue for transportation.
Soon enough we were united with our vessel and after a few wobbly boarding manoeuvres the boat launched and we were on our way. Skipping along the river at speed as the noise from the pontoon became more and more distant until finally, we were alone.
The boat slowed its pace and we coasted along quite happily, taking in the view whilst navigating the still waters.
We weaved through the meandering river for a few more minutes until suddenly Sumidero reared into view.
The sheer vastness of the canyon now became apparent. It’s hulking rims casting colossal shadows across the river as we stared up in awe. We approached its mouth slowly until the canyon engulfed us from either side, instantly dwarfing the boat.
At its highest, the walls of Sumidero stand at 3,300ft. That's nearly three Empire State Buildings stacked on top each other. Its magnitude is palpable.
We happily cruised along, marvelling at the sights. One thing you can’t help but notice as you travel is the striking colour contrasts that surround you. The rich tan gradients of the canyon walls, the cool blue tones of the sky, and the thriving olive flora that creeps across its floors. This surrounding greenery is teaming with inhabitants, and the sound of life vibrates throughout it. Locals fish by the banks as you cruise past and the music of the many birds ring across the canyon walls.
Our boat continued along the waters until eventually slowing to make its first stop. Pulling up to the river bank we wondered what we’d see.
All of a sudden a pair of Monkeys swaggered out from the trees, sweeping up the branches towards the boat on the hunt for offerings. Un-fazed by the sea of cameras blinking up at them, they posed nonchalantly, hanging calmly from their perch.
Once the photoshoot was over the boat sped off again and no sooner had we left we heard cries from our fellow passengers excitedly motioning to something up ahead.
I scoured the horizon until finally further along the bank, rooted amongst the brittle mud I spotted it. A crocodile. I had to squint at first as it was brilliantly camouflaged, but as we pulled closer its scaly shape started to emerge from the sun cracked clay.
It was amazing to see up close. I felt like I’d been transported straight back to the Jurassic age. A true relic of time and for a brief moment, you feel as if you’re glimpsing at our prehistoric forbearers. It lay completely motionless, undisturbed by the excitement and hollering echoing from the boat. As we continued along the canyon we spot more of them. Dotted along the banks basking in the suns rays.
Brown pelicans soared alongside us. Gliding elegantly above the water. As you take in the vistas you can’t help but feel an undeniable sense of the passage of time. Sailing across the green river its hard to not let your imagination run wild. Ideas of deep earth exploration and dinosaurs roaming the land raced through my mind.
We travelled deeper soon approaching a towering waterfall. Its haze glistening in the distance as the sun projected colourful rainbows through its falling waters.
The boat edged ever closer until eventually we could feel the cool spray against our skin. We kept going until we were directly below it. The tranquil waters tumbling down, splashing against pads of moss layered rock.
This was the Árbol de Navidad waterfall. So-called because of the craggy Christmas tree like formations that protrude from its sides. There are many other waterfalls located throughout Sumidero but this is certainly the most visible from the river.
The trip continued with varying sights capturing our fancy. All stops were knowledgeably chronicled by our driver. Information is in Spanish so you may want to brush up a bit beforehand. Even with our limited Español we enjoyed it, although there's no doubt you’d get more from the experience with a decent level of Spanish.
Many people will talk about the plastic that blights the river, and although the view is never less than spectacular it is one slightly inescapable sight. I have to say that there is a clear effort going into the cleanup operation. A huge trawler wadded through the water picking up everything in its path. I’ve read online that the Guatemalan government is going to great lengths to have the issue sorted in its attempt to get the canyon recognised as a new world wonder.
If anything I found it served as a strikingly visible reminder about the cost human impact is having on our environment. Its almost impossible to return from such an experience without questioning one's own relationship with waste and single-use plastics.
After emerging the canyon mouth on the other side you're invited to grab beers and snacks from the awaiting floating shops. Then a quick spin around and the boat is driving back to the dock at breakneck speed.
Once out of the boat, we hopped back onto the bus and finished our excursion with a number of stops at the many viewing points that sit atop the canyon. If truth be told I found it slightly underwhelming after what had preceded it. Unable to shake the feeling that once you’d seen Sumidero from an aerial view at one stop you probably didn’t need to see it five more times from others. Maybe stay clear of it unless desperate to see the canyon from a different perspective.