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Mexico: Canyoning in Matacanes

Most people know of the beautiful beaches, exquisite cuisine, and magical towns in Mexico, few are aware of the majestic mountains of the Sierra Madre Oriental and the secret treasures within.

Tucked in the Cumbres National Park is Matacanes, one of the most beautiful canyons in the world, with turquoise water, rock formations, and waterfalls. The canyon extends for 12 km providing hours of pure adrenaline rush. The journey includes a couple of rappel descends, more than 20 cliff jumps, two [dark] caves, and several rock slides.

To complete this journey, you should have a bold spirit and be in very good shape. Nature tests you three times before welcoming you into the canyon because, once you enter, the only way back home is through it.

A professional guide is a smart choice because of the logistics getting there and the continuously changing conditions of the river due heavy rain. There are several tour agencies, I booked with Gaia Xtreme in 2007 and again this summer of 2022 with my 13 year old son; they are very professional, knowledgeable and flexible in the services offered. Note: Gaia took the photos where I am in, all other photos and videos I #shotoniphone 13.

View of the mountains at sunrise (2007)

Our adventure started the day prior. We met our guide at a hotel in the town of Santiago, minutes outside of Monterrey. He drove the van on dirt [bumpy!] roads, crossing water streams and into the mountain for about 2 hours with amazing views along the way. Once at the campground, we had a quick dinner and went to bed. The air was very humid, specially as it had just poured for several hours that day; blankets felt wet, thankfully it was not too cold (in the 60's F). Forecast for the following day was overcast, maybe more rain, nothing to stop us though.

At 6am, with the roosters crowing, we were having our sugar-loaded breakfast, packing up calories for the day, it would be 12 hours before we had our next meal. Our group was "small", about 15 people including three guides. We geared up (wet suit, harness, helmet, vest) and started our journey.

Test #1: A 3 km hike before seeing any signs of the river. It is not strenuous but it is as intense as it is beautiful and there are no rest-stops;

Test #2: The first jump, it is a 6-7 feet jump into the fresh water. A reality check for what this adventure entails;

Test #3: A 60 feet rappel on the side of the waterfall, this is the last call, after this rappel, there's no way back;

It is not uncommon for 10-15% of participants to quit at any of these tests. The remaining 85% of the group will get to enjoy a thrilling adventure, one that will leave long lasting memories.

Once in the canyon, we continued with a series of jumps (check videos below) and another 30' rappel which took us into a cave/tunnel with amazing rock formations, this is where the name, Matacanes, comes from. These rock formations are like giant shower heads. We followed the water flow as its current pushed (dragged) us deeper into the darkness of the cave, our hands became our eyes as we held onto the walls looking for guidance until we reached daylight again - about 10 minutes later.

At times we were swimming, at times we were climbing, at times we were jumping, at times we were sliding and repeat for the following 4-5 hours - I lost track of time.

Jumps vary in height and degree of difficulty. Click on the image below for a short video of selected jumps (the youtube video will open in another window). Each jump has a name but I couldn't memorize ... so #1, #2, and #3 it is. I do recall one though, the "salto de fe" (leap of faith), inside the dark cave we had to jump without seeing anything - pitch black.

It was about 6pm by the time we were back at the van. Tired, with scratches, blisters, and bruises but excited and very encouraged as I saw my son having so much fun enjoying nature - the fact he allowed me to take photos is a testimony of this. We changed into dry clothes that we had left in the van and drove for 40 min back into civilization. Along the way we stopped for yummi tacos de asada. No meal has ever tasted so good.

Is Matacanes in your bucket list now? Drop me a note, happy to answer questions.

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The tour started and ended without any problem. The whole team enjoyed it and was attentive to the instructions of the guides who were always aware of everyone's safety.

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