Not for the Faint of Heart: Matacanes Canyon

And now, for one of my more extreme adventures! Hang on tight for this one! 

It all started when Gabriel’s plan was to go canyoning with a few of his friends. The invite was extended to me to go to Monterrey, Mexico on this trip with them in the middle of nowhere south of the city. Canyoning, for those who like myself had never heard of it, is the sport of making your way through a canyon which can include hiking, swimming, jumping, repelling, and so on. In my head, I was thinking “sure, I’ll give it a try. I’m afraid of heights, but pushing myself outside of my comfort zone could be a good way to get over this fear”. And so I said yes, I’ll go! It sounded like a great physical and mental challenge, so of course I was on board!

Our excursion was scheduled with Gaia Xtreme tours, so while we were completely alone in the middle of Mexico, we had guides with us. We flew into Monterrey the evening before to check into a hotel and get a solid night’s sleep prior to our adventure. At 5:00am the next morning, we met our guides in a Walmart parking lot and packed ourselves into their marked passenger vans. Yes…I was thinking it was a little sketchy meeting outside of walmart, but all of their gear and uniforms seemed legit. From Walmart, we drove about two hours. The drive started on the main city streets and highways, and then about half way through, we found ourselves on one-way dirt roads weaving up, down, left, and right through the mountains. Our trip had been planned right at the start of the rainy season, and had we been there a few weeks later, I’m not sure how we would have made it across some of those roads. With zero light besides the moon and the headlights, we crossed multiple dried up or trickling river beds bouncing off of large rocks as we tried not to bump our heads on the top of the van. This entire time, the only thing going through my head was “this might be the day I die” (sorry Mom, if you’re reading this!). 

Clearly, I’m still alive…and after a long, heart-racing drive, we arrived at a little grassy clearing with a few small houses around. The sun had started to come up at this point and I could see we were surrounded by mountains as far as the eye could see. The guides got us unpacked, gave us each a neoprene wetsuit, a helmet, and a climbing harness with a yellow heavy-duty plastic diaper thing attached to the back (I would later find out this was for sitting and sliding down rocks). The group in total, including our 7 friends we booked the trip with, was about 25 people plus the guides. We all changed, they fed us some delicious breakfast burritos made there on the spot, and we made our last stops to the little out house available to us. We had been told to wear tennis shoes with some good tread to grip wet rocks, and I brought a drawstring backpack with a water-proof bag to protect my phone and wallet.

Our Departure Point

And we began hiking. It was easy at first. A good 2.5 miles or so through the woods and across some rolling hills. Toward the end, we started climbing some steeper ground. And then we walked straight up to a cliff, and they told us to jump. Yes, jump. I looked over the edge and it was about a 15 foot drop to the water below. One by one, we plunged into the clear, cold water. As with any adrenaline rush, once I had jumped that first cliff, the rest throughout the day became somewhat easier, but the cliffs ranged in height from 5 feet to 30 feet. 

We followed our guides as we swam through the water and climbed out along the next bank we encountered. Just to start hiking again. This jumping off cliffs, sliding down rocks into small pools of water, and hiking across the canyon floor continued throughout our 9 hour long trek through the canyon. The water was cold, but the wetsuits helped a lot. We probably spent 15% of our entire day submerged in water, and another 10% treading through water. A good portion of the time we spent hobbling through and over rocks both dry and wet. But the entire time we were surrounded with beautiful scenery and rock formations.

About half way through, we found ourselves at the top of the waterfall pictured below! The guides stopped and started pulling out gear as I’m standing there starting to freak out inside about having to REPEL the face of this cliff!! I peek over and all I see is splashing water to my left and jagged rocks at the bottom to my right. I’m trying to stay calm, but many of us were visibly nervous. The guides secured all the necessary ropes, one of them went down first to catch everyone at the bottom, and then they started calling people up. We watched a few others go first, Gabriel volunteered to go, and then it was my turn. They secured me in by my harness, and told me to hold on to the rope with my left hand while feeding the rope through with my right down by my hip. They told me to go ahead and start walking back slowly. It took everything I had to force my body toward the edge of the cliff and start descending. Just look at the sheer terror behind my smile in the picture below. Holy S***! Writing this is making my heart start beating faster.

On my way down, I was in a seated position with my feet out in front of me walking down the vertical cliff as I got misted by the waterfall. Holding on for dear life and taking it slow but steady, I made my way to the end where the guide detached my rope and I jumped another 10 feet into the water and swam my way to dry land. I turned around and looked back at the rock face I just managed to scale down. Talk about getting over my fear of heights! The remainder of the cliff jumps that trip were effortless after this. 

Just down the stream, we stopped to eat bagged lunches that the guides had been carrying the entire time: tuna packets, an apple, a granola bar, and water. This was a nice time to get out of the water, try to warm up in the sun for a little, and get off our feet. 30 minutes like this and we were back at it. Trailing in and out of the water, the canyon floor led us to a cave entrance. This was the second of two repelling challenges we had. This one was a bit different though because while the vertical drop was shorter than the first, this one had us repelling partially through the smaller waterfall at this cliff into the basin of a darkened cave below. So the splashing water and the lack of light turned this cliff into even more of a mental game. 

Once everyone made it into the cave and made it on dry-ish land, we hiked further into the cave. Sunlight broke as we curved around and we had to squat and crawl our way under a low ceiling cavity in the rock behind another waterfall. Immediately after this, we were sent down a natural rock slide with rushing water into the dark unknown. Literally, we couldn’t see what was around the corner and had to voluntarily opt to slide down this rushing water slide into the dark (my saving grace was knowing one of the guides had already gone to ensure we made it okay). So, I go sailing down the slide and pop my head up out of the water in a near pitch-black cave. All I could see was the faintest slit of light far, far ahead. I could not see my hand in front of my face, but I was just told to swim. So I pushed ahead and was able to make out more detail as my eyes adjusted and I saw the light reflecting off the others’ helmets. 

We swam to the cave opening, climbed out of the water, and were told that was the last swim of the day. Hooray!! What felt like a three mile hike after this cave got us to the end of our adventure. Some of the initial guides had driven the vans over to the end point to meet us. Thoroughly exhausted at this point, we ate all the snacks they offered us, stripped out of the wet clothes we had been in all day and sat in the sun trying to warm up for a while. Once everyone returned from the last stretch of the hike, we all loaded back up into the vans, drove through the rocky terrain through the mountains, back to the highway. On the outskirts of the city, they brought us to a small taco shack with some outdoor seating. This greasy, carb-filled meal was exactly what we needed after such a long, physically and mentally exhausting day in the sun and the water. 

What a trip this was. I will warn you, this was not exactly an easy excursion. I recommend taking the requirements seriously after about ⅓ of our group struggled to finish or complained most of the way. It was fun and challenging and I would recommend it, but just understand your own physical and mental limitations before going!


“Traveling. It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” — Ibn Battuta

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