Zimatan Canyon

Huatulco Travel Blog

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Erik flipping out

    I knew of the existence of this canyon long before I was able to find a way into it. The last and largest waterfall on the Class V Zimatan River whitewater kayak run - which has been said may be the best kayak run in Mexico - pours into a small twisting granite canyon before spreading out into a tree-lined calm and gentle river. I had heard the waterfall from the road above numerous times on my way up to the Copalitilla waterfalls much higher in the mountains, but the drop-off from the road was so steep and the view blocked by trees that I could never see down to it. I assumed it was only accessible by kayakers who had the skills to navigate the treacherous eight mile run from the upper slot canyon all the way down to there.

Esta paddling
Then I saw a mention of a place in a Canadian adventure website that I knew could only be that canyon, and I realized there must be a way into it from lower down in the valley.

      One day I found a turnoff from the Zimatan-Xadani road and nursed my Subaru around boulders, rocks, and tree stumps to make my way down to the river. There was a well-worn path used by local Zimatan villagers that led upstream, crossed the river, and climbed up the canyon walls. I was dumbstruck by the size and beauty of the canyon. I had seen kayaking photos of the waterfall, but had no idea about the majesty of the place. Cupped and chiseled water-worn walls of granite twisted in all kinds of marvelous shapes. The rock was dangerously slippery in tennis shoes, and I made a note to hike it in bare feet or grip soles in the future.

George wading
Above the waterfall a trail continued upstream for miles along the beautiful boulder-strewn river, with lush green trees on either side providing a striking contrast to the brown hills of dry season above. Somewhere along the way I found a nice armadillo shell that was long dried out and smell-free that I brought home to hang on my wall.

     Over the next few months I brought a variety of people up there, and the awestruck wonder was universal. Despite there being any number of other incredibly gorgeous natural places around Huatulco, most people declared it the highlight of their trip. Because of the difficulty of the rock canyon trail, I took some older folks up in kayaks so they could paddle up to the base of the falls, and that worked out perfectly.

canyon rock
Another group that had people that couldn't swim, I had them wade upriver til it got too deep and then sat them in a kayak and towed them up to the falls by swimming.

    The more I brought friends up, the more we explored and tried new things. With some adventurous Norwegian friends, I tested some of the deeper pools for depth and jumped higher and higher off the canyon walls into them. It was a holiday weekend, and a large Mexican family observed with mirth from the shallows as Glenn jumped off the highest rock into the river. Cries of "otra! otra! otra!" immediately rang out upon landing. We joked that in a guidebook one day there would be a comment about a special feature of the Zimatan being the rare sighting of daredevil Norwegian cliff jumpers.

the side pool beneath the falls

     Over time we found new places to jump in at the base of the waterfalls, and we discovered there was a cave behind the falls you could swim into with some effort. From there you could swirl around with the current while a thunderous torrent poured down just feet away from you. Up above the falls, there were shallow pools in the river where you could lay with mini-falls massaging your back and shoulders. The last time up was after the first rains of the season, and it took all the swimming power we had to make it to the top pool beneath the falls. A few more rains and that will be inaccessible for the rest of the rainy season as the water flow increases dramatically in the river and the waterfall becomes a truly formidable cascade.

Esta and Rolf in the canyon
The first few pools then become frothing chaos.

   The great thing is that no tours go there, and few people know about it but the Zimatan villagers and other clued-in locals. Most of the time we have it to ourselves, unless it's a weekend or holiday. On the way out, one of my favorite lunch places, El Sauce, sits on the river by the highway and fantastic plates of chicken, pork, and other dishes all go for about 35 pesos apiece, or $3.50. The pitchers of agua de sandia (watermelon juice) are like a slice of heaven. They also are quick to offer shots of mezcal, housed like moonshine in large glass jugs or plastic soda bottles. Some of my friends despair about the pet coatimundi (raccoon like creature) they keep, but the owners raised Chondo from when it was small and when released from its leash it doesn't venture far - just kills chickens and terrorizes and destroys everything in sight so they have to keep it on a chain.

geokid says:
Nice blog!!!!!!!
Posted on: Jan 09, 2009
yheleen says:
wow.. seems you had lots of fun ;)
Posted on: Aug 13, 2008
geerbox says:
I want to go here!!
Posted on: Jun 18, 2008
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Erik flipping out
Erik flipping out
Esta paddling
Esta paddling
George wading
George wading
canyon rock
canyon rock
the side pool beneath the falls
the side pool beneath the falls
Esta and Rolf in the canyon
Esta and Rolf in the canyon
locals
locals
George jumping
George jumping
the canyon
the canyon
mariposa hermosa
mariposa hermosa
KJ taking the high jump
KJ taking the high jump
hanging out
hanging out
Rolf
Rolf
canyon walls
canyon walls
canyon trail
canyon trail
Esta appreciating the natural artw…
Esta appreciating the natural art…
Erik, the owner, and Chondo
Erik, the owner, and Chondo
Chondo the coatimundi
Chondo the coatimundi
getting Esta going at the put-in
getting Esta going at the put-in
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photo by: tiffanyteresa