There is a lot of competition from different tour companies in Merida that more or less all sell the same tour packages-it’s just deciding which company you want to trust-or what you can afford. We checked out our Lonely Planet book for the popular picks-and figured we’d try them all until one felt right. The first place we went to was Arassari Trek, and we felt a good vibe so we went with them..I know. So much for the plan!
Merida has a backpacker street called Calle 24 Rangel- there are cheap hostels and a few tour agencies. It’s located right next to the famous teleferico, that won’t be up and running for another year(this is 2010 so maybe it working now!) At Arassari Trek, the Canadian owner sat us in the patio located to the rear of the property. The views were mesmerizing-180 degrees of mountains. As he walked us through the rappelling information(“All you need is a great positive attitude! Its not as scary as its going to look”), all I could do was stare off into the mountains. Wow wow wow. We asked the usual canyoning questions: is the water very cold? How often do people get injured? Is your rope heavy duty enough to support my weight? Things of that nature. I admit I was more excited about the paragliding than the rappelling-somehow jumping off the side of a mountain seemed infinitely cooler than hiking through a cold water canyon. The tour operator assured us this was equally as dare devil worthy. We left with instructions to return the next day with sneakers, sunscreen, and extra clothes. A packed lunch was to be provided for us.
The next day I decided not to bring sunscreen but to include some munchie food-who knew how hungry all this exercise might make us? Our guide was a Venezolano who had been working the circuit for 8 years or so. While walking to the truck I managed to step in dog poo- our guide assured me that this was a good sign and told me to throw the ‘shitty shoe in the back cab. We stopped on the way up the mountain to pick up his friend who would also be canyoning with us. We drove up this winding road through paved concrete hills and stopped. From here, by foot. We peeled off our clothes and soon were sweating-it was a perfectly hot and sunny day. Through the forest till we stopped to gear up-a wetsuit complete with built in knee and shoulder pads. A helmet added the finishing touch.
We had worn our sneakers and hoped they wouldn’t come to pieces like I’d read in some other traveler’s posts. We begin by dunking our heads under the water-and yes it was icy-but it felt good after being so sweaty. Plus the bodysuit-after you get over the initial shock of cold-helped keep the water from freezing you. We plunged right in to the rapids-our sneakers soaking up the cold water like we’d stepped into gigantic puddles. Then the adrenaline kicks in and you are off. We are by no means in great shape- I always say I only stay in shape when traveling. And since I’d just come back from Peru & Bolivia, I was in better shape than Mike. The water was strong-the force of it would make your legs wobble.
You reach your first rappelling spot, then comes the explanation of the rappelling system. I won’t get in the specifics, but I did learn to always keep the right hand with the rope behind you. It’s like a locking mechanism and you won’t ever plunge down if you’re holding on. As we’re getting our lesson, we spot another guide with dreadlocks beginning the decent with 2 terrified looking Aussies. I could hear their panicked cries below us. They were soon drowned out by the noise of the waterfalls-and after I’d looked over the side and asked myself “am I really going down this gigantic waterfall on a rope?” I realized I was more than ready to get going. Our guide’s friend went first which was hugely reassuring. If all went well with him then we’d be just fine. And down we went, slowly going over the waterfalls, feeling the pounding water on our backs, finally making it to the pools below, unharnessing, going faster through the rapids, jumping navy seal style through small frothing crevices “don’t worry!”, says our guide,” it’s definitely deep enough, just bend your knees a bit when you hit the water!”
Rappelling down the 2nd waterfall I was blasted and hurled at the rock wall by a force of water that threatened to turn me upside down entirely. I threw myself into the water at the 2nd navy seals-esque jump, crossing my arms over my body and closing my eyes to lurch across a wet mossy rock. See below photo of me getting blasted by the pounding water. Our guide told us it was very important to hold ourselves upright as if we lost control we could turn upside down which would be dangerous.
We stopped when Mike busted his knee on the 2nd navy seal jump, the cold water being a blessing for him as it helped keep the swelling down in his knee so we could keep going. Since he’s taller than me, when he jumped into the swirling water he miscalculated the jump and banged up his knee pretty good. We reached the 3rd & final waterfall to rappel and seeing 125 feet of pure fresh water falling over the side we knew that this would be the best thrill yet.
The end of the trip was accident free. Our laughter got more hysterical as our adrenaline reached its highest peak, then we cooled off on the return hike back through the mountains with squishy wet feet-our shoes survived the mission completely intact. The locals get a look at us with crazy hair and rocks in our socks and we struggle out of our clothes noting the lunches they’ve provided for us-sandwiches and chocolate. Just perfect. A definite thrill and something I’d do over and over again. We got lucky -we were the only 2 on our tour. Which meant we only had to wait for us + our guide and his friend to rappel down-I can imagine being with a large group and having to wait for everyone including that one person that is petrified and hasn’t been able to budge from his spot on the highest part of the waterfall. I hoped the Aussies had enjoyed it as much as we had.
Our tour gave us everything it promised us at a good price, we definitely recommend them if you’re up for the thrill in Merida, I’ve listed their website below. We did not receive anything discounted, we loved their professionalism as this can be a fun activity if it’s done with people who have the proper training, and we completely trusted our guide.
Calle 24 Rangel No 8
Would you ever love to attempt an activity like this? Or have you done this anywhere else on your travels? Let us know some of your best spots!