Matacanes is a canyon set deep in the beautiful Sierra de Santiago, a string of mountains just South of the city of Monterrey, the industrial capital of Northern Mexico. The vegetation is incredibly green. A mix of pine and oak forest on your way to the top, and a wild transition to a jungle like environment once you enter the canyon for the descent. Matacanes is both a climbing an a canyoneering experience, one that will put your stamina to the test. Without you knowing of course. This inocent, one day trip, starts getting some respect after the first two hours of exposure to the canyon's crystal clear, cold water, and the slippery, ankle-twisting boulders you have to negotiate on your way down. After four hours, a 80 feet rappel by a waterfall, another rappel into a huge cave with an interior lake, more cold water, and the notion that you are only half way into the canyon, Matacanes gets your undivided attention.
Almost all the groups leaving for Matacanes start from Monterrey, the state of Nuevo Leon's capital. A big, industrial city, 3 million in population. You take what is known as Vieja Carretera Nacional, or Old National Highway, Southbound toward the small city of El Cercado. There, you will see signs pointing to the right (West), to a place named Cascada Cola de Caballo, Horse Tail Waterfalls, a very well known, touristic attraction. There, a first class hotel of the same name is the other point of reunion for the groups going to Matacanes. Usually, if you are going with a company that catters to climbers/canyoneers (your best bet), this will be the meeting place. From here, 4X4 trucks will take you for a 15 minutes ride to a place called Puerto Genovevo. Here you leave the paved road, you turn sharply to the left into a dirt road, and start a steep descent into a huge, pined choked canyon. After about an hour and a half, depending of course on climatic conditions, you will arrive to a place called Las Adjuntas, a group of sheds and some cabins by the river. This place is the end of Matacanes circuit. The trucks keep going on for another hour, now climbing up a twisted, narrow, carved-in-the-mountain dirt road toward Potrero Redondo.This is another place with five or six sheds and cabins, where many of the parties start donning their long lycras, neoprene suits, helmets, harnesses, PFD's etc, and start walking uphill. Another hour of climbing will take you to the top of a waterfall and the beginning of Matacanes canyon descent.
There are no fees to get as far as Potrero Redondo. However, there are always a check point manned by Civilian Protection there. They make sure you have the necessary equipment and knowledge to challenge the canyon. If you hire a guide's company, you not only know you are making it into the canyon, but you will be completely outffited for the task at hand.
When To Climb
Roughly, seasons starts in April, and ends in August. During summer, the water is just cold. Later in the season, during the rains, the water becomes icy cold and the river swells so much it becomes very dangerous.
If you drive yourself all the way to Las Adjuntas, you may park your truck and camp there for a very modest price. On my 2004 trip, our group of 12 camped there for 100 pesos (about 10 US Dollars), about 80 cents per person! But wait, on 2005 we paid the equivalent of one dollar.... don't say I didn't tell you, OK?
If you camp by the river, not in private property, you pay nothing. Just keep in mind that the terrain is very rocky, there are very few level areas, most of it in private land. The few good spots are almost always taken, especially if you go on weekends.
As any mountain location, Matacanes weather can change in a snap. Summers are usually very hot, with temperatures climbing into the 100's. All it takes is an overcast sky and a brief shower to drop temperatures to the 50's. The canyon can take light rains without swelling a lot. Heavy rains though, are another issue. That's why the Civilian Protection guys are always there. If they are notified that the water level is getting too high, the access to Matacanes is denied.
There are many companies that can take you to Matacanes for a reasonable fee. They are all Monterrey based, and have English speaking staff. I am familiar with the services of the next two. Both provide 4X4 transportation, and all the necessary gear as harnesses, ropes, rappel devices, helmets, PFD's, and even light neoprene suits. Most important, the equipment is of good quality (Petzl, Black Diamond, Metolious) and is well maintained. Their guides are certfied and very knowledgeable.
The last two seasons, our group has used Luis Valenzuela's Geo Aventuras services, now (2007) they even offer the first trip to the first Via Ferrata in Mexico!