Canyoning in Spain is one of the best ways to experience its spectacular natural beauty, but most people don’t think about going canyoning with kids.
Wait, let me back up. Most people don’t even know what canyoning is, so let me explain. I often describe canyoning as whitewater rafting…off a waterfall…without the raft.
Sounds fun, right? You’re damn right it does.
CANYONING IN SPAIN
Canyoning incorporates elements of hiking, swimming, rock climbing, gorge walking, rappelling, abseiling and, well, jumping. Whether you’re canyoning in Spain or anywhere else, specialized equipment is needed. You wear wetsuits, helmets, and rock climbing harnesses. You’ll also need a qualified guide — canyoning in Galicia may be fun, but it’s not something you should try on your own.
I first went canyoning in 2008 and have been twice since then — once with Keiko and a third time with my sister. Our kids have been rock climbing, ziplining, rafting, and even snake hunting.
We’ve also spent plenty of time on motorcycles. Adventure is not new to us. Canyoning in Spain, however, was a new level for them — me too.
Find an experienced guide
So we wanted to try canyoning in Spain…somewhere. Once we decided on canyoning in Galicia, we did our research and decided to go with Guías Malouco, which is only 30-40 min away from Ourense and an easy 1-hour drive from Santiago de Compostela.
Our guides were Fredy, the owner and a guide for more than 6 years, and Diego, who was second in command on our trip. They were fantastic guides: funny, informative, considerate, and professional. They both seemed a little hesitant with their English at first, but within thirty minutes we were laughing and communicating without problems.
Canyoning in Spain: Guías Malouco in Galicia
Fredy takes people canyoning in Galicia regularly, and can accommodate groups of different ages and sizes. We told Fredy about some of our adventures in Sumatra, Chiang Mai, Krabi and elsewhere. We must have been convincing because he allowed our kids to do a more advanced course usually reserved for customers 14 years old or older. Our kids are presently 10 and 13 years old, and this was their first time canyoning in Spain or anywhere, so I appreciate that Fredy made an exception for them and let them do the advanced course.
The pics you see here are from an advanced course (14 and older), but Fredy has tours to accommodate younger kids, as well. Whatever level you do, you’ll have a blast.
Fredy also let me carry a small waterproof camera around my neck, which is usually not allowed on his tours. The paths that we took by and through the river can be treacherous at times. Take a selfie when you should be watching your step, and you could really hurt yourself.
If you decide to try canyoning in Spain or anywhere, keep these things in mind, and understand that the final decision of who does what on a canyoning course is for the guides to decide.
Take the gear seriously
Before you go canyoning, the first thing you have to do is get fitted and dressed in all the equipment required. Confirm that it’s on properly and that you know how it works. Make sure the kids pay attention to what the guides say. Our kids had worn rock climbing harnesses before, but the wetsuit was a new one. Fredy was patient and helpful getting us all geared up for the adventure to come.
Bring your own shoes…and the right kind
Some tours provide canyoning shoes for the tour, but at Guías Malouco, you need to bring your own. Sneakers or even hiking boots will do. Tevas, Crocs or other types of sandals will not. Check with Fredy before you arrive, and keep in mind that on canyoning tours you will be wearing these shoes in the water for hours and hours.
In the pictures you see here, you’ll see that we’re all wearing our own running shoes. Our girl didn’t bring sneakers on this trip, so we went and bought a cheap pair (10 euros at a local shop) the day before. We saw river shoes for sale, but Fredy advised against them, as well. Fredy himself wore full-on hiking boots.
Now I know why Fredy banned open-toe footwear. The route is rocky, the current is occasionally strong, and if you’re just wearing thin, flat-bottomed river shoes with no grip, you are leaving yourself vulnerable. Be sure to check with your guide on what is needed before you go canyoning. With Fredy, we used Whatsapp to contact him from the shoe store.
Be prepared to hike first
Natural beauty like we saw doesn’t last long near civilization, does it? You have to travel a bit to reach it. For this particular canyoning tour, we first had a 10-minute drive to a small village. Our trail into the wilderness began from there. Before we left, we were advised to go to the bathroom one last time. If possible, try to go before you even put the wetsuit on — it’s not easy to take off.
Fredy told us to keep the top of our wet suits off until we needed it, and I’m glad we did. Wet suits, when not in the water, are unbearably hot on a muggy summer afternoon. We discovered just how hot when the hike began. Fredy brought us deep into the forest along a beautiful trail.
The hike in
As you can see in the picture below, our girl — who runs hot already — got overheated. Almost fainted, actually. I could tell she was about to faint when she started saying “Everything is fuzzy…”
For our own safety, we can’t carry water bottles (your hands have to be completely free). We were almost there, so all I could do was encourage her. She had just drunk some water before she started hiking, but the July heat and the extra layer of wetsuit was too much for her, I guess.
Time for a dip!
Just as our girl started to stagger, we arrived at the river. Hallelujah! The cold water felt exquisite when we got in, and our girl cooled down quickly. After a moment, we were ready to start. Fredy kept us entertained the entire way, cracking us up while teaching us about the Galicia’s ecosystem.
The area where we were canyoning has been relatively untouched by people, Fredy explained. So much so, that frogs and salamanders rarely fled when we approached. This fire salamander (see below) basically sat there when Fredy gently picked it up and showed it to us.
Canyoning in Spain: Galicia – Untouched nature
In fact, he had to shoo it away when he put it back in the water, and there was once when I was face to face with a frog sitting in a ledge and it just looked at me (I took a picture but I was so close it was out-of-focus).
Because we’re following the river downstream, Fredy encouraged us to swim or float whenever we could. Even in knee-deep water, he said, try to float and push forward with your hands. That way we might not step on creatures like these salamanders who seemingly sensed no danger or fled from our path.
Fredy was the first to admit that the act of canyoning in Galicia is an unnatural exercise and that his chosen vocation as a canyoning guide would have an impact on the local environment. That’s why he takes as many precautions as possible to limit that impact.
After several small jumps and slides, we arrived at a hole in the rock. To move forward, we had to jump in the hole and swim through.
Then came the big drops. The first of which we had to rappel down to the jumping spot.
The kids jumped from here (Keiko, the guides and I jumped from a little higher). Once he guided us to the platform, Fredy showed us the deepest and safest place to jump towards. At this particular spot, he recommended that we point at the spot before jumping to aim best.
A calculated risk
I know what some of you thinking: “Are you nuts? Canyoning is crazy! Canyoning is dangerous!” Well, I can’t deny that there is an element of peril that makes this exciting, but Diego and Fredy are certified guides. They are trained to do this. Also, Diego always went first and Fredy stayed with us. That way there was always someone at both ends of our group, and always someone at the bottom.
Speaking of “the bottom….”
The next drop was a doozy:
And in truth, this wasn’t just a jump. This was a rope descent down a five-story waterfall.
Part climb, part abseiling, we were lowered down about half way and then slid down the rest.
An educational adventure
Is canyoning scary? You bet. Is it fun? Oh yeah. Canyoning in Galicia rocks. Remember what I said earlier? This course was for 14 years old and up. The only time I felt genuine fear was when hiking in the heat and our girl turned red saying “I’m thirsty.”
In fact, the kids wanted to go back the next day, but alas, we had to move on to Santiago de Compostela. Thanks to Fredy and Guías Malouco, we left with memories to last a lifetime.
A long day in the water
The tour usually lasts around 4-5 hours (2.5 hours traveling + logistics). However, Fredy took his time for us to play in the water a lot longer than usual.
We started at 4:00pm at his office, prepping, signing a waiver, getting the safety lecture and changing into the gear. When we returned to his office from the trip, it was 10:30 and a full moon hung in the sky. Canyoning in Galicia is now one of our favorite things to do in Spain, for sure.
Guías Malouco is located about half an hour from downtown Ourense by car.
LOOKING FOR MORE FUN IN THE WATER?
- River tubing in Sumatra
- Surfing in Santander
- Stand-up Paddleboard in San Sebastian
- How about wild swimming in northern Spain?
- Or sea kayaking on the Costa Brava?
- We can also recommend whitewater rafting in Kyoto and our favorite (cheesy) waterpark in Osaka
HAVE YOU BEEN CANYONING IN GALICIA ?
Would you go Canyoning in Galicia? Or have you been canyoning in Spain before? Where? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments, or contact me directly.
Disclosure: We received a discount for writing about this tour. Our opinion on the experiences are all our own.