majority of Ecuador's whitewater rivers share a number of
characteristics. Plunging off the Andes the upper sections
are very steep creeks offering, if they're runnable at all,
serious technical grade V, suitable for expert kayakers only.
As the creeks join on the lower slopes they form rivers navigable
by both raft and kayak (ie less steep, more volume). Some
of these rivers offer up to 100 km of continuous grade III-IV
whitewater, before flattening out to rush towards the Pacific
Ocean on one side of the ranges or deep into the Amazon Basin
on the other.
to their proximity to Quito, the Blanco river and its
tributaries are the most frequently run in Ecuador.
There is almost 200 km of raftable whitewater in the
Blanco valley, with the Toachi/Blanco combination and
the Upper Blanco being the most popular day trips. The
former starts as a technical grade III-IV run, including
the infamous rapids of the El Sapo canyon, before joining
the Blanco where big waves abound (year round). The
latter is most probably the world's longest day trip
- 47 km of non-stop grade III-IV rapids in a little
over four hours on the river (February-June only). Family
trips are also offered on the Caoni (II-III) and Mulate
(click on the map to see enlarged image)
In addition to those already mentioned,
kayakers have a number of other possibilities to choose
from depending on the time of year and their skills
and experience. The Mindo (III-IV), Saloya (IV-V), Pachejal
(III-IV), Upper Caoni (IV), Pilaton (IV-V), Damas (IV-V)
and Upper Toachi (IV-V) are options.
waters of the Quijos river and its tributaries are a whitewater
playground. Within a 30 km radius of the town of El Chaco
you'll find everything from steep, technical grade V creek
runs to big volume, roller coaster grade III and IV. The
Quijos (IV-V) has quickly earned the reputation as a classic
for rafting and kayaking boasting challenging whitewater
and spectacular canyon scenery. Other popular kayaking
runs can be found on the Papallacta (V), Cosanga (III-IV)
and Oyacachi (IV) tributaries. At the end of the upper
section the collected waters of the Quijos catchment plunge
dramatically over San Rafael Falls, which at 145 m is
the highest waterfall in Ecuador. Access to the Quijos
valley is generally easy as it forms the main corridor
from Quito down into the jungle. The most popular put
ins and take outs are accessible by road.
on the map to see enlarged image)
The best time to dip your paddle
depends on how hard you want to push yourself. The rainy
season generally runs from March to September so at
this time you can expect high flows and truly continuous
whitewater (for expert kayakers only). The rest of the
year, the dry season, is when commercial rafting and
kayaking trips are offered. During these months there's
still plenty of action and water and air temperatures
are more comfortable.
the jungle surrounding Tena, the Napo river and its tributaries
offer a tremendous amount of whitewater in a small area.
It's very easy to spend a week based here and paddle a
different river every day. The grade III Upper Napo or
Jatunyacu, the most popular rafting trip, is runnable
year round. While the gem of this region, the Misahuallí
(IV), is only rafted during the drier months from October
to March. This river passes through pristine jungle in
a remote canyon, the highlight being the heart-stopping
portage around Casanova Falls. Rafting trips are run on
the Napo and Misahualli rivers by our alliance partner
kayaking options include various sections of the Misahualli,
Jondachi, Anzu and Hollín rivers. Difficulty
is very much water level dependent but most are grade
IV or V when they have sufficient water to paddle.
vertical walls of the Namangosa Gorge are covered by a
thick layer of primary rainforest broken only by the waters
spilling spectacularly off the lip of the gorge.
(click on the map to see enlarged image)
Best known for the Namangosa Gorge in
which dozens of waterfalls plummet up to 100 m into
the river, to date this spectacle has been witnessed
by few river runners. While the gorge is undoubtedly
the highlight, what makes a journey down the Upano special
is witnessing the changing character of an Amazonian
river. Trickling from a string of mountain lakes the
Upano quickly gathers force, carving a path southward
through the province of Morona Santiago. As it rushes
past Macas it is shallow and braided. Picking a route
from the myriad channels is a real challenge; make the
wrong choice and an unscheduled portage will result.
The pace steadily increases until the
river plunges into the magnificent Namangosa Gorge.
Some falls cascade down staggered cliffs while others
freefall into the jungle below. This 'Lost World' atmosphere
is made even more daunting by the seething rapids below.
The rapids are big class IV with lots of funny water
including raft-flipping boils and kayak(er)-swallowing
Once out of the gorge, the river broadens
and deepens to become a calm but powerful giant on its
way to meet the mighty Amazon.
The rafting trip starts south
of Macas. From here to the end of the gorge is about
90 km and takes three to four days. Recommended months
are October to February. During the rest of the year
the river can flood unexpectedly.