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Ecuador Rafting & Kayaking
by Gynner Coronel
In Ecuador, the massive Andes mountain range gives birth to scores of rivers east and west that carve their way through spectacular gorges, canyons, valleys and jungles leaving behind hundreds of miles of breathtaking world class whitewater. Ecuador holds the headwaters of the Amazon river and as a result the country has one of the highest concentrations of rivers per square mile in the world. Add to this warm tropical waters, year-round flows, excellent accessibility, and an opportunity to paddle in the Amazon jungle and you have perhaps the world’s best whitewater playground.
Whether you are a whitewater rafting enthusiast or a kayaking aficionado, Ecuador is an unrivaled whitewater destination that you should not pass up.
The jungle rivers of the Amazon side of the Andes are by the most part bigger and have more year-round water than their west Andes counterparts.
Besides exceptional whitewater they provide an opportunity to experience the Amazon jungle and the rhythm of life of its native inhabitants. Between rapids indigenous groups of Quichuas are often seen going about their daily life.
Ecuador boasts thousands of miles of whitewater. Photo by Ríos Ecuador.
Rafting trips can easily be combined with a variety of jungle excursions lasting from 1 to 5 days. From Quito, travel time is about 4.5 hours to the jungle town of Tena, which is where most trips start from.
The Upper Río Napo (Class III) – Big waves and pure fun! In almost every sense, this is as perfect a rafting river as could be asked for. It has the perfect combination of exciting rapids, calm pools, and exuberant jungle scenery. Being one of the two major sources that form the Amazon river itself, it always has plenty of water to be rafted year around.
From the months of March through October the Upper Napo is usually at it’s full splendor with a steady medium to high water flow. It is typically run as a one day trip which consists of a full 25 kilometers of rafting and only one hour of driving time round-trip from Tena.
River rafting in the eastern Andes.
Photo by Ríos Ecuador.
The Río Misahuallí (Class IV and IV +) – Usually addressed as the Misahuallí River Experience, this is the most challenging rafting trip presently offered in Ecuador. It has some big class IV rapids, set in a deep and majestic canyon with virgin jungles all around it. The trip involves tackling a challenging gorge filled with back to back class IV rapids, portaging the rafts around a spectacular 30 foot waterfall and subsequently running the single biggest rapid commonly rafted in all of Ecuador called “the Land of the Giants” . This river can only be rafted from mid-October through mid-March of normal years. During other times of the year this river is typically to high to be run. It is an outstanding 1-day trip for people in good physical shape.
The Western side of the Andes offers two popular rivers: the Río Toachi and the Río Blanco. These two rivers run practically parallel each other until the town of Valle Hermoso where they come together forming the lower Rio Blanco.
The Río Toachi (Class III – III+) – The Toachi has become Ecuador’s most rafted river due to the fact that it is the whitewater trip closest Quito. As far as rapids are concerned, the Toachi is an excellent river and makes for excellent rafting during its medium and high water season from January to the end of May.
Due to increased pressure from civilization, Toachi is no longer considered among one of Ecuador’s most pristine rivers, though it continues to be the most viable rafting option for travelers that do not want to stray far from Quito. The round trip drive to the river and back takes an average of 5 1/2 hours and trips are offered about 4 days a week.
The Upper Río Blanco (Class III) – Running parallel and just north of the Toachi is the pristine Upper Río Blanco. If run in medium to high water the Upper Blanco is a rafting delight. Non-stop, continuous rapids keep the crew awake and having fun for the entire length of the trip. The scenery and surroundings of this trip are lush and beautiful. The best time to run this river is during the period from January through May. At other times the water levels of this river can get so low that you might find yourself lifting and pushing the raft over rocks. The drawback to the Upper Blanco is that it makes for too long a day of driving to make it an enjoyable 1-day trip. The ideal way to enjoy this river is to do a 2-day trip from Los Bancos to Valle Hermoso where you camp on the river.
Water is the single most important element in making a river trip fun. No matter the magnificence of your surroundings or the lack thereof, if the river has a good water level, the ride is going to be fun. Extreme high water can be dangerous and unforgiving while a very low water trip can be somewhat lacking in excitement and laborious if you end up having to carry the raft over rocks that should have had water running over them. Consider the optimal season for the river you are looking to run and ask around to make sure the water levels are good. There are also other rivers in Ecuador that are good for rafting but are not as commonly run such as the rios Anzu, the Quijos and the Upano.
Check out the the top Ecuador rafting and kayaking tour operators!
Updated July 13, 2015 by Jason Halberstadt