Ecuador was first thrust onto the world scene in 1531 when Francisco Pizarro and his Conquistadors arrived on their search for gold and world domination. Ecuador again gained fame when naturalist Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in the 1830’s during his historic journey on the Beagle. But it wasn’t until the 1993 that this Andean paradise became known as a kayaking destination after Larry Vermeeren arrived in his search for the best whitewater the planet had to offer. He started Small World Adventures and Ecuador’s golden age of kayaking began. The Conquistadors never found their “El Dorado” but come boat with us in Ecuador and you’ll know you’ve found a boating mecca.
Straddling the equator on the western tip of South America, Ecuador is a land of dramatic landscapes both geographically and historically. Throughout the country, the influences of Indigenous cultures and Spanish Conquistadors still linger, and in the villages traditional hunting and fishing are still practiced. With an area about the size of Colorado, Ecuador supports ecosystems so diverse and close together that a traveler can go from a Pacific beach to a snow capped volcano rising over 20,000 feet, and on to the Amazon basin the same day.
Ecuador’s location, unique geographic features, and microclimates have made it one of the most biodiverse regions on earth. In fact, it’s one of the 17 “mega diverse” countries in the world according to Conservation International. Twenty-four tropical life zones can be found here, as well as 1,640 species of birds, 25,000 species of trees, and over 4,500 species of butterflies. In just the Andean region of Ecuador, 2,725 species of orchids have been recorded, and in the lowlands, one hectare can contain more frog species than are found in all of North America. What is our favorite way to see this amazing country? On a river of course. Whitewater rivers are out pathways through lush jungles and cloud forests--they take us off the beaten path and enable us to experience things that not many travelers can.
Locals divide mainland Ecuador into three regions: the Costa, Sierra, and Oriente. The Costa is the warm lowlands along the Pacific coast. The Sierra is the spine of the Andes that run from North to South through the middle of the country. The Oriente is the eastern half of Ecuador (Ecuador's Amazonian basin). Most of Ecuador’s 14 million people live in the Sierra or Costa, leaving the Oriente sparsely inhabited (in the year 2000, only 4% of Ecuador’s population lived in the Oriente). The Oriente is also where most of Ecuador’s best whitewater can be found. There are steep creeks pouring off the Andes that feed into bigger volume runs that eventually flow into the Amazon River. Ecuador truly is a paddler's paradise with so much variety compacted into a very small area.
All of Small World’s trips start in the capital city of Quito. From there it's less than a 3-hour drive to our riverside lodge on the Quijos River. Usually our guests arrive Saturday night, spend the night in Quito, and then we drive out Sunday morning in time for lunch and a boating session. If you arrive early or have some time at the end of your trip, you may want to check out this charming city. At 9,350 feet (2,850m) you’ll want to wear some sunscreen by day, and bring a jacket out at night. Quito is the world's 2nd highest capital (La Paz, Bolivia being #1), and was the northern capital of the Incan Empire. There are no intact Inca sites in Quito today because the Incas razed the city while fighting the Conquistadors in order to keep it from falling into Spanish hands. The Spanish also made the city their capital and rebuilt atop any remaining Incan ruins. The Spanish built many of their churches and town squares right over the top of important Inca sites to symbolically reinforce their conquest. This Spanish colonial architecture is some of the best preserved in Latin America and the historic center of Old Town Quito is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visiting Old Town Quito is especially pretty at night when many of the sites are lit up. Both Old Town and the Mariscal (popular downtown area in New Town) have benefited from recent renovations and tourist development. These areas are safe enough to visit in the evening, but use the same amount of caution you would in any big city.
If you have an extra day or two there are some other attractions in and around Quito. The equator monument (the Mitad del Mundo) is a short taxi ride or an adventuresome bus ride north of the city. (Make sure to check out the real equator a few hundred yards north of the monument - the original French geographic study got it wrong!) In Quito the Museo Nacional del Banco Central del Ecuador (on 12 de Octubre and Patria) is the city’s best museum. Parque el Ejido, directly in front of the museum, is a fun open-air arts and crafts market, especially on weekends. If you aren’t going to the craft town of Otavalo, this park is a fun experience. There are a plethora of bars, cafes, and restaurants to choose from throughout the Mariscal and Old Town. Finally, if the weather is clear, a ride up the flanks of Volcan Pichincha in the new Teleferiqo (cable car) gives a great view of the city.
QUIJOS VALLEY and CABANAS TRES RIOS
After breakfast Sunday morning, our trips head East over the Andes and into the Oriente. We follow the same path that the Conquistadors used when they discovered the Amazon. Driving along the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” on clear days we can see four snow capped peaks--Cotopaxi, Cayembe, Iliniza, and Antisana. The main road to the Oriente tops out at 13,320 feet (4,060m) on top of Papallacta pass. Here we drop into the Amazon basin and can get amazing views of the headwaters of the Quijos River—18,891 foot tall Antisana volcano (5,758m). The area around the town of Papallacta is a geothermal hotspot, and there are some excellent hot springs, but maybe on the way back, we’ve got kayaking to do. This road was built in the 1970’s primarily to access the oil reserves in the Eastern lowlands. The trans Ecuadorian oil pipeline follows the road, and in places you can see it above ground. If we were to continue on, we would eventually reach Texaco’s oil boom town, Lago Agrio, and at the end of the road—Coca—where the pavement ends and transportation continues by dugout canoe. Our lodge is much closer though, just beyond the sleepy hub town of Baeza. Built on the banks of the Quijos River, our exclusive lodge, Cabanas Tres Rios, is a kayakers’ heaven (rafters, bird watches, hikers, and travelers in general love it too). Amenities at CTR include warm showers, cold beers, good food, and the put-in or take out for 4 different runs (we lay just downstream of a couple of confluences, hence the name Tres Rios). Staying at our lodge, we have the advantage of a huge boat selection, great hospitality, and rivers like the Cosanga and Quijos literally at our doorstep. In this valley, all in less than an hour's drive, are more than 10 different runs on rivers like the Papallacta, Quijos, Oyacachi, Cosanga, Borja, Sardinas, and Salado. The elevation in this valley varies from 4,000 to 6,000 feet (1,200-1,800 meters), and even though we are near the equator, the water temperature can be chilly, so bring a dry top.
There are also plenty of other activities in the Quijos Valley. Consider a trip down to San Rafael falls where the entire Quijos River plunges off a 485 foot tall waterfall. There is also great hiking, horseback riding and bird watching in our area. A few hours down the road lays the town of Coca which is a popular jumping-off point for jungle tours in the magnificent rainforests of Ecuador. If you would like more information about any of these activities, just contact our office and they will help you out. email@example.com
After a few days enjoying the rivers around our lodge, we like to get the best of both worlds and travel three hours South to Tena. On our way from the Quijos Valley to Tena we'll drive over 8,000 foot (2,400m) Guacamayo Pass and then start our descent into the Napo Valley. If it's a clear day, look for Sumaco--an impressive jungle covered volcano jutting above the surrounding mountains. Here we find warmer water and different birds and animals that accompany lower elevation 1,600 ft (500m). It’s common to see parrots, marmosets, and monkeys. We stay at the best hotel in Tena (it’s riverside as well), and enjoy air conditioning, hot showers, and a friendly, excellent staff. Tena has a population of 13,000, and is the capital of the Napo Province. It was an important trading post in the colonial era, and remains a bustling small town and popular stopping off point for travelers heading into the jungle. Here you can find souvenir shops, internet, good restaurants, bars and a happening nightlife. Many travelers come to Tena just to spend time in town, visit the surrounding jungle, and learn Spanish. We get to go boating, too! The rivers in this area stick with the Ecuadorian theme of not being too far apart, multiple sections of the Jatunyacu, Misahualli, Jondachi, Piatua and more are all right in the back yard.
THINGS TO DO IN ECUADOR (besides go kayaking)
If you have more than one week to visit Ecuador, we can set you up with extra days of kayaking, or you can check out some of the other sights this amazing country has to offer. Top on the list for many is a visit to the Galapagos Islands. The usual way to see the Galapagos is on a 3, 5, or 8 day cruise from island to island (we suggest at least 5 days). Some companies are now offering “land-based” trips, where you sleep onshore and take small boats to visit the nesting areas and snorkeling sites. It’s also possible to visit parts of the islands on your own (there are towns on a couple of the islands) but, as it is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity, do it right and pay a bit more to visit the best areas - you need a guide to visit most of the islands in the national park. Small World can help you book a trip to the islands, or just give you more information. Contact us and we can get you set up with one of the reputable companies that we work with.
There’s also plenty more to do on the mainland of Ecuador, whether it’s in the highlands, at the beach, or in the jungle. The most famous town for arts and crafts in Ecuador is Otavalo. It’s in the highlands to the north of Quito. The open air market is a bit more elaborate on Saturday mornings, but it’s good any day. There are good places to stay in town, and some very nice haciendas in the surrounding area. You could easily spend a few days hiking the lake country around Otavalo as well. Mountain climbing is also a popular attraction in Ecuador. Chimborazo at 20,702 ft (6,310m) and Cotopaxi at 19,347ft (5,897m) are the most popular climbs. You can rent gear in Quito if you have mountaineering experience, or you can also hire a guide. You’ll want to have a minimum of three days to acclimate and complete the climb. On our trips we will have seen some pristine jungle and cloud forest, but if you want more exposure, you can go out to one of the jungle lodges in the Eastern lowlands. Guests arrive by plane or motorized canoe, and these lodges on the headwaters of the Amazon can rival the Galapagos for a unique wildlife experience. If you just want to relax, Ecuador has some nice beach towns. Some of our favorite beaches are Canoa, Alandaluz and Montanita. You can do some surfing or just enjoy an icy drink in the shade of a palm tree. Closer to Quito, the town of Banos, the Bella Vista cloud forest, or Papallacta hot springs are great places to unwind. Let us know if you want any more details on adding some more adventure to your trip.
Weather on the equator is more regulated by elevation than by season. It’s always warm on the coast and in the lowlands, and it can be surprisingly cool in the highlands. It snows year-round in the mountains, and can rain up to 500 cm (16.4 feet!) each year in parts of the Oriente. Ecuador is also the only place in the world where the equator passes through snow - on the shoulder of 18,996 foot (5,790m) Cayambe. The temperature in Ecuador varies by altitude and weather conditions. A cloudy day at 6,000 feet (1,800m) near our lodge can be quite chilly, but down at 1,000 feet (300m) near Tena it’s warm on rainy days. Normally it’s sunny for part of the day and rainy for part of the day, but an entire week of sun (or rain) is not uncommon. We’ve yet to find any meteorologists with accurate weather predictions for the Oriente!
While it’s possible to boat year-round in Ecuador, we think it’s best during North America’s winter, from November to March. The rivers here are all rain fed, with some snow melt to back things up, and low water is never a problem. Fluctuations can happen at any time, with the only constant being that the weather and river levels change a lot! It tends to rain more in the Oriente in June and July, so the water may be too high for too long then. It’s a different concept for all of us kayakers used to running rivers when they are “up” - you don’t need “high” water in the Amazon basin! While things do change often, there is almost always something to boat. We’ve had many seasons (including last season which was abnormally rainy and high) where we never missed a day of paddling. We use our 15 years of experience paddling in Ecuador to choose the best run each day for each group depending on water levels.
In the heart of Ecuador's most spectacular terrain are the clear waters of upper-Andean creeks and the thundering rapids of big water Amazonian tributaries. While inaccessible to most travelers, these are our playgrounds. Our trips are designed to offer kayakers of all abilities the unique opportunity to experience fantastic whitewater in one of the most interesting regions on earth. Roughly half of the runs we do are suitable for rafting and kayaking while the others are kayak only. We have never encountered an area with a higher concentration of good whitewater rivers and such a long season. The combination of steady rainfall and amazing topographic relief add up to one of the world's best whitewater areas. Many of our guests are well-traveled paddlers, and while most have enjoyed all their boating destinations, many keep returning to Ecuador because of the abundance of great whitewater all concentrated into a super small area. You will definitely spend more time paddling than driving on our trips! Below we have listed just a sampling of the rivers found in the area around our river base.
Rio Quijos: From its birth as a glacial creek on the flanks of the volcano Antisana to a huge river deep in the Amazon basin, the Quijos has over 100 miles of spectacular whitewater. The upper runs are continuous and technical, while big water play spots abound in the lower canyons. Our beautiful kayaker lodge “Cabanas Tres Rios” serves as our access point on the Quijos. We can put in at our lodge for the Borja run and El Chaco Canyon and can take out at CTR after having run the Lowr Cosanga, Baeza to Borja, Bridge to Bridge, and for people with great endurance, the Papalalcta and Cheesehouse runs as well! Runs on the Quijos vary from Class III to V. The Top Quijos is a Class V run with a Class VI put in! Currently, kayakers have to hike 1-2 days to get to the put in here. If you want to drive to the put in, you can paddle the Cheesehouse section, which the Quijos' upper most, easily accessible section. Cheesehouse is pushy, yet technical and is Class IV to V+ depending on the level. Next is Bridge to Bridge, slightly easier than the Cheesehouse section but still packing a strong punch! Long, continuous rapids define this run and be ready to punch some holes! Baeza to Borja mellows out a bit more. The gradient eases and the river bed is wider. It's still fast and continuous, but slightly less steep. Then, the Borja run is the Quijos' easiest section. It's wide open Class III+, and is a great warm up when you get to Ecuador or a good option when everything else is high. El Chaco Canyon and Bombon Canyon are next flowing through spectacular basalt gorges. You definitely start to get a big water feel in here! The river is constricted and rapids such as El Torro, Bamboozel and Curvas Peligrosas will get your attention. Class IV- at low water and IV+/V at high water. Then you can bust out your playboats for the Lower Quijos and enjoy big water drop/pool rapids. Gringos Revueltos is the highlight of this run. For all the sections below the Lower Quijos--The Final Quijos, San Rafael Falls to Tunnel number 1, and the Quijos/Coca--you need to bring your hiking shoes, sense of adventure and a high tolerance for suffering!
Rio Cosanga: Experience lava cliffs, lush rainforests, tropical birds and waterfalls hundreds of feet high while you paddle this river's three wonderfully technically runs. This tributary of the Rio Quijos is always a favorite with the guides and guests. One of Ecuador's most famous birds, the Andean Cock of the Rock, often fly overhead as we paddle this run. The take-out for the lower section is at our lodge below the confluence with the Quijos. The Top Cosanga is a somewhat obscure run that can only be run with medium to high water. It's not as quality as the other sections of this river. It's Class IV/IV+ but with mankey rapids. The Upper Cosanga is a great warm up creek run. It's Class IV- at low and medium water and Class IV at medium to high water. Great boulder gardens will keep you busy route-finding on this run. The Lower Cosanga is the main event on this river. The river drops into more of a canyon here and the gradient picks up. Class IV at low and medium water, the Lower Cosanga turns into a continuous, big water torrent (Class IV+/V) at high water. The Lower Cosanga will spit you into the Quijos river part way through the Baeza to Borja run. Enjoy the big water run out!
Rio Oyacachi: One of the many tributaries to the Rio Quijos, the Oyacachi a powerful yet technical river in a beautiful, remote valley. It's clear water and non-stop rapids make it one of the most memorable rivers in Ecuador and one of my personal favorites! There is a day run as well as a multi day section. Class IV to V+ depending on the section and the water level. For the 2 day Upper Oyacachi you want medium to low water. It's Class V+ with many scouts. The majority of the upper section drops between 300-400 feet per mile and the biggest single drop is only 15 feet tall. So that means relentlessly steep boulder gardens! The Oyacachi (normal run) is one of the best day runs in the valley. You can run the Oyacachi at a shocking variety of water levels. At low water it's ultra-technical Class IV, at medium water it becomes pushy Class IV+ with boofs galore; and at high water, it's a big water Class V deluge--fast and furious, but it goes! The Oyacachi valley is beautiful and down on the river you'll find some of the most classic rapids and moves in Ecuador. This is a must see for Class IV+ boaters!
Rio Papallacta: The Papallacta tumbles down the pass between Quito and Borja at a furious pace. This Class IV+/V river is the defining steep creek of the Quijos Valley. The boatable sections of the Papallacta are about 13 miles long and is pretty action-packed from start to finish. Again, no waterfalls or even really big drops, it just constantly loses it's gradient in a never ending series of boulder gardens. The Upper Papallacta is rarely run and doesn't have a great character. It's 5.5 miles of pretty chunky and unpleasant drops. If you've done everything else in the Quijos Valley and are bored, go for it! But if you have limited time, I'd give it a miss. If you go for it, put in at Rio Chalpi Grande and take out in Cuyuja. The real jewel is the Lower Papallacta--7.5 miles of difficult and continuous whitewater. Sadly, they are damming the Papallacta and so the put in, the last rapid (pictured here), and a spot in the middle of the run are heavily impacted. Most of the rapids are still ok, but beware of debris and a constantly changing river bed. In general, things should be on the lower side for this run. You don't want to be in there at high water. For the Lower, put in at Cuyuja and take out at the Quijos and Papallacta confluence; or continue down the Cheesehouse run (recommend) and take out at bridge 1.
Rio Misahualli: Clear, warm water, polished granite boulders, tree lined banks, and kids swimming near indigenous villages characterize the Misahualli's upper runs. This river offers some excellent lower volume creeking, with tons of great boofs. The "Lower Mis" used to be the classic big water jungle run of Ecuador. Passing through a remote rainforest it has it all; great surfing, big powerful rapids, parrots, toucans and waterfalls. The problem with this run these days is the poor water quality and the arduous portage in the middle of the run. This river nearly has it all in terms of difficulty with runs ranging from Class II to IV+. From the upper-most put in (Lodo) on the Upper Mis, kayakers will enjoy Class IV/IV+ boulder drops with tons of ledges to boof and technical rapids. For people not quite ready for the upper sections, putting in near the town of Cotundo will pull the teeth out a bit. From here the river is Class III+/IV-. Boaters can also put in at El Reten. From here it's still Class III+ with a few IV- drops, but it will be a shorter day. In direct contrast to the Upper Mis, the Lower drops into a deep canyon and is BIG water now! Between the Upper Mis and the Lower Mis the rivers gains extra volume from the Jondachi, Hollin, Tena and Pano rivers. Unfortunately, due to bad water quality in the Lower Canyon (this run is downstream of Tena) and the massive portage, the Lower Mis doesn't get done very often anymore. But for the brave, it will give you big Class IV rapids in a stunning canyon and guaranteed monkeys at the take out!
Rio Jondachi: Although the Upper Jondachi is only 10 kilometers long there must be at least a hundred rapids. The setting is truly breathtaking on this steep creek. Be prepared to boof til you drop on this one. Get an early start for this run as it usually takes 4-6 hours for your first trip down--all of it super quality whitewater! The upper section is Class IV to V depending on water levels. There are 2 put in options. 1. Hike in at kilometer 28. The hike takes about 20-30 minutes and you will get to the river at a foot bridge right where the good rapids start. 2. Put in on the Urcusiqui River. You don't have to hike for this put in option but it does add about 1 hour of boating on this small tributary. It can be good fun at medium water but is pretty mankey at low water. There are also access issues on the Urcusiqui now. The land owners don't want kayakers using their road, but it's uncertain whether they actually own the road, or if it's owned by the oil company. Either way, please tread lightly and be nice if you encounter people down there! The Lower Jondachi also has 2 put in options. 1. Put in at the road bridge which is the take out for the Upper. If you put in here the river will start Class IV/IV+ and slowly ease into IV- and III. Get an early start or bring camping gear for this 19 mile long stretch. For an easy day run, put in option 2 cuts off about 6 miles and you'll miss all the Class IV+ rapids. For this option, hike into the river at Mondayacu. The local indigenous people allow us to use their trail as long as we hire them as porters to carry the boats. As of 2013, it was $5 to get your kayak carried in on the 30-40 minute long mud slog. It will be the best $5 you ever spend! Once at the river, you'll enjoy great scenery as beautiful waterfalls and tributaries swell this run from a tiny creek to a big volume jungle river. You'll start out on a small volume technical creek and end up on the big volume Hollin River. Class III+ to IV.
Rio Piatua: “Newly discovered” thanks to a new road, the Piatua has become an SWA standard near Tena. Clear and smooth bouldered like the upper Mis, the Piatua has a wider river bed, is more continuous and is absolutely chock full of boofs. The Piatua is truly a unique river in that, with good guidance, a Class III+/IV- boater can get down it and a Class V+ boater can enjoy it! I would call the river Class IV, but at low flows, it's very pool drop and manageable. Due to it's constriction and abundance of giant boulders, the Upper Piatua can be run at ultra low water, but is best at medium flows. For this stretch, drive to the end of the road. You can either take out where the river is near the road about 6 km downsteam, or continue on down another 10 km to Cabanas Piatua (only recommendable at medium or high flows). The Lower Piatua spreads out more and so needs more water. Which ever section you do, you'll be treated to beautiful water, giant boulders, amazing bird life and a huge smile on your face. Piatua is IV- at low water, IV/IV+ at medium water and full on V at high water.
Rio Jatunyacu: This big volume river has long, straightforward rapids that are perfect for the intermediate paddler. It's a great run for people wanting to practice their big water skills and/or who are just learning how to kayak. It also has some amazing play spots for people looking to do a little freestyle while in Ecuador. This river can be run at pretty much any level so it's also a good fall back plan when everything else if flooding! The calm pools allow plenty of time to enjoy the magnificent views of the rainforest as well as the Andes. Depending on the water level this run is Class III to III+. For the most river miles, put in at Candu and take out in Puerto Napo. For a shorter and easier day on the water, you can put in at Santa Rosa and paddle to Puerto Napo.
Rio Tena: Want to practice your creek boating? Then the Upper Tena is perfect for you! This short run is just outside of the town of Tena (upstream) and offers new kayakers a great chance to practice their technical boating skills. The run is only 2 miles long but has pretty continuous Class II, II+ and some III rapids. I would say people should be Class III boaters in order to enjoy this run, but it's a nice place to practice for the more challenging Upper Misahualli or Piatua. You want medium to low water for this run. Put in at Atacape and then either paddle all the way down to the walking bridge in Tena, or get a pick up at the gravel mine just a couple of km downstream of the "Establo de Tomas." It can be run at high water, but only for Class IV boaters.
Rio Pusuno: Tena's Pusuno river is extremely touchy water-level wise, but it can be a real treat if you can catch it right! It's a Class V run with a 35-40 foot waterfall about 1/4 of the way down. The run starts out in a tight bedrock canyon and has about 5 drops leading up to the falls--all can be portaged. The waterfall can be portaged via a big cliff jump on the river right side, but the waterfall is definitely one of the highlights of the run. Below the falls, the character of the river changes significantly. There has been tons of rock fall into the river and sieves abound so boat cautiously. A few notes: it is easy to hike back out of the river UNTIL YOU GET BELOW THE FALLS. After you drop the falls, it's easier to head downstream to the take out rather than back up. Medium water is ideal for this run--it's good to catch it on the way down after a big rain in Tena. You'll know the flow is ideal if you can boof a massive flake in the middle of the river (10 feet tall) in the 1st significant rapid. We used to think you had to have medium water for this run until a few years ago Don and I went in at quite low water out of desperation. The rapids leading to the falls were not very good, but the falls itself was good to go (the water is LOW in this photo) and everything below the falls was runnable at this level as well. So, if you can't catch it at "ideal" it's still worth going in at low flows. The Pusuno is not recommended at high water. You can reach the put in by crossing the small car bridge over the Lower Mis in Pununo and head to the village of "Alto Pusuno." Just about 1km before town, you'll see a well worn trail down to the river. Take out either by paddling all the way to Punto Ahuano on the Napo (easiest for bus shuttle) or find a savvy driver who can find some little cabanas on river right of the Pusuno about 2 miles above its confluence with the Napo.
Rio Chingual: The Chingual river really throws the gamut at kayakers. For its easily accessible sections, it can be Class IV-/IV to V+ depending on water levels. The interesting thing on these runs is that you can run them at a huge variety of levels--we've done descents that vary in level by 15 vertical feet! The Upper sections of the Chingual are V+ and rather inaccessible. These should only be done at ultra low water. The sections from La Barquilla to the road bridge and from the road bridge down are great Class IV (very Piatua-like) at low and medium water and turn into big water Class V at high water. Either way you can't go wrong! You'll feel small amongst the boulders out there.
Rio Cofanes: The Cofanes is another recently discovered gem (thanks to the building of a new road), but still this river is very remote and rather difficult to access. It's a 5+ hour drive north and west of the lodge and is a 2-day run highly susceptible to fluctuations in water levels. The run is 50km long and Class V. Both times we have done it we've had very low water and the boating was mostly IV+/V- but the run itself definitely earns a V rating. If the water comes up on you, it will get out of control scary pretty fast. Luckily, most of the incredibly narrow canyons only have Class II and III rapids in them but there are 4 canyonized spots that I can remember that have challenging rapids that are difficult to scout and even more difficult to portage. 1 mis-placed log could be a trip ruiner. Despite all the perils involved in this run, it is one of the most spectacular rivers I've done in Ecuador. If you are a Class V expedition boater, you'll love it! Put in La Sofia. Take out in Lumbaqui if you want to be cheap or Las Pizarras if you hire a driver.
Ecuador has TONS of other incredible rivers, we've just listed our favorites here.
If you would like to read up more about Ecuador’s rivers before your trip, click here to buy a guidebook--there is much more detailed information in the book on put ins, take outs, gradient (feet per mile), length, etc...
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Ecuador Safe?
South America in general is a great place to travel. Ecuador is a very peaceful democracy and has a much lower crime rate than most of South America. The regions where we paddle are rural and extremely quiet and our experiences have always been very favorable. While traveling on your own in Quito, use whatever precautions you normally would in a big city. Don’t run around downtown after the bars are closed, or tour parts of town you don’t know with an expensive camera hanging around your neck. In the smaller towns like Tena, we feel pretty darn safe day or night.
Mosquitoes are worse in Colorado! There really aren’t many mosquitoes in the areas where we’ll be traveling. Also, while malaria exists in Ecuador, it’s not common where we are kayaking. We do get some of what we call “ankle biters”, they are like no see-ums, and are only a problem on shore around a river - at lunch or the take-out for example. Ankle biters need bare skin, and you guessed it, usually attack the ankles. Tall socks deter them nicely. To be invincible, wear thin polypro, or light weight sun pants while you are paddling (Patagonia Gi II work great). Ankle biters are worse on the lower elevation rivers around Tena.
As for the exotic fish and cayman, they are found in warmer, flatter water further down in the Amazon basin. There must be some snakes around, but we very rarely see them. There’s no poison ivy or stinging nettles either. Boating in Ecuador is amazingly free of nasty critters.
What's included in the price?
Ground transportation within Ecuador, food, lodging (from day 2 through day 7--you are responsible for your own lodging the first and last nights of the trip--(both in Quito). Our office can make your reservations for you if you like, just let us know), guides, and kayak rental. Personal kayaking equipment (except on our beginner and novice trips), drinks, tips, and souvenirs are NOT included. Most people spend very little extra money unless they buy lots of souvenirs.
How much money should I bring?
If you are just staying for the week-long trip with us, all you need is money for drinks, tips and souvenirs. Having some spending money on hand is always nice. You know your drinking and souvenir habits better than we do. $200-$600 traveling money, depending on your tastes, seems average. There are ATM’s in Quito and Tena if you run out or are staying longer.
What the exchange rate/are there ATM’s?
As of September, 2000 Ecuador's official currency is the US dollar so you don't need to exchange money at the airport. It is a good idea, though, to bring small bills. You'll have trouble breaking a $20 bill almost anywhere in Ecuador, so be sure to travel with lots of $10s, $5s, and $1s. US coins will work here too, though Ecuador also mints it’s own version of coins, same size, different presidents on the front. Bank machines that accept US credit and debit cards are common in Quito and Tena. Credit cards are accepted in some hotels and restaurants, but TRAVELERS CHECKS ARE A PAIN and should be avoided!
Do I have to bring my own kayak?
One of the great things about coming with SWA is our fleet of kayaks. Use of one of our kayaks is included in the price of your trip. We encourage you to use one of ours and save yourself the hassle and expense of flying internationally with your own kayak. If you are set on using a model of boat that we don’t have, you are welcome to bring your own and we will refund you our $85 weekly rental fee. Be advised that at this point, none of the US air carriers serving Ecuador officially accept kayaks as checked baggage. DO NOT ship your kayak via air cargo or any other shipping method- it is VERY expensive and time consuming getting your boat out of customs.
What kind of kayaks do you have in Ecuador?
We add new kayaks each year in order to give our guests their choice of the newest models of creek boats, play boats, and river runners. You won’t be stuck in a creek boat on the play run with us! We have, far and away, the best kayak fleet in Ecuador.
What about airlines?
Continental flies out of Houston, American out of Miami, and Delta out of Atlanta to Quito. There are also numerous Latin airlines that fly from various east coast and southern cities as well (Copa, LanEcuador, LanChile, and Avianca). If you would like help getting a cheap flight we can recommend our favorite website for online deals or a discounter who specializes in flights to Latin America. Contact us for more info.
Is the Food and water safe?
As in many countries, the tap water in Ecuador is NOT safe to drink. We provide purified water on all our trips. At our lodge we have very high standards for kitchen and food cleanliness. All of our vegetables, salads etc., are meticulously washed and are good to go. When we travel to Quito and Tena, we go to good, trusted restaurants that we have used for years. If you are traveling on your own, it’s probably safest to avoid street vendors and low end restaurants.
What If I have extra time in Ecuador?
You can arrange to paddle extra days with us, or head out on your own to check out some of the sites that Ecuador has to offer (click here to read more about your options). Contact us if there are specific activities you would like more information about.
Is there anything I can bring to Ecuador to Help out the locals?
We try to steer people away from giving out candies, local kids may not get to the dentist often enough as it is! If you would like to bring old clothing, shoes or even kayaking gear, we can see that it gets to the Ecuadorians who need it the most. Shoes and clothing in kids’ sizes and adult sizes small through large are the most useful down here.
How many guests are on each trip?
Our minimum is 3, our average is 4-5, and our maximum is normally 7. We like to keep our trips small so that each individual kayaker gets the paddling vacation that they want.
Are individuals welcome or do you just have groups?
Most trips are a combination of individuals and groups of two or three. We screen each participant in advance to be sure that all paddlers are of similar skill level. So, heck yes, individuals are welcome. Our guests usually go home with some new friends at the end of each week. It's a great way to meet paddlers from other states and countries, so you'll have a place to crash when you go visit their home rivers!
Do we camp or stay in hotels?
There is no camping on our trips; we always stay in the best lodging available. Since there were no good lodges in our favorite valley—the Quijos River Valley—we decided to build our own. Our guests get to stay at Small World’s private riverside lodge—Cabanas Tres Rios. Here you’ll enjoy immaculate gardens, private riverside cabins, outstanding home cooked meals, and a real feeling of “home.” No other kayaking groups experience the beauty, tranquility and great food that we enjoy at Cabanas Tres Rios. While in Tena, we’ll stay at the nicest hotel in town. It’s right on banks of the Rio Pano, has beautiful rooms in a peaceful garden setting, and is within walking distance of all of Tena’s amenities. Our guests always rave about our lodging!
How do we get around/who drives our shuttle?
Our regular driver and good friend Memo has been driving for us for 10 years. He gets us to the put-ins and take-outs, and stays with our dry gear while we are boating. Our primary vehicle is a Mercedes Sprinter - pretty deluxe! We also use late model Ford passenger vans, and a Toyota Land Cruiser for smaller trips. We know how important dependable vehicles and safe drivers are to a successful trip.
What is the weather like?
The weather varies between the two distinct valleys that most trips visit. You can expect moderate temperatures in the higher elevations near our lodge (air in the 70's and water in the low 60's) and warmer temperatures (air 80's and water 70's) in the lower region around Tena. Our season is in the so-called dry season, which is good because during the rainy season the odds of having flooded rivers go way up. Even during the dry season it can often rain. Most guests are comfortable with shorts and t-shirts during the day, and long pants, and perhaps a fleece at night (our lodge is over 5,000 feet (1,500m) in elevation, and the evenings can be cool).
How do I prepare for a trip?
If you are a US citizen you will need a passport valid for at least 6 months after your trip. A tourist card is issued at the airport upon arrival so no advance visa is required. If you are from another country please check if a visa is required (usually not). Reserve your flight as early as possible especially around Christmas. The internet seems to have the best deals these days, so be sure to start checking fares early. Consult your doctor about vaccinations before your trip as well.
What about Vaccinations?
Small World has a unique arrangement with the Center for Disease Control: We agree not to give medical advice and the CDC agrees not to lead kayak trips to Ecuador. Please consult your local travel clinic, visit the CDC website or call us with specific questions.
What if I want to put together a group?
It's easy and we love to guide a group of buddies on the kind of water they like best. Contact our office early and to reserve the week you want and we'll help you with the rest. Since we only run two trips at a time, and we tend to fill up early, don't wait too late to choose your dates.
Contact us now firstname.lastname@example.org
800-585-2925 or (970) 309-8913
Why paddle with SWA?
Everyone says that our guides, our Ecuadorian staff, and our lodge make our trips. We have had well-traveled guests say that our lodge is the nicest place that have ever been in their life! Our guides love boating and no one else has near the experience that Don, Larry, and Darcy have in guiding kayak trips in Ecuador. The fact that we have the largest, most modern kayak fleet in Ecuador and probably all of South America assures you to have the right boat for the right river. We also know you are here to kayak so all of our Class III and above trips paddle 7 full days compared to 6 with some other outfitters. We are committed to knowing Ecuador’s rivers inside and out, and our dedication to kayaking, and specifically kayaking in Ecuador makes us the best choice in outfitters for your vacation to Ecuador.
To read more, click here: Why SWA?
Suggested Reading Before your Trip.
Tropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rainforests of Central and South America
Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata
Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador
Indians, Oil, and Politics: A Recent History of Ecuador
The Panama Hat Trail
The Kayaker's Guide to Ecuador
Don Beveridge, Larry Vermeeren, Darcy Gaechter, Nancy Hiemstra
THE KAYAKERS GUIDE TO ECUADOR-Order one!
We wrote the book on river running in Ecuador. The 2nd edition just came out in November, 2006! Order it now as a way to anticipate or remember your favorite runs. The new guidebook is 118 pages long, and covers over 60 runs in the Baeza, Tena and Santo Domingo regions. It also includes helpful logistical information if you are planning a self-guided trip. The book costs $20 plus shipping.