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Rivers

Kayaker on shore watching kayak in difficult rapid.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 a never-ending 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 who 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.  Check out the Kayaker’s Guide to Ecuador for more information on these and other runs.

Rio Quijos - Class III+ to Class V

A green boat on the quijosFrom 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, in this brief writeup we touch on no less than twelve runs  on the Quijos. 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 Lower 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, the Quijos’ rivers 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 Sardinas 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 - Ecuador Class IV- to Class V


SWA guest Damien navigates Chibolo "Bump on the head"Experience lava cliffs, lush rainforest, 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 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 - Class IV to V+

SWA guide Liam, leading Serpentine!One of the many tributaries to the Rio Quijos, the Oyacachi a powerful yet technical river in a beautiful, remote valley. Its clear water and non-stop rapids make it one of the most memorable rivers in Ecuador and one of our 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 which 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 - Class IV+/V

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 the whole thing is 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 - Class II+ to IV+

SWA guest WIllie winds up on the MisClear, 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 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 - Class IV/V

Blue kayak on slide, aweseom upper JondachiAlthough 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 - Class IV

SWA guest Craig Hermes uncorking a great boof.“Newly discovered” thanks to a new road, the Piatua has become an SWA standard near Tena. Clear water and smooth boulders 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 Cabañas 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 guaranteed smile on your face. The Piatua is IV- at low water, IV/IV+ at medium water and full on V at high water.

Rio Jatunyacu (or Upper Napo) - Class III

River JatunyacuThis 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! You will be amazed at the size and power of this river, it makes for a great day. 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 - Class II/III

Boating in the jungle on the Tena river.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 - Class V

Dropping a large waterfall on the PusanoTena’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 - Class IV-V

Owner Guy kayaks Oro Pendual rapid on Chingual river.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 - Class V

SWA guide, Darcy, expertly drops a falls on the 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 having challenging rapids that are difficult to scout and even more difficult to portage. One mis-placed log could be a trip ruiner. Despite all the perils involved in this run, it is one of the most spectacular rivers we’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.