Ecuador whitewater rafting tours - river raft trips

Sample itineraries whitewater rafting tours

Ecuador offers world class rivers where adventure travellers can practice whitewater rafting all year round.

The 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.

We offer whitewater rafting tours in both the Amazon basin and Pacific coast river tributaries.  All our rafting trips include:

  • Professional guides
  • Top of the line rafting equipment - rafts, safety lines, life-jackets, helmets, paddles
  • All meals on the river
  • Transportation from and back to Quito
  • NB Wetsuits are available for rent (depending on river and season).
  • Expert safety kayaker for every two boats
  • Twin share accommodation at lodges or group camping equipment (multiple day trips)
  • Sleeping bag and pad (available for rent on camping trips)

Below are descriptions of some of the rivers we run with sample itineraries:

Blanco Valley

Owing 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 (III) rivers.

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.

Sample Itinerary in the Blanco valley

Our most popular 1 day whitewater rafting trip

Depart Quito 6.30am. Travel west down through beautiful cloud forest to the shores of the river. Safety briefing & paddle practice on arrival at the river.
THE LONG RUN. Jun-Feb Over 3 hours of on-river time plus a stop for our delicious riverside picnic lunch. 27km. Mar-May Over 4 hours of virtually non-stop whitewater on the upper río Blanco. 45km. Finish the river trip with some well-earned icy cold cervezas and return to Quito. Arrive approx. 7.30pm.

RIVER GRADING: III - IV

Quijos Valley

The 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.

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.

Sample itinerary in the Quijos valley

This is the river that hosted the 2005 whitewater rafting world cup past October.

Day 1 - Quito - Quijos river

Depart Quito 7am. Travel east up across the páramo and down through beautiful cloud forest to the shores of the river. Issue wetsuits, life jackets and helmets. Thorough safety briefing, swim test and intensive in-boat paddle practice. Raft the Quijos. Overnight at riverside lodge.

Day 2 - Quijos river - Papallacta thermals - Quito

Raft Quijos. Return to Quito with stop at Papallacta Hot Springs. Arrive approx. 8pm or spend a night at Papallacta.

RIVER GRADING: IV-IV+

DEPARTURES: Weekends from October to February. Other dates available on request.

Napo Valley

In 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.

Additional 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.

Sample itineraries in the Napo valley

The Upper Rio Napo (Class III)
Our most popular trip! The Upper Rio Napo is also known locally as the Rio Jatunyacu, which means "BIG WATER" in Quichua. "Big" is probably the best word to describe this river - BIG WAVES and BIG FUN! A great trip for both beginners and experts alike, it has the perfect combination of exciting rapids, calm pools, and fabulous jungle scenery to delight everybody. Being the headwaters of one of the two rivers that form the mighty Amazon River, this is a adventure that should not be passed up. No previous rafting experience is necessary.

The Rio Misahualli (Class IV and IV+)
This is the most challenging rafting trip offered in Ecuador! Magical and unlike any other river, it is nestled in a deep and enchanted canyon surrounded with lush virgin jungles and sparkling waterfalls. This trip is so spectacular, it has earned the title "the Rio Misahualli Experience".
The Experience also involves tackling a challenging gorge filled with numerous large class IV rapids, portaging the rafts around breathtaking Casanova Falls and subsequently running the single biggest rapid commercially rafted in all of Ecuador, called "the Land of the Giants".
Considered one of South America's ultimate rafting trips!

The Rio Anzu (Class II & -III)
The perfect trip for those seeking a soft adventure combined with magnificent scenery. The Anzu is a beautiful tropical river which provides a fun and relaxing day of floating through small rapids and relaxing pools...all among the breathtaking rainforest. We always take a sit-on-top kayak for the more adventurous members of the group to try!
This trip ís also ideal for families and kids!

Upano Valley

The 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.

Considered to be one of the best rafting expeditions in the world. This is probably Ecuador's ultimate wilderness white-water rafting opportunity.   It provides a truly exhilarating experience in Ecuador's Amazon, travelling for through territory of the Shuar indigenous people in rapids up to Class IV and Class IV+.  This deep river canyon is inaccessible for much of your journey, but for the points where you enter and leave the river. 

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 eddylines.

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.

Sample itinerary Upano valley

The ultimate white water rafting expedition in the Amazon of Ecuador

Day 1 - Quito - Macas

Fly Quito-Macas de 14:00 a 14:30.

Days 2 through 4 - Raft the Upano

We begin with a comprehensive safety briefing and instruction in paddling techniques. Then we´ll launch our rafts - laden with camping equipment and fresh supplies - onto the jungle waters. During the days we´ll take time out from the action to explore the edge of the jungle, venture up to cascading waterfalls or simply drift through the calmer stretches in awe at our surroundings. At night we´ll camp on sandy beaches by the side of the river and enjoy an excellent meal in this most extraordinary 'restaurant'.

Day 5 - Upano - Macas - Quito

We raft a short distance from our final camp to the take-out point and drive back to Macas for the flight to Quito (14h00). to (14:30).

RIVER GRADING: IV-IV+

DEPARTURES: Thursdays from October to March. Ask about our special Christmas and New Year trips. NB. These trips fill up early.

Trip extensions are available:

Galapagos Adventure cruise
Amazon Expedition cruise
Choco rainforest lodge