How to Prepare for your Kayaking Trip to Ecuador

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Photo by Jeremy Snyder. Paddler Byron Lopez on the amazing Piatua River

Some people travel year-round to amazing kayaking destinations throughout the world. For others, this might be their first time leaving their home country. For most of us, we fall somewhere in between. Small World Adventures has put together a few quick tips to prepare for your trip to Ecuador.

Planning Stages

  1. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your DEPARTURE date from Ecuador.
  2. Check with the CDC (center for disease control), and talk to some friends and outfitters and get the vaccinations that you need to make yourself feel comfortable with your trip. Keep in mind where you plan to travel (i.e. you might want difference immunizations if you plan to visit Ecuador’s coast versus if you will only be in the paddling areas).
  3. Make sure your gear is in good shape. There is nothing worse than putting on the river your first day and blowing out your neck gasket!
  4. Set up some travel alerts and start checking ticket prices! Our favorite site is
  5. Start brushing up on your Spanish. Not too many people speak English out near the boating areas, plus it’s super fun to talk to the locals while you are here!
  6. Go buy a shorty top, you’ll need it in Ecuador!
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BJ navigating one of the countless boulder gardens on the Rio Piatua

Going Guided versus Unguided

Both are great options!

Here are some plugs for joining a guided trip

  1. Time. If you only have 1-2 weeks, you’ll get in more kayaking going with an outfitter. In 1 week with us, we get you 7 days on the water.
  2. Your tolerance for logistical BS. If you want a worry free vacation and don’t want to think about which river you are going to do, or is the water too high? Who am I going to paddle with? Who is going to drive shuttle? What will I eat? How will I get my kayak to Ecuador? Then you should go on a guided trip.
  3. Comfort Level. If you know you will be more comfortable having a guide who knows the rivers well, and knows what water levels are appropriate for which run, which restaurants are safe to eat at, and which bars serve purified ice in their drinks, then join a trip!
  4. Safety. If you want to paddle with people who you know will have your back and who will carry spare paddles, first aid kit, rescue gear (and know how to use it) go with a reputable outfitter.
  5. Traveling with a Kayak. If you know you hate traveling with a kayak or dealing with the headaches of rentals (what if I break the boat)? then go with an outfitter who includes the kayak in the price of the trip.
  6. Group Dynamics. If you don’t want to deal with the potential weirdness of not knowing who you’ll paddle with and how good (or bad) they’ll be, join a pre-organized group.
  7. The Best Lines. If you want a guide who will show you the best boofs and the most fun lines so you don’t end up sneaking or scouting too often, join a guided trip with guides who know the rivers well.

If you fit the above criteria, there are now a handful of companies running guided kayaking trips in Ecuador. Of course, we think that Small World Adventures is the best, but we are biased…Plus, this year is SWA’s 30th anniversary, so it’s fair to say we know what we are doing!

Don Beveridge and Andres Charpentier enjoying the boulder gardens of Ecuador’s Piatua. Photo by Darcy Gaechter

Reasons to go unguided while kayaking in Ecuador

  1. If you have weeks or months to spend in Ecuador.
  2. Related to #1, if you have more time than money.
  3. If you love logistical challenges and find joy in the adventure of sitting on the side of the road waiting for a bus, or organizing your own taxis, then unguided will be super fun for you.
  4. If you know you prefer to find your own way down the rivers and don’t want someone telling you what’s around the next corner.
  5. You don’t like guided/group activities!

Trip Prep

Once you’ve decided if you are going guided or not, your trip prep will look a little different.

For a guided trip here’s what you’ll need to do

  1. Make sure your roll is tuned up. For a lot of people, you won’t have kayaked for a while before heading to Ecuador and hitting a few pool sessions to make sure those rolling muscles remember how to work will be immensely helpful.
  2. Try to get in shape. Go kayaking if you can. If not, hit the gym and work on your cardio. Coming to Ecuador in shape will make you feel so much better by the 7th day of kayaking in row.
  3. Pay the outfitter and fill out their forms.
  4. Bring cash to Ecuador (most places don’t take credit cards). Small bills are easier to spend once you are in Ecuador.

Nothing much else to do if you are going guided.

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Paddlers enjoy clear water and stunning jungle scenery in Ecuador. Photo by Jeremy Snyder

If you are doing your own thing, you’ll want to

  1. Buy the The Kayakers Guide to Ecuador as it will help you with steps 3-6 below
  2. Do steps #1, #2, and #4 from above.
  3. Figure out your kayak situation.
    1. Fly your own boat down. If you are staying more than a few weeks, this is probably most cost effective. But many airlines don’t allow kayaks so it can be tricky…Many airlines do allow wave skis though and these are very similar to a kayak. You can pretty easily sell your kayak when you are done with your trip.
    2. Rent a kayak if you are staying 3 weeks or less.
  4. Figure out your ride from the airport.
    1. For a cheaper and more adventurous option, there are buses from the airport to Baeza and Tena.
    2. If you don’t want to deal with the headaches of the bus you can set up a taxi from the airport. I think Gina and Rodrigo (see guidebook) are charging around $120 for this. There are cheaper options out there if you don’t mind looking around at the airport and haggling a bit.
  5. Figure out your lodging. There are good options in both Baeza and Tena.
  6. Find a crew. If you are traveling with your own crew, awesome! If not head to Gina’s or Rodrigo’s in Baeza to find people to paddle with.
  7. Join the Facebook Ecuador Water Levels page to keep an eye on river levels during your trip.
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Amazon Basin Sunset. Photo by Jeremy Snyder

And just know that whether you are joining a guided trip, or figuring out Ecuador on your own, you should have a pretty amazing time. Ecuador has more miles of whitewater in a small geographic area than any place I’ve ever traveled to. That means you’ll kayak a lot and drive a little, a winning combination for any kayaking vacation. The locals are super friendly, and the country is beautiful.


If you love Ecuador’s rivers, consider making a donation to the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute. They work tirelessly to protect the rivers from myriad threats, and they need all the outside support they can get. If you are coming to Ecuador for a longer stay, considering volunteering while you are here.

Feel free to contact us if you have questions about a trip (with us or not). Happy paddling everyone and we hope you’ll choose to visit Ecuador soon!

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