kayaking in Ecuador, ecuador kayaking, kayak ecuador, Quijos river, guided kayaking

In the heart of Ecuador’s most spectacular terrain are lots and lots of rivers. Ecuador has more rivers per square kilometer than any other country on earth. There is a huge variety from the clear waters of upper-Andean creeks to 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. We have never encountered an area with a higher concentration of good whitewater rivers and a never-ending season; and believe us, we’ve scoured the world looking! 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! Plus, our team of world class guides live and play on these rivers year-round, so you know you’ll be in good hands with them. 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. If you are interested in protecting the amazing rivers of Ecuador’s Amazon Basin, please visit the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute. A portion of each guests’ trip fee goes to the ERI.

Rio Quijos - Class III+ to Class V

ecuador kayaking, kayaking in ecuador, kayak ecuador, cheesehouse, Quijos river, guided kayakingFrom 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. The town of Borja serves as our base in the Quijos River Valley. Runs on the Quijos vary from Class III to V. The Top Quijos is a Class V run with a Class VI put in! It used to require kayakers to hike 1-2 days to get to the put in, now it just requires sweet talking your way past a dam guard station and maybe a little walking…If you want an easy 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, continuous, and rocky, but slightly less steep. Then, the Sardinas run is one of 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 Toro, Bamboozel and Curvas Peligrosas will get your attention. Class IV- at low water and IV+/V at high water. El Toro is always a big and challenging rapid no matter what the level is. 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

kayaking ecuador, ecuador kayaking, kayaking in ecuador, Cosanga river, small world adventures, guided kayaking tripsExperience towering basalt 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 Top Cosanga, above the town of 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, starting from the town of Cosanga, is a great warm up creek run. It’s Class III+/IV- at low and medium water and Class IV at medium to high water. It’s fast and shallow though so it’s not the best run to step up on, and there are many braided sections. Overall, the Upper is not the best quality. The Middle Cosanga is where things start to get good. Great boulder gardens will keep you busy route-finding on this run. The rivers is more chanaliezed here and the rapids more quality. The Chibolo rapid (from the photo) is in the Middle Cosanga. Just above the footbridge that marks the start of the Lower Cosanga, there are some new-ish manky and potentially dangerous rapids. Some local workers diverted the entire river away from the road in an environmentally disastrous idea to stabilize the road as it passes through an old ash flow zone. At any rate, be cautious in this section! 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+

kayaking ecuador, ecuador kayaking, kayaking in ecuador, Oyacachi river, small world adventures, guided kayaking tripsOne 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. You can find class IV to V+ whitewater depending on the section you paddle and the water level. For the two day Upper Oyacachi you want medium to low water. It’s Class V/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![/wpspoiler]

Rio Papallacta - Class IV+/V

kayaking ecuador, ecuador kayaking, kayaking in ecuador, Papallacta river, small world adventures, guided kayaking tripsThe Papallacta tumbles down the pass between Quito and Baeza at a furious pace. This Class 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. The run has been impacted by construction for 2 hydro projects (but the Papallacta itself is not yet damed), but the river has cleaned up a lot in recent years. Like all rivers in Ecuador, the Papallacta changes a lot, so we always treat it like a first descent from year to year until we’ve learned the new lines. In general, things should be on the lower to low-medium 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+

kayaking ecuador, ecuador kayaking, kayaking in ecuador, Misahualli river, small world adventures, guided kayaking tripsClear, 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. This river has it all in terms of difficulty with runs ranging from Class II to IV+ (and harder at high water). From the upper-most put in on the Upper Mis, which is called the “toma de agua” for Archidona, kayakers will enjoy Class IV/IV+ boulder drops with tons of ledges to boof and technical rapids. There aren’t many eddies up there so be ready for fast action! 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. There is also the Middle Mis which is a great Class II/III warm up for the upper sections. In direct contrast to the Upper Mis, the Lower drops into a deep canyon and is BIG water now! It’s big water because the Lower Mis is below the confluences with the Jondachi, Hollin, Tena, and Pano Rivers. 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 (it’s downstream of Tena and Tena’s sewage treatment hasn’t kept pace with its growth) and the arduous portage in the middle of the run. But for the brave, and those who have had their typhoid vaccine, it will give you big Class IV rapids in a stunning canyon and guaranteed monkeys at the take out! It worth getting some beta on the portage before you go.

Rio Jondachi - Class III+ to V

kayaking ecuador, ecuador kayaking, kayaking in ecuador, Cosanga river, small world adventures, guided kayaking tripsAlthough the Upper Jondachi is only 10 kilometers long there are 85 rapids in this section (yep, someone counted once)! 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. Drive in at kilometer 28 on the newly built road. Most folks cross the foot bridge and put in below the rapid downstream of the bridge, but you can decide how it looks to you! 2. Put in on the Urcusiqui River. This is a good options with medium flows. It will 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. The Middle Jondachi starts at the highway bridge that crosses the Jondachi River (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+. Your take out options for this run are: 1.) do a marathon day all the way down to Santo Domingo de Hollin (see take-out info for the lower). Or, 2.) take out a new road access called Mango. Get some local beta for this access point so that you can recognize it from the river. The easiest run on the Jondachi is to hike in at Mondayacu and run the Lower Jondachi into the Hollin River.  Using this access point, you will cut out all the Class IV rapids (except for one on the Hollin which you can scout and portage). The local Kichwi people allow us to use their trail at Mondayacu as long as we hire them as porters to carry the boats. As of 2024, it was $6 to get your kayak carried in on the 30-40 minute long mud slog. It will be the best $6 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. Take out a road bridge at a community called Santo Domingo de Hollin. And, the only reason this river is not yet damed is thanks to the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute so make sure to support them if you come paddle in Ecuador!

Rio Piatua - Class IV

kayaking ecuador, ecuador kayaking, kayaking in ecuador, Piatua river, small world adventures, guided kayaking tripsThe road up the Piatua river drainage was pushed in around 2010. New roads are always a mixed blessing. They give us access to rivers, but they also mean logging, dams, and other industries that will have the potential to harm or even kill this river. The Ecuadorian Rivers Institute is fighting hard to keep the Piatua free-flowing, so if you paddle this river (or any others in Ecuador, support the ERI)! The Piatua River is awesome! It has super clear water and smooth boulders like the upper Mis, but 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, and knowing which section to do, 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. The Piatua had some massive floods in 2021 and the entire river bed has been scrambled. Overall, the river feels harder and more dangerous as so many big rocks got moved around and are balanced precariously now. The river will continue to change with every high water event so be ready for anything out there. Now the upper stretch is suitable for Class IV+ kayakers, the middle stretch is okay for strong III+/IV kayakers, and the lower is good for Class IV paddlers are medium flows. For the upper, 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 the middle, put in at the footbridge at San Juan de Piatua. 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 Anzu - Class II-IV+

kayaking in ecuador, ecuador kayaking, kayak ecuador, anzu river, small world adventures, guided kayaking, guided kayaking in ecuadorThe Anzu River has a variety of sections catering to most kayaking abilities. The lower section of the river is Class II and is a great beginner run ending at Puerto Napo after the confluence with the Jatunyacu River. The middle sections of the Anzu roughly from the Piatua confluence down to the town of Aerosemena Tola offer some nice Class III rapids at normal flows. The Upper Anzu is the gem of this river. A new road access on river left near the town of ChontaYacu (thanks to the folks who want to dam the Piatua and divert the water to the Anzu drainage) makes this a nice day run from Tena. At low flows this run is Class IV/IV+ and at high water, it’s still runnable, but be ready for big water Class V! At normal flows there are tons of boulder gardens to navigate. At low water, strong boaters could boat scout most of the this run with the possible exception of Anzu Falls which is the biggest rapid on the run and is worthy of a scout. At high water, it will be handy to have someone along who knows the lines! For the upper run, most folks put in at Chonta Yacu and paddle down to where the road bridge crosses the Anzu.

Rio Jatunyacu (or Upper Napo) - Class III

Kayak Ecuador, kayaking in Ecuador, ecuador paddling, padding south americaThis 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 and the lines you choose to take, this run is Class II+ to III+. For the most river miles, put in at Candu and take out in Puerto Napo. Mining activity, both legal and illegal, have heavily impacted the Jatunyacu. In many places the banks and forests are completely destroyed. It’s quite sad paddling here now. But check out a group called the Yaku Churis who are teaching kids from the local communities to paddle and to protect the environment.

Rio Tena - Class II/III

Kayak Ecuador, kayaking in Ecuador, Ecuador kayaking, kayak ecuador, ecuador paddling, padding south america, kayaking south americaWant 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 and II+ 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. 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

South America kayak vacation, kayak trips, whitewater rafting paddlingTena’s Pusuno river is extremely touchy water-level wise, but it can be a real treat if you can catch it right! And now there is a dam on the upper section which further complicates things. The upper and lower are both Class V runs and you need rain to Cath them in. You definitely want local beta for either section, especially how to sneak past the dam folks for the upper…The lower run starts out in a tight bedrock canyon and has about 5 drops leading up to where there used to be a 30-40 foot waterfall–all can be portaged. The waterfall collapsed quite a few years ago and has been changing ever since. For a while it was a sweet double drop, and I’m not sure what it looks like now. Below where the falls used to be, 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. The Pusuno is not recommended at high water. For the lower, 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+/VI

South America kayaking vacation, kayak trips, whitewater paddling, paddling south americaThe 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! For the “day run” put in at La Barquilla and take out at Las Pizzaras. The Upper sections of the Chingual are Class V and V+ (with often unrunnable sections) and rather inaccessible. The sections up near the town of La Bonita are fairly good, but the last time we were there, around 2014, they required long hikes into and out of the river. The section from La Florida to La Barquilla is the most intriguing but is in the most inaccessible canyon. On our last attempt, we had to hike out (very grueling) due to a landslide that had deposited a bunch of tress in the river. A group tried again in 2023 and found a marginally runnable rapid in a boxed in canyon so they hiked out as well (also grueling and required some climbing skills). If you attempt these upper sections, they 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. You’ll feel small amongst the boulders out there.

Rio Cofanes - Class V

paddling South America, Rio Cofanes - Class V 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, cofanesThe Cofanes got a road built into it in around 2010 for the purpose of gold mining. Still this river is very remote and rather difficult to access. It’s a 5+ hour drive north and west of Baeza, 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 because there a couple of boxed in canyons with serious whitewater and you definitely want Class V skills to deal with these. If the water comes up on you, it will get out of control and 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 (Class IV and V) rapids that are difficult to scout and even more difficult to portage so be ready to run some scary and committing whitewater if you go. 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. NOTE: the falls in this photo collapsed and the most recent trip report said that it was a super sketchy portage around a sieve. Check this more recent trip report for more beta.