Ecuador Whitewater Adventures
After just one week exploring the whitewater rivers of Ecuador, I have come to the realization that I have barely scratched the surface of this incredible whitewater paradise, making a return trip inevitable.
After a surprisingly short flight into the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, we drove east up and over the Papallacta pass at over 13,000ft, officially indicating we had crossed the Andes and were now dropping into the Amazon watershed. You very quickly notice some amazing whitewater following the road as it plummets towards lower elevations. Over the next week I would have the opportunity to explore a handful of the very best Ecuadorian whitewater.
The Rio Quijos originates from glaciers high on the Antisana Volcano, Ecuador’s fourth highest volcano at 18,714ft. Not long after crossing the Papallacta pass the steep channels of the upper Quijos start to converge into a paddleable stream and from here it provides nearly 60 miles of almost constant quality whitewater before taking one last plunge over San Rafael Falls, Ecuador’s highest waterfall at 475ft. With such close proximity to Quito’s international airport and an abundance of amazing whitewater, the Quijos valley is the obvious place to start your Ecuador paddling adventure.
The Quijos’s character changes as you descend thru the valley from steep and technical to big and fun dotted with great play spots. We started on a quick shake down run by shortening the classic Bridge to Bridge section (III+) to finish off at Small World Adventures plush resort on the banks of the river. We found fun low to medium volume rock gardens littered with sweet boofs and fun slots. The Bonbon section (III+/IV-) was bigger water with a few notable rapids that required a little more attention and some incredible canyon walls reaching from rivers edge and vanishing into the jungle high above. And finally we paddled Chaco Canyon (IV-) which had a few large pushy rapids to keep you on your toes but also the best play we found all week with some epic surfing with easy eddy service.
One of the significant Quijos tributaries, is the Rio Cosanga (III/IV-). This is an Ecuadorian classic and the middle and lower sections provided a pool drop experience with super fun moves thru a couple of canyons surrounded by memorable jungle beauty.
We also explored the whitewater around the city of Tena which is an important regional cultural and commercial capital, and a significant launching point for many Amazon rain forest adventures.
The Piatua (III+) is another Ecuadorian classic with pristine clear water running through a remote jungle valley. Although the whitewater is not particularly hard, the scenery more than makes up for it.
The Jondachi is the crown jewel of Ecuadorian whitewater. Originating on the flanks of the perfectly symmetrical 13090ft Sumaco volcano, the middle Jondachi (III+/IV-) offers some of the most fun and continuous kayaking I have ever done with so many fun moves to be had at every opportunity. Meanwhile, the upper Jondachi (IV+/V-) is single handily the best single day piece of whitewater I have ever paddled. The splendor of the remote jungle gorge setting is capped off with dozens of waterfalls cascading into the river with its near non stop whitewater. Some moves are big and pushy but they are all ridiculously fun with huge moves everywhere and a couple of easy portages mixed for good measure. I could paddle the upper Jondachi every day for a week and never get enough of its beauty and captivating whitewater.
Sadly, many of the Ecuadorian rivers, including some we explored, are in danger from imminent hydroelectric development as the Ecuadorian government exploits the countries natural resources. Even one of the worlds most famous waterfalls, San Rafael Falls, could be dewatered by a new dam being erected just upstream. The Jondachi also remains under threat. Thankfully the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute and others have taken a leadership role in defending these recreationally important rivers threatened by hydroelectric development. Check out the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute to learn more.
Finally, my week long adventure in Ecuador was made possible by Small World Adventures. I cannot thank them enough for the opportunity. Their idyllic lodge, Cabañas Tres Rios, is located on the banks of the Rio Quijos and it was here that the professional staff kept us fed, entertained and grinning ear to ear as the week progressed. Their professional guides safely pointed us in the right direction and made sure we hit every sweet boof our sore muscles would allow. Sincerely, thank you so much for a wonderful week of paddling I will not forget anytime soon.