Rio Marañon: Grand Canyon of the Amazon raft/kayak expedition: 24 days, 310 miles, class IV; JOIN US!

RÍO MARAÑON: The Grand Canyon of the Amazon

499 km (310 miles), class IV, up to 24 days

launches: Jun4 Oct14 Oct26 Dec4 RESERVE
versión ESPAÑOL

The Upper Amazon River (Río Marañon) in the Andes offers the finest raft-support trip in South America. Join our raft/kayak expedition as we paddle 499 km (310 miles) through the scenic and arid Grand Canyon section, with exhilarating class III-IV rapids, soothing hot springs, amazing side hikes, beautiful clean beach camps, and Incan ruins. Spread the word about the consequences of ~15 planned dams and help us SAVE RÍO MARAÑON!
You also might have the option of continuing into the Jungle Pongos where the river goes through lush jungle.

Trip reports: Sep28 :: Jan16
PETITION (protest the dams)
FILM (15 min Vimeo)


Río Marañon is the parent stream or "mainstem" source of the Amazon, meeting no stronger rival at any junction on its route to the Atlantic. It therefore is the Upper Amazon and the only stream meriting this title. From its birthplaces at glaciers on the highest tropical mountains in the world [Yerupajá and Huascarán; 6600-6800 m (21000-22000 ft)], the Marañon courses north over about 1/3 of the length of the country of Peru in the central Andes. As it does so, it is squeezed into the bottom of a desert canyon up to 3000 m (10000 ft) deep on both sides - more than double the depth of Arizona's Grand Canyon. A SierraRios expedition in 2012 explored what the Marañon was like, and learned of plans for over a dozen hydroelectric dams. The next expeditions are intended to increase appreciation of the river so more authoritative opinions can be voiced against the dams. Voice your opinion now in the SAVE RIO MARANON campaign. Sign a petition! Watch a film. Make the issue known. Support the cause with a donation! The trip is open to everyone: rafters, kayakers, IKers, and passengers. No prior whitewater experience is necessary on a raft.

The Grand Canyon Amazon is divided into three sections:
Upper: 208 km; class IV (V); ~11 days; Puchka-to-Chagual
Middle:149 km; class II-III (IV); ~6 days; Chagual-to-Balsas
Lower: 143 km; class III-IV; ~7 days; Balsas-to-P.Malleta

Expeditions launching May-Dec (low water) will begin on the Upper.
Expeditions launching Jan-Apr (high water) will begin on the Middle.
Some expeditions will continue into the Jungle Pongos section.
lt is possible to join or leave any expedition at any access point.
Private groups are welcome to schedule a trip - either as a fully guided trip or a self-guided trip. Do it soon and help us save the river!

PLEASE: If you read this, please take a moment and sign a petition! And click on the "LIKE" at the top to let others know.

2012 trip (First Descent Amazon)
SPOT (latest GPS position)
Sep28 trip report :: Jan16 trip report

The "Grand Canyon Amazon" refers to the profound canyon section of Río Marañon located downsteam of the Río Puchka confluence and upstream of the Jungle Pongos section. This canyon is generally 2600-3000 m (8000-10000 ft) deep on both sides throughout its length. There are several access points conveniently dividing it into various sections, each with various difficulties and other features. These are summarized in the table below to help you decide the best trip for you. In general, the river is class III-IV in difficulty and comparable to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado (GCC), though some rapids of the Upper Grand Canyon Amazon section are considerably more challenging.

Anyone (even folks with no river experience) can always join a normal SierraRios trip through any section scheduled and safely pass with the experienced class V guides who will lead the trip. Ideally, participants in charge of a raft or kayak should feel challenged, but not scared. If you're planning to row or kayak, you should note the difficulties below. It is always possible to avoid the tough Inner Gorge section by joining an expedition at Chagual (which can be arranged even for expeditions launching on the Upper) or taking a shuttle around it. It's best to discuss this possibility with the trip planner, as we can usually accommodate some class III boaters even on the Upper section.

section km days class rapids scenery hikes cultural note
Upper GC 208 ~11 IV (V) +++++ +++++ ++++ + lining/portage at Wasson's
Middle GC 149 ~6 II-III (IV) ++ +++++ +++++ +++ most rapids at start and end of section
Lower GC 143 ~8 III-IV ++++ +++ +++ ++++ soon to be dammed
Bagua Valley 81 ~2 I-II + ++ + ++ flat and sometimes windy
Jungle Pongos1 85 ~3 III+ +++ +++ ++ +++++ often rainy; need Awajún permission
Jungle Pongos2 215 ~5 I-II (III) + +++ + ++++ not rafted yet; need Awajún permission


Upper Grand Canyon Amazon
class IV (V)
208 km (129 miles) ; ~11 days
Puchka (2080 m) to Chagual (1260 m) [6900 ft to 4160 ft];
4.0 m/km (22 ft/mile)
Google Maps (put-in area)

The Upper Grand Canyon Amazon section is filled with class III and IV rapids, as well as two Vs, and is significantly more challenging than the Grand Canyon Colorado. If you are not a confident class IV boater willing to line/portage one long rapid, you can still join an expedition through this section, but you should be accompanied by experienced guides or be a raft passenger. The Upper section is quite scenic in arid desert-like canyon and has numerous interesting side excursions - to narrows, waterfalls, granaries/ruins, and hot springs. This is the least populated section so cultural interactions are usually minimal, while wilderness is maximal. Note that this "Upper" section is actually two sections ("Puchka" and "Inner Gorge"), divided by access at the pueblo of Huchus (km 127). Due to the extra dangers of the class V Inner Gorge at high water, trips launching during the high water season will usually skip this section and start at Chagual.

The Puchka section is the first 127 km and contains many class III rapids and some IVs in beautiful red dirt and limestone-walled canyon. The two toughest rapids are Pauca (IV) and Shapalmonte (IV). These rapids have very high raft flip potential at higher flows (rating of 10 on GC scale), but are more manageable at low flows. In addition, Shapalmonte is not portageable at high flows. This section has an easy access point at km 100 where a bridge (Puente Jitaraxan) is found for a road that joins the towns of Sihuas and Tayabamba.
See a slideshow of this section at low water: PUCHKA SECTION SLIDESHOW [from the Sep28 (2013) trip]

The Inner Gorge section is 81 km from Huchus to Chagual and starts with ~30 km of class III passing a hot-springs. The river then enters the Inner Gorge, which has numerous class IVs as well as the intimidating V+ (Wasson's Landslide) and a then a more runnable V- (Llamara). The main danger in Wasson's is a sieve at the end of the rapid that 2/3 of the river goes into. At lower flows we have lined rafts through Wasson's for safety, a process that can take much of a day. The rapid has still not been assessed at high flow. Llamara is often runnable over its main ledge drop but if problems are encountered, the long ~300 m class IV runout can be a problem. It is possible to circumvent the whole Inner Gorge section by taking a vehicle from PuenteJitaraxan or Huchus to Chagual - or by hiking up and out of the Inner Gorge to Chilia, and then taking a bus/taxi back to the river at Chagual.
See a slideshow of the Inner Gorge at low water: INNER GORGE SLIDESHOW [from the Sep28 (2013) trip]


Middle Grand Canyon Amazon
class II-III (IV)
149 km (93 miles); ~6 days
Chagual (1260m) to Balsas (860m)
2.7 m/km (15 ft/mile)
Google Maps (Chagual)

The Middle Grand Canyon Amazon section is mostly class II but starts with some class III and ends with some class III and a long IV. Anyone comfortable rowing/paddling the Grand Canyon Colorado or Salmon should be comfortable on this section. The long IV is Samosierra (aka Bombón), a rapid first described by the CanoAndes crew in 1980 and approximately a 9 or 10 on the GC scale. This Middle Grand Canyon Amazon section features spectacular scenery, passing through arid desert-like canyon with sparse vegetation and numerous cacti, as well as many vertical walls rising directly from the riverbed. One of the most incredible spots along the river is the Muro Poso, a huge Zion-like wall with 400+ m waterfall coming almost directly down into the river. Other side excursions can be taken to pre-Incan tombs, up mountainsides, and into side canyons with incredible grottos (Llanten), dry mud-flows, waterfalls, and narrows. There are several pueblos along the way, including Calemar, which has the preserved casa of famed author Ciro Alegria. These pueblos allow for a good amount of cultural interactions with the local residents.

See a slideshow of this section at low water: MIDDLE GC SLIDESHOW [from the Sep28 (2013) trip]


Lower Grand Canyon Amazon
class III-IV
144 km (89 miles); ~8 days
Balsas (860m) to Puerto Malleta (500m)
2.5 m/km (14 ft/mile)
Google Maps (Balsas)

The Lower Grand Canyon Amazon section is class III-IV with rapids interspersed throughout its length. It is equivalent in difficulty to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, MF-Main Salmon, Sun Kosi, or Zanskar. The biggest rapids are El Choclón, Tupén Grande, San Lucas, Playa El Inca, Magdalena, and Linlín. Although some of these rapids are quite long, they are not more difficult than the toughest rapids on the Grand Canyon Colorado, even at high flows. The scenery of the Lower Grand Canyon Amazon is pleasant, starting out in a dry cactus-studded canyon and getting more and more annual precipiation with additional vegetation before becoming quite dry again in the Bagua Valley section. There are numerous side excursions - to the pueblos of Mendán and La Mushka, to abandoned pre-Incan overlooks and Incan tombs, to narrows, and to an intriguing series of swiming pools. It is important to have approval of the local communities in this section as they can be hostile to you if they don't know you and suspect you may be with the dam companies (see C&K article; but read comments at end). This section has the dams in the latest planning stages: Chadin 2 and Veracruz. It will likely be the first to be drowned by reservoirs. The first take-out as the canyon opens up is Puerto Malleta, about a 1.5 hr drive from Bagua Chica. From here, it is possible to paddle up to 80 km through the Bagua Valley section (class I-II) to Rentema, the start of the Jungle Pongos section.

See a slideshow of this section at medium water: LOWER GC SLIDESHOW [from the Sep28 (2013) trip]


Bagua Valley
class I-II
81 km (50 miles); 2 days
Puerto Malleta (500 m) to Rentema (390 m)
1.4 m/km (7 ft/mile)
Google Maps (Balsas)

The Bagua Valley section is pretty flat fast moving water (class I-II) in a section where the canyon walls are generally receding away from the river and the region is getting drier and drier. Along this section is the pueblo of Cumba, the Río Chamaya confluence with Baños Almendral (which offers hot water for soaking or bathing), the highway bridge at Corral Quemado (nice to go up for lunch and get a coco helado), and the surf wave and restaurants at Bellavista. Two big tributaries join the Marañon just before Rentema: Ríos Utcubamba (RR) and Chinchipe (RL) often doubling the flow. The section ends at Rentema where the river enters a narrow canyon again.


Jungle Pongos
class III+
300 km (186 miles); ~8 days
Rentema (390 m) to Sarameriza (130 m)
0.9 m/km (5 ft/mile)
Google Maps (Balsas)

The Jungle Pongos section starts at Rentema where the Marañon enters another imposing canyon section. Annual precipitation increases and vegetation quickly turns to lush jungle. The rapids in here are referred to as "pongos", a Quechua word meaning "constriction", "gorge" or "rapid". In the first 85 km to Imacita there are a dozen such big water class III pongos (some of which can be IVs if you're in the wrong place). Starting about ~40 km downstream into this section, the river flows by Awajún communities who do not allow people to pass without permission. The Awajún are an Amazon tribe who have their own language and have been known to be hostile to outsiders - detaining, robbing, and sometimes even killing European/American tourists (see C&K article; Outside). It is absolutely essential to have approval from them and take along Awajún guides for safe passage, something we arrange on SierraRios trips. This leads to some of the most rewarding cultural interactions on the expedition. Most of the difficult pongos end by Imacita, from which there is motorboat service downstream, so this is where raft trips often finish. However, some expeditions will continue an additional 215 km to a port after the end of the Andes (Sarameriza). In this section downstream of Imacita, the river moves quickly through canyon/gorge for ~80 km before opening up past the Pongo de Huaracayo, and then passes the port of Santa Maria de Nieva. Downstream the river is joined by Río Santiago (from Ecuador) and then blazes ~8 km through the final mountain range of the Andes: the notorious Pongo de Manseriche, with some class II-III water. The port of Sarameriza is located ~40 km past the final pongo.

See a slideshow of this section at medium water: JUNGLE PONGOS SLIDESHOW [from the Sep28 (2013) trip]

Prior descents:

Río Marañon has had only 3 near-complete descents
John Wasson et al., 1977: Paddled 790 km with 3 kayaks and a 12' raft from Rondos to Imacita (Nazareth) [Jul-Aug].
Tim Biggs et al., 2004: Kayaked all 1750 km in kayaks from Río Nupe to Iquitos: the entire river. [July 2004]
Contos et al., 2012: Boated all 1750 km river: "Headwaters" 200 km in kayaks (8 days), "Grand Canyon" 650 km with cataraft, 2 kayaks, and IK (28 days); "Lower Jungle" ~900 km to Iquitos in motorboats (7 days) [July 2012]

and many partial descents:
La Condamine 1743: rafted from Chiriaco confluence to Borja [then ship to the mouth of the Amazon]. [Jun-Sep, 1743]
Arturo Weatherman 1870: rafted from Utcubamba confluence down to past the Pongo de Manseriche.
Herbert Rittlinger, 1936: Attempted descent in Folbot kayak from near Rondos but aborted. Book sold 300,000 copies!
Laszlo Berty, 1976, 1977: Rafted ~450 km (maybe solo?) from Chagual to jungle (summer low water).
Andrzej Pietowski et al., 1981: Rafted 148 km from Chagual to Balsas only. [March 23-25, 1981]
Dignum et al.,1987: Group of 4 Dutch rafted 206 km section from near P.Copuma to Chagual. [Oct 1987]
Kurt Casey et al., 2000: Kayaked from Vizcarra confluence down to Chagual only. [July 9-18, 2000]
Dam survey parties, 2011-2013: [sections of the river between Chagual and Rentema (2009 to 2012)]
SierraRios trip Sep28 2013: Group of 19-24 30 days led by Contos: Puchka to Imacita.
SierraRios trip Jan16 2014: Group of 19-24 29 days led by Contos: Puchka to Imacita.

No river rafting experienced is required to join a trip. However, you should be comfortable camping and you should have an easygoing attitude in order to get along with a diverse group on a Grand Canyon-style trip for an extended period. If you are concerned about this issue, consider arranging a private trip (contact Rocky) or if you're an experienced group, contracting our outfitting services. Note that in some sections of the river, it is essential to have someone along (a guide) who knows the people to ensure friendly interactions.

Everyone joining SierraRios trips should have an interest in river conservation and help us on our mission to document the river further, talk to residents, publicize the planned dams, and help train local guides. We welcome competent boaters. If you want to kayak, you must have adequate class IV experience and a solid roll. If you want to row a raft, you must have adequate experience rowing class IV rivers. Comparable rivers are the Colorado (Grand Canyon), Middle Fork Salmon, Thompson, Futaleufu, Sun Kosi, Karnali, Omo, Yangtze (Great Bend), and Zanskar. You should be in good physical condition. In general the pace is relaxed with several layover days, but there may be some long days on the water. You should plan to help facilitate the trip in any way possible, including transport of some gear down to Peru and to the river if necessary. You don't need to be bilingual but it is helpful and more fulfilling to communicate with local residents when we meet them.

The policy we will take on the trip is that the trip leader will have main authority when it comes to decisions for the group regarding river progress, camp, etc. If a participant has overestimated their ability to row or kayak, he/she may be mandated to ride on a raft and or be assessed other penalties. Trip leader decisions can be vetoed by a majority vote of the group. Any participant always has the right to leave the trip if they so desire.


HUARAZ: The main rendezvous point at the start of the trip will be Huaraz. You should arrive 1-2 days before the launch date. We will arrange transportation for the ~5 hr drive to the put-in near the pueblo of Huacaybamba on departure day. We will likely visit the ruins at Chavin de Huantar in the morning enroute and camp at the put-in after starting to rig boats.

Huaraz is a beautiful colonial city at 3000 m elevation and a major outpost in the Andes for trekkers and climbers, as it's close to the highest tropical mountains in the world, including Huascarán.  You might consider doing several days trekking before the trip, such as to the Cordillera Huayhuash, one of the principal sources of the Amazon. To get to Huaraz from Lima, you can fly (1 hr) or take a bus (8 hr). Flights are only operated by LC Peru.  There are two primary bus companies servicing Lima-Huaraz with ~8 hr rides (links below). On these buses there are regular seats, semi-reclining seats, and sometimes "cama" seats that recline almost fully. Prices are about $11-32 for the ride depending on seat type (note some buses are all cama seats; some have mixed seats, etc):

Movil Tours (Paseo de la República 749, La Victoria; tel: 332-0004) has departures throughout day: e.g., 8:00am, 9:40am, 10:10am, 10:30am; 1:00pm, 9:40pm, 10:30pm
Cruz del Sur (Javier Prado & Arriola) has departures usually 11:00am and 10:30pm from Javier Prado; $11-32 depending on seat type 

CHAGUAL: Chagual is the pueblo along Río Marañon dividing the Upper Grand Canyon Amazon from the Middle Grand Canyon Amazon. You can arrive here from Trujillo by either bus (~$20; 12 hr; Transportes Huacomi) or flight ($140; 1 hr; Atasur; departures 7am Tue, Thur, Sat). It is possible to enter or exit the trip at Chagual - check with the trip planner if you would like to join or leave the expedition here.

BALSAS (CAJAMARCA): Balsas is a pueblo by the river dividing the Middle Grand Canyon Amazon section from the Lower Grand Canyon Amazon section. From the river access bridge at Balsas it is a 1.7 hr drive up to Celendín (taxi), and then a 3 hr ride to Cajamarca (bus or taxi). Regular flights and buses serve Cajamarca to/from Lima. Two domestic carriers service Cajamarca-Lima (LAN and LC Peru) for $120-180 one-way. You can also take a 14 hr bus to Lima ($30) - some are quite comfortable with reclining "cama" seats.

BAGUA: If you continue down through the Lower Grand Canyon Amazon with us, the end city rendezvous point is Bagua (or more precisely Bagua Chica to distinguish from Bagua Grande/Utcubamba nearby). Bagua can be arrived at from Puerto Malleta (1.5 hr), Cumba (1 hr), Corral Quemado (0.5 hr), Rentema (0.5 hr), Imacita (3 hr), Nieva (7 hr), or Sarameriza (11 hr). The Puerto Malleta access is convenient for those ending their trip after all the rapids of the Grand Canyon Amazon section - it avoids the flat Bagua Valley section, though it is also possible to paddle downstream to take-outs at Cumba or Corral Quemado (where a highway bridge crosses the river). From Bagua it is a 4-6 hr bus ride to Chiclayo, where you can find regular commercial flights (1 hr) and bus service (10 hr) to Lima. Alternatively, you can go to Tarapoto (~8 hr ride to the east) which has more and cheaper flights to Lima. For flights, check STAR, LAN, PeruvianAir, or LC Peru. On all SierraRios trips or outfitted trips the shuttle to Bagua is included in the cost.

TENTATIVE ITINERARY [trips to be scheduled every ~1.5 months]:
This is for the full Grand Canyon Amazon trip (Upper+Middle+Lower); launches Nov-Apr generally start on the Middle):
Day 0: rendezvous in Huaraz; meet Rocky or trip leader
Day 1: take bus and/or vans toward Puchka put-in (near Hucrachuco); perhaps stop in Chavín de Huantar to visit ruins; start rigging; camp
Day 2: finish rigging and launch
Day 2-11: Upper GC section to Chagual (km 0-206); many IVs; two Vs (Wasson's Landslide & Llamara); 1-2 layovers
Day 12-17: Middle GC section Chagual to Balsas (km 206-357); one layover; ends with IV (Samosierra)
Day 17: Arrive Balsas get ride up to Celendín (2 hr); possibly to Cajamarca (3 hr more); hotel

Day 18: in Celendín/Cajamarca; exchange participants; resupply/repack food; hotel in Cajamarca or Celendín
Day 19-26: Lower GC section: Balsas to Puerto Malleta (km 357-516); one layover; class III-IV
Day 26-27: Bagua Valley; class I-II

From here down is the Jungle Pongos trip
Day 28-30:
Rentema to Imacita (km 556-664); pongos in lush jungle; Awajún; huge-water class IIIs
Day 30: Derig; get ride to Imacita; can get rides/flights back to Lima the following day; continue down more of the Marañon (motorboat rides available from here down)

Expected Progress:
We will generally paddle through the entire Upper section in 11 days (arriving in Chagual on Day11), and then resupply some foods in Vijus (~km 223) on Day 12. In general the planned pace is relaxed and allows for numerous side hikes as well as one layover days in each of the Upper, Middle and Lower Grand Canyon sections [if an average of 28 km/day is made per day aside from the Wasson's day]. We will arrive in Balsas by mid-day to derig, pull the rafts up, have lunch, and head up out of the canyon in a taxi or combi to Celendín or Leymebamba/Kuelap. The following day (day 18) will be spent visiting one of these cities/ruins and in passenger exchanges. Note that given enough time, we may arrange to have meetings with residents of the area (e.g., in Celendín) to discuss the dams and their consequences. This is all tentative and assuming no accidents/delays. Also, note that downriver progress can be much faster at higher water levels during Nov-May, so we may have more opportunities for more layovers on trips during those months - or the entire trip may be shortened 1-3 days.

Part of the purpose of the these trips is to continue to find and document interesting locales along the river such as ruins, hot springs, slot side canyons, waterfalls, and caves. Several dams are in late stages of planning along the river and the beauty and special qualities of the river and canyon need to be assessed and made known. Many such features were documented on the 2012 trip, but plenty remain to be discovered. Aside from the river trip, you might consider visiting other interesting places in northern Peru, including the Incan/colonial city of Cajamarca, various thermal baths nearby, natural wonders such as the Catarata de Gocta (771 m high and one of the tallest waterfalls in the world), as well as many ruins such as Caral, the oldest known city in the Americas (near Barrancas on the coast), Kuelap, the Machu Picchu equivalent of the Chacahpoyas culture (near Chachapoyas), and Chavín de Huantar, a site worth a stop enroute to the Puchka put-in. Note that Cajamarca was a major Incan city and the site where Pizarro met and defeated Atahualpa, who had recently assumed title of full emperor of the Inca after defeating his brother Huáscar.

SierraRios has all topo maps of the entire river marked with rapids and potential beach camps. If you would like access to these, you can sign up as a member of SierraRios specifying you're interested in the Marañon map/book/video, and you'll receive immediate access to the maps (book/DVD later). If you have the password, click here for access: MAPS. [also note links at top left column of this page and at TOPO MAPS on the main homepage.

The trip occurs at tropical latitudes in semi-arid country and at moderate elevation. Average annual precipitation is about 450 mm (19 in) near Puchka and 330 mm (13 in) at Balsas. The elevation at the put-in is 6900 ft, so expect warm days and cool evenings in the initial sections (highs of 27oC/80oF and lows of 10oC/50oF are common the first days). Water is pretty cool (15-20oC) initially. After the first week of the trip, it will generally be hot (highs of 32oC/90oF and lows of 20oC/68oF generally) and the water warms up considerably (to ~23oC by the jungle).

There is almost no rain in the dry season May-Sep in the Upper Grand Canyon Amazon section, but expect some in the rainy season. On our July 2012 trip, we had only two days with some sprinkles of rain for the first 25 days. Once we entered the jungle (as part of the Lower Grand Canyon Amazon trip), we experienced rain every day or two, usually in short intense storms.

Although many camps have no biting bugs, in some camps there are annoying biting gnats and flies. Repellent works against these. Mosquitos are not common but are present at times in the dry canyon areas. They are much more common in the jungle. Other critters to beware of are spiders, scorpions, snakes, and centipedes.

This trip is being run to raise more awareness of the dams planned for the Upper Amazon.
We welcome everyone: raft passengers, raft paddlers, raft rowers, kayakers, IKers, and guides. How much the trip costs for you depends on what you want out of it and what you can offer to make it a success. Costs are reduced significantly for early commitment with a deposit, for those with significant boating/guiding experience, and for those who can really make a difference in the fight against the dams. Consider the rates that typical clients pay for similar long multi-day raft trips: ~$4000 for 14-day Grand Canyon trips, ~$2000 for 6-day MF Salmon River trips, and $1500 for 5-day Salmon River trips. Our rates for similar trips where everything is taken care of are considerably lower:
Contribution guidelines: General

However, if you're a river guide yourself or an experienced paddler who can mostly take care of yourself and watch after others, you might be able to join a trip for a lower contribution amount - something closer to the Outfitting Service rate:
Contribution guidelines: Experienced Boater

Everyone can always save by getting friends to join up for the trip. If at all interested in joining a trip, send Rocky a note ( saying how you found out about the trip and a little background info about you and your paddling experience. [If you're a guide, it is nice to see a resumé and provide references].

If at all interested in joining a trip, start a discussion by sending Rocky a note ( saying how you found out about the trip and a little background info about you and your paddling experience, how you first heard about the trip, and what sections of the expedition you are most interested in joining. Once you get the go-ahead from Rocky, you will need to provide a deposit to reserve your place on the trip ($500). Full contribution must be received before the trip. See PAYMENTS for payment options.

As of April 2014, participant totals tentatively stand at:

13/13 Jun4 launch UPPER/LOWER [+2 guides]
14/14 Oct14 launch UPPER/LOWER [+2 guides]
05/05 Oct26 launch UPPER/LOWER [+2 guides]
04/04 Dec4 launch UPPER/LOWER [+2 guides]

A minimum of 12 particpants will assure a trip, while our maximal limit is 20 on any trip. The current boats available allow for two trips at a time. If interested in doing a trip on a date not listed, send Rocky a message about optimal scheduling for you, as well as a little info about you. We may list the launch date, and if enough folks sign up by the 3-month cut-off, we'll organize it.

We reserve the right to cancel the trip 2+ months in advance. This generally will occur only if there are not enough folks signed up (<12). If we cancel the trip, all deposits and payments will be refunded. 

If you must cancel, you'll get your money back if you find someone to take your place on the trip. If you don't find someone, we may allow much of the payment to be applied to a future trip (at our discretion). The amount depends on the circumstances surrounding the cancellation.


(1) Rocky Contos (scheduled trip leader on at least part of all 2014 launches), descended the entire Marañon from its headwaters on Río Lauricocha to Iquitos between July and September 2012, and led two 20+ person 30-day expeditions [Sep28 and Jan16]. In 2012, he also paddled all of Ríos Apurímac, Mantaro, and Urubamba as part of his Headwaters of the Amazon expedition. He discovered the most distant source of the Amazon [see articles C&K, Outside, Nat.Geo, FoxNews, LaRepublica]. He has explored nearly every river in Mexico including >100 first descents covering ~8,000 km of river and ~55,000 m of drop. Rocky believes the Marañon is the finest Grand Canyon-style raftable river in the South America. He is fluent in Spanish and has organized many Grand Canyon length trips. Several articles have featured Rocky (American Whitewater; Kayak Session; Canoe & Kayak). While attaining his Ph.D. in neuroscience (see CV), Rocky worked as a kayak instructor and guide for UCSD's Outback adventures from 1993-1996 and gained valuable trip planning skills for large groups. Although primarily a kayaker, Rocky started rafting in the mid-1990s in order to introduce more people to the wonders of river travel. Since then and throughout his years as a postdoctoral research associate, he organized numerous large group raft and kayak expeditions, including five through Grand Canyon (18-22 days), three on the Salmon River (4-10 days each), two on Río Mulatos-Aros (8-11 days), five on Río Usumacinta (7-8 days each), and dozens to destinations such as the Salt, Kern, Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Thompson, Similkameen, and Baja California (2-6 days each). Rocky had dreamed of rafting the Marañon for over 10 years and has all the maps and information. Rocky founded SierraRios with the goal of conserving the rivers of Latin America, and hopes that increased awareness and enjoyment of the resource will lead to protection. He is organizing all aspects of the trip. He likely will be rowing a large cataraft with gear and passengers, but may safety kayak if a competent rower is availlable.

(2) Other guides/trip leaders are to be decided, but likely will be selected from Rocky's Peruvian guide friends - Pedro Peña, Julio Baca, Victor Baca, Alonso Campana, Victor Memdivi (Bacteria), or others from Apurimac Explorer. On all trips launching in 2014, Pedro or Julio are scheduled to be trip leaders when Rocky isn't.

(3) Monti Aguirre from International Rivers will likely join a trip sometime in the future.

(4) In the jungle Aguaruna areas, it is not possible to pass without approval from the Aguaruna nation [you will be detained and possibly robbed/attacked]. We generally take along Eusebio Chumpi, Manasés Chumpi, friends/relatives of them, and sometimes Segundo Valera for safe interactions. See more about Eusebio at the SierraRios Local Guide Training Program.

(5) All oarsmen will be experienced river runners and raft captains guides with extensive experience. Non-experienced and less-experienced participants are welcome to join as raft paddlers/passengers and will have the opportunity to kayak easier sections of the river.

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There is no threat from terrorists, as the Sendero Luminoso was never based along the Marañon. There is a chance we may meet unfriendly villagers along the river in places, but nearly all residents we met in 2012 were friendly, especially when they realized we were opposed to the dams. In the jungle, the Aguaruna do not allow passage by their villages without approval. We have secured such permission for the Sep28 trip and expect to have such approval on all trips. Aguaruna guides will come along with us in these sections for safety and pleasant interactions.

The other aspect of safety is prevention of accidents. It is of utmost importance that you take all precautions necessary to avert injury, sickness, and complications while on the trip. It's a good idea to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Tetanus on any part of the trip, and Yellow Fever and Rabies if you're entereing the jungle areas [however, no vaccines are required]. Although the dry Grand Canyon section has little risk of Malaria, jungle areas do (see map), so you might consider taking anti-malaria medication there if you're concerned about the risk.

We cannot guarantee against accidents. If you're an inexperienced boater, the trip leader and guides will advise you on saftey issues. If you are an experienced boater in control of your craft, you must accept the responsibility for what happens to you on the river. It is the experienced boater's responsibility to make appropriate decisions whether to run the rapid or not and to stay close to someone who can watch and oversee you. A certain level of freedom will be provided, but each such person must abide by trip leader requests, which may mandate not paddling certain rapids. If an accident occurs, we will do all in our power to help you, see that proper care is rendered, or evacuate you if need be. We will have Wilderness First Responders on the trip.

We will have an Inmarsat satellite phone ($1.50/min for calls) and SPOT device. Anyone can see the latest SPOT position of the SierraRios trip: quick link is at the top of this webpage (below schematic map).

Río Marañon starts fairly small at the start of the Upper Grand Canyon section but by the time it enters the jungle it is a river ~3X as big as the Colorado through Grand Canyon. Average annual discharge at Balsas is a bit higher than the Colorado River through Grand Canyon (see comparison below). Average flows at other points are listed below in the table for both a dry-season month (July) and the highest wet-season month (March). The graphs show average river levels and actual recorded levels at Balsas. May is the start of the dry season and the river is generally at medium levels and dropping steadily. From October through April, there will likely be rain some days in the main canyon and water levels will generally be fluctuating. Flood flows have be experienced mid-October through mid-April, but are most common Dec-Mar. Note the river at Balsas most years peaks around 1500-2500 cms (53000-87000 cfs) several times between Dec-Mar, but is more typically 500-900 cms (18000-32000 cfs) during these months.

The river is runnable all year long and never gets too low. In fact, most previous descents have been at low levels Jun-Sep, which has the advantage of stable clear flows, more and larger beach camps, more smaller drops, and less chance of rain. In the rainy season (Oct-Apr), the river is usually muddy, there are bigger raft-flipping hydraulics and "funny water", some rapids become very long, and potential rising river levels may mandate moving camps to higher ground at times. The Inner Gorge section is best avoided at high water due to the danger posed by the class Vs. However, the river from Chagual down is an excellent run even at high flows with numerous big Grand Canyon style rapids of class III and IV difficulty.

river Ene Feb Mar Abr May Jun Jul Ago Sep Oct Nov Dic Avg
Marañon (at Balsas) cms 610 920 980 770 380 210 140 130 140 280 510 680 475
cfs 21800 32700 34700 27300 13700 7500 5000 4600 5000 9700 18200 24400 17000
---------------------------- ----- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- --------
Colorado (LeesFerry) cms 148 188 259 560 1188 1476 597 293 234 234 175 163 486
[pre-dam flows 1922-1962] cfs 5300 6700 9200 19900 42200 52400 21200 10400 8300 8300 7500 5800 16480

Note that Colorado River flows have averaged only 14200 cfs after Glen Canyon dam was constructed.

km location elevation avg. flow July avg. flow March difficulty
0 Puchka 2130 m 70 cms (2400 cfs) 350 cms (12000 cfs) IV (V) [to Chagual]
206 Chagual 1230 m 120 cms (4000 cfs) 600 cms (21000 cfs) II-III (IV) [to Balsas]
357 Balsas 850 m 140 cms (5100 cfs) 980 cms (34700 cfs) III-IV [to CorralQ.]
542 CorralQ. 390 m 250 cms (8000 cfs) 1200 cms (41000 cfs) II [to Rentema]
600 Rentema 380 m 600 cms (21000 cfs) 2200 cms (77000 cfs) III-IV [to Nieva]
788 Nieva 200 m 2000 cms (70000 cfs) 4000 cms (140000 cfs) II-III [to Sarameriza]
872 Sarameriza 140 m 3500 cms (120000 cfs) 6000 cms (210000 cfs) flat [to Iquitos]

[current list available]


"The Marañón resembles the Grand Canyon of Colorado in many ways with its rapids, beaches, side canyons and deep cacti-studded gorges.  Both rivers offer numerous side-hikes and waterfalls.  Like the Canyon, the Maranon is ideal for a long multi-day boat trip where a person can forget the grind of everyday life... However, the Maranon offers much more.  Unlike the Grand Canyon, the Maranon is free flowing and its character can change overnight by the whims of nature. Its navigable section is much longer than that of Colorado and its canyon is deeper. Some Maranon beaches are big enough to accommodate small villages. The Maranon offers more and greater variety of rapids that are overall more challenging to navigate. Its continuously strong current makes it possible to easily cover 30-40 miles per day in a raft, assuming one does not stop for side hikes. The jungle area of the lower Maranon has no equivalent on the Colorado... I cannot think of another river in the lower 48 States that offers the same kind of experience."

Boris Trgovcich, class IV rafter/IKer and former raft tour operator in N.California. [2013Sep Marañon trip participant]
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"I found the river trip labeled the "Grand Canyon of the Amazon" to be completely comparable to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in most respects, and it exceeded my expectations in every way... In the 1980s I paddled the Bio-Bio as a participant on one of the first commercial kayak trips in Chile [with] Chris Spelius. While [the Bio Bio's] destruction was abominable both environmentally and culturally, the size and importance of the Bio-Bio's destruction was but a small warning shot compared to the potential disaster planned for the Marañón/Amazon."
Kelly Kellstadt, class III-IV kayaker and former guide/instructor in New Mexico. [2013Sep Marañon trip participant]
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"I need to do another expedition!!!!! I'm already jonsing for one .... The Marañon trip was one of kind that I will never forget ... the perfect combination of big water, gorgeous scenery and a taste of rurual Peruvian lifestyle! ...  I would do this trip again in a heart beat ... It really is amazing how helpful some people have been along the way. Going way out of their way in order to help..."
Amie Begg; class IV kayaker on 2012 Marañon trip

"The Marañon trip was a magical journey. Big, clean water; big canyons and expansive natural beauty; and big-hearted, friendly people who made us feel welcome along the way, while sharing with us their fears of imminent dams, mines, and petroleum drilling. I hope we can find a way to help them protect this incredible treasure and their ways of life."
Barbara Conboy; SierraRios board member and rafter/kayaker on 2012 Marañon trip