Upper Grand Canyon Amazon
For information on the UpperGC and InnerGorgeGC sections, see Grand Canyon Amazon (Upper) page.
Central Grand Canyon Amazon
class II-III (IV)
149 km (93 miles); ~7 days
Chagual (1260m) to Balsas (860m) [4160 ft to 2830 ft]
2.7 m/km (15 ft/mile)
Google Maps (Chagual)
The Central Grand Canyon Amazon section is class II-III with one IV and features spectacular scenery, massive beach camps, friendly village visits, ruins, an incredible narrows, and some fun rapids. One of the best aspects of this section is the spectacular scenery of the arid desert-like cactus-filled canyon, as well as many vertical walls rising directly from the riverbed. An incredible spot 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, into pueblos, up mountainsides, and into side canyons with incredible narrows, grottos, and waterfalls (one of the best is at Llanten). The section contains Calemar, a charming pueblo that was the setting of the famous novel La Serpiente de Oro and still has the preserved house of author Ciro Alegria. There are rapids as well, but after the first ~30 km with several class IIIs, the river courses through 80 km of class II where you can relax and soak in the incredible scenery for several days. The section ends with a bang of class III and IV rapids, the biggest of which is class IV Samosierra (aka Bombón), first described by the CanoAndes crew in 1980 and approximately a 9 or 10 on the GC scale. Samosierra starts class III-IV for almost a kilometer but then eases to intermittent class II for 7 km. Anyone comfortable rowing/paddling the Grand Canyon Colorado or MF-Main Salmon should be comfortable rowing/paddling the Central Grand Canyon Amazon. Two megadam projects (Rio Grande I and II) are planned for this stretch of the Upper Amazon, but the residents are mobilizing against them.
See slideshows of this section on various trips:
CENTRAL GC SLIDESHOW_Jan16 [from the Jan16 (2014) trip]
MCENTRAL GC SLIDESHOW_Sep28 [from the Sep28 (2013) trip]
Lower Grand Canyon Amazon
144 km (89 miles); ~7 days
Balsas (860m) to Puerto Malleta (500m) [2830 ft to 1650 ft]
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, or Sun Kosi. 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. Side excursions include visits to abandoned pre-Incan overlooks and Incan tombs, to narrows, to the pueblos of Mendán or Tupén Grande, to a huge cavern, 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 (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 Cumba Valley section (class I-II) to Rentema, where the Jungle Pongos begin. Two dams (Chadin2 and Veracruz) are already approved to be built and will flood the entire Lower Grand Canyon section, but residents and SierraRios opposition have temporarily delayed the Chadin2 project (Veracruz is still moving forward as of 2016).
See slideshows of this section at low and high water:
LOWER GC SLIDESHOW_Jan16 [from the Jan16 (2014) trip]
LOWER GC SLIDESHOW_Sep28 [from the Sep28 (2013) trip]
The Marañon continues downstream of the Lower Grand Canyon Amazon section into the Cumba Valley and the the Jungle Pongos for an additional ~300 km before exiting the Andes into the flat Amazon basin. Some trips will continue 4 more days into the jungle. For more information on these sections, see Jungle Pongos.
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: [~8 trips on sections of the river between Chagual and Corral Quemado (2009 to 2012)]
SierraRios trip Sep28 2013: General group of 19-24; 30 days led by Contos: Puchka to Imacita.
SierraRios trip Jan16 2014: General group of 19-24; 29 days led by Contos: Puchka to Imacita.
SierraRios trip Jun4 2014: General group of 16-19; 29 days led by Contos: Puchka to Montenegro.
SierraRios trip Sep22 2014: Private group of 16 (Landes); led by Contos/Peña; 15 days Chagual to P.Malleta
SierraRios trip Oct1 2014: Private group of 18 (Gayner); led by Contos/Baca; 18 days Chagual to Montenegro
SierraRios trip Oct14 2014: General group of 12-14; 29 days led by Contos/Peña: Puchka to Montenegro
SierraRios trip Oct29 2014: General group of 10-14; 29 days led by Baca: Puchka to Montenegro
SierraRios trip Nov22 2014: Private group of 16 (McColluch) led by Peña/Bergamin; 15 days Chagual to P.Malleta
SierraRios trip Dec4 2014: General group of 11; led by Contos/Peña: 16 days Puchka to Imacita
SierraRios trip Jan7 2015: Private group of 15 (Drevo/Rae) led by Peña/Bergamin; 15 days Chagual to P.Malleta
PWP trip1 May16 2015: (Paddling With Purpose) group of ~12 led by Webb; 18 days Chagual to Montenegro
PWP trip2 Jun14 2015: (Paddling With Purpose) group of ~3 then 8 led by Webb; 10+8 days Source to Chagual
LA trip Jun24 2015: [non-SierraRios trip] Group of 12 organized by Anderson; 7 days Chagual to Balsas
SierraRios trip Jun28 2015: [2, 3] General group of 15; led by Contos/Peña; 14 days Puchka to Chagual
PWP trip3 Jul16 2015: (Paddling With Purpose) group of ~16 led by Webb; 16 days Chagual to P.Malleta
SierraRios trip Jul28 2015: Red Bull SUP + film crew; led by Contos (+Coto/Diaz/Peña); 52 days Source to Sarameriza
SierraRios trip Sep28 2015: General group of 10-12; led by Peña; 30 days Puchka to Nahém
SierraRios trip Oct6 2015: Private group of 4 (Plitschka); led by Diaz; 18 days Chagual to Imacita
SierraRios trip Oct13 2015: Private group of 16 (Moore); led by Coto; 24 days Puchka to P.Malleta
SierraRios trip Dec5 2015: General group of 12 ; led by Diaz (+Rondón/Peña); 18 days Chagual to Nahém
SierraRios trip Dec22 2015: Private group of 13 (Greiner); led by Peña/Benavuet; 14 days Chagual to Montenegro
SierraRios trip Jan14 2016: General group of 8 (Lisabeth); led by Peña/Diaz; 18 days Chagual to Montenegro
SierraRios trip Jul16 2016: General group of 10 (Saavedra); led by Peña/Diaz; 14 days Chagual to P.Malleta
SierraRios trip Sep29 2016: General group of 8 (Billings); led by Contos/Bergamin/Diaz; 26 days Puchka to P.Malleta
SierraRios trip Dec10 2016: General group of 8 (Naber); led by Peña/Diaz; 12 days Chagual to P.Malleta
SierraRios trip Dec22 2016: General group of 12 (Dickson); led by Peña/Diaz; 17 days Chagual to Imacita
SierraRios trip Dec31 2016: General group of 8 (Hawley); led by Peña/Diaz; 7 days Puchka to P.Marañón
Note on SierraRios: with so many trips run to date, we at SierraRios have learned a lot about making the trips safe and enjoyable for everyone. For 2016 we have a new set of rafts and other high quality equipment and can offer a full-service package that matches the quality of typical Grand Canyon outfitters such as AzRA or OARS.
No river rafting experience 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 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 (medium water), Thompson, Futaleufu, Karnali, or Sun Kosi. You should be in good physical condition. In general the pace is relaxed with 1-2 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, but no refund may be due.
TRUJILLO: See TRUJILLO RENDEZVOUS for general information regarding Trujillo, including getting there and accommodations. Our group will rendezvous in Truijllo with a meeting the night before departure day. On departure day, we will leave by 7 am in a van or bus for the long ride (12 hr) to Chagual. The next morning we will finish rigging and launch. It is possible to arrive to Chagual by flight ($140; 1 hr; Atasur; departures 7am Tue, Thur, Sat).
BALSAS / CAJAMARCA: Balsas is a pueblo by the river dividing the Central Grand Canyon Amazon section from the Lower Grand Canyon Amazon section. It is possible to enter or exit a trip here. 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.
PUERTO MALLETA / BAGUA: See TRIP END for information about the end point of Puerto Malleta and the final city of Bagua Chica where SierraRios service ends. Although the standard trip ends at Puerto Malleta, some trips may continue into the Jungle Pongos section. Briefly, Puerto Malleta is a 1.5 hr drive from Bagua Chica (often called just "Bagua" though this does lead to confusion sometimes with a town 30 min away "Bagua Grande"/Utcubamba). From Bagua it is a 7 hr bus ride to Chiclayo, where there is regular bus service (12 hr) to Lima. You can also take a commercial flight to Lima (1 hr). Alternatively, from Bagua 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.
Itineraries and camps may vary from trip to trip. This is a sample itinerary that has worked well in the past for the Central+LowerGC Grand Canyon Amazon trip (see Upper+InnerGorge if doing the upper section):
Day 0: rendezvous in Trujillo; meet trip leader in afternoon
Day 1: Flight Trujillo-to-Chagual; rigging; safety and camp talk; possible Pumurgo (III-IV) run; camp
Day 2: Central GC; pass Vijus; Hualango (III), Gansul (III); Llaupuy side hike; ~30 km
Day 3: Central GC; possible hike; lunch at Calemar; Río Choclo clear stream; class II; ~20 km
Day 4: Central GC; easy river day with beautiful scenery; camp near giant wall & falls of Muro Poso; class II; ~20 km
Day 5: Central GC; Muro Poso; hike Cangrejo and/or Sute ruins; Montevideo tombs; (camp by Llanten); ~28 km
Day 6: Central GC; layover; hike to Llanten Narrows/Falls; Jecumbuy; possible Pachamanca traditional meal; 0 km
Day 7: Central GC; Big rapids day: Llanten (III-IV) & Samosierra (IV); camp near Trapiche or Chacanto; class IV; ~30 km
Day 8: Lower GC; lunch at Balsas/Chacanto; possible cooler exchange/food resupply; visit Odebrecht office; class III; ~30 km
Day 9: Lower GC; Playa El Cura citadel hike; El Choclón (III-IV); Santa Rosa (III); class III; ~30 km
Day 10: Lower GC; to Mendán or Tupén Grande; meet villagers; visit chacras; possible Pachamanca; class III; ~30 km
Day 11: Lower GC; San Lucas; Chadin II dam site; Playa El Inca; camp at/near Magdalena; class III-IV; ~30 km
Day 12: Lower GC; layover; hike Magdalena (layover is also possible Day11 or Day13)
Day 13: Lower GC; Magdalena; Linlín; Totora; Sauce; pools at Q.Agua Blanca; class III-IV; ~30 km
Day 14: Lower GC; Palaguas; Amazon Cavern; arrive Puerto Malleta by 1 pm; derig; ride to Bagua; hotel; class III; 20 km
From here down you might continue into the Jungle Pongos trip (~5 extra days usually)
Aside from excursions during 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). 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 www.SierraRios.org homepage.
CLIMATE AND BUGS:
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 and June 2014 trips, we had only a few sprinkles of rain for the first 25 days. Once we entered the Jungle Pongos, we experienced rain every day or two, usually in short intense storms.
Expect daytime-biting midges (no-see-ums) in most camps, especially during the dry season when they are worst. Use DEET and/or lemon eucalyptus repellents to prevent bites, and bring light clothing to cover you legs and ankles. Mosquitos are not present at most camps but can come out at night in a few areas. They are much more common in the jungle. Other critters to beware of are spiders, scorpions, snakes, and giant centipedes.
This trip is being run to increase appreciation of the river and foment opposition to the planned dams. We welcome everyone: raft passengers, raft paddlers, raft rowers, kayakers, IKers, and guides. No prior rafting experience is required to join a trip. We offer professional level service similar to other established outfitters in the Grand Canyon (USA). The general costs of this and other trips is listed at: COSTS
Special discounts are sometimes offered to folks on our email list, so you are encouraged to sign up (Email List info).
If interested in joining a trip, start a discussion by sending a note stating how you found out about the trip and a little background info about you and your paddling experience, what dates might work for you, and what sections of the expedition you are most interested in joining. Once you get the go-ahead, you will need to provide a deposit to reserve your place on the trip. The balance must be received prior to trip commencement. See PAYMENTS for payment options.
A minimum of 8 full-rate guests will assure a general SierraRios trip occurs, while our maximal limit is 16 guests on any trip. We may allow trips with fewer folks depending on circumstances. Our guide to guest ratio is 1:4. The current boats available allow for two trips at a time. If interested in doing a trip on a date not listed, send 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.
TRIP LEADERS AND TEAM MEMBERS:
(guides may include the following)
(1) Rocky Contos descended the entire Marañon from its headwaters on Río Lauricocha to Iquitos from July to September 2012, and led three 20+ person 30-day expeditions in 2013 (Sep28) and 2014 (Jan16, Jun4, Oct14, and Dec4). He discovered the most distant source of the Amazon [see articles C&K, Outside, Nat.Geo, FoxNews, LaRepublica] and in 2012, also paddled all of Ríos Apurímac, Mantaro, and Urubamba as part of his Headwaters of the Amazon expedition. He has explored nearly every river in Mexico including >100 first descents covering ~8,000 km of river and ~55,000 m of drop, as well as most in Peru. Rocky believes the Marañon is one of the finest Grand Canyon-style raftable rivers 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. Rocky started out kayaking in 1991 but also learned to raft in the mid-1990s in order to introduce more people to the wonders of river travel. He has organized numerous large group raft and kayak expeditions through the Grand Canyon Colorado (7X), Gramd Canyon Amazon (9X), MF and/or Main Salmon River (4X), Mulatos-Aros (4X), Usumacinta (12X), Taseko-Chilcotin-Fraser (1X), and many other long trips to the Salt, Kern, Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Thompson, Similkameen, and Baja California. 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 most aspects of the trips and will lead some but cannot lead all.
(2) Pedro Peña will be trip leader on many expeditions. Pedro was born in Lunahuana near Lima and started kayaking and rafting at a young age on the Lunahuana. He has been a raft guide for most of this life on the Cañete, Apurímac, and Futaleufu. He rafted the Lower GC Amazon several times for dam survey crews but would not do so now for a love of the free-flowing river. He signed the PETITION and is working to help stop the dams.
(3) Julio Baca will be co-guide or trip leader on many expeditions. Julio was born in Curahuasi (near Cusco) and learned to paddle at a young age, advancing to class V ability in both kayaking and rafting. He lives in Cusco is typically guides the Apurimac and Urubamba in the main season (May-Sep) and then heads to the Futaleufu to guide during the season in Chile (Dec-Mar).
(4) Lorenzo Bergamin will be co-guide or trip leader on some expeditions. Born in Milan, Lorenzo grew up near the Alps with their great whitewater and fell in love with river running and guiding. He has traveled in 62 countries and paddled/guided rivers in many areas around the world, including the Grand Canyon (several times), Futaleufu, Zambezi, Sun Kosi, Karnali, and Tamur. Lorenzo speaks English, Italian, and Spanish. He may be more permanently based in Colorado in the future.
(5) Other river guides may be employed at times, including Alonso Campana ("Rambo") a class V rafter and kayaker who joined the Upper+Central GC Amazon trip Jan16 and runs his own rafting operation in Cusco (Apurimac Explorer), Victor Baca, a class IV-V kayaker/rafter from Cusco, Ariel Diaz, an Uruguayan guide with a lot of experience in Chile, Argentina, and Mexico (and 5+ Marañón trips as of Jan2016), Andrey Coto, a Costa Rican guide who has worked in CR, Switzerland, Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico (and has 3 Marañón trips), and Fico Gallese, a Peruvian guide from Cusco who has a ton of experience guiding the Apurimac, Tambopata, Urubamba and Futaleufu.
(6) Eusebio Chumpi, Zacarias Cumbia, or other Awajún will be local guides with the group 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] and such local guides. Eusebio or his son Manasés Chumpi joined the 2012, 2013 and 2014 trips and will likely join future trips. In addition, sometimes we will have other Awajún with us, such as Segundo Valera, and local conservationist Luciano Troyes of Gotas de Agua.
SAFETY / HEALTH
CHORES, TOILET AND BATHING
WHAT TO PACK