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 mostly class II-III but with one tougher rapid (a long IV) at the end. 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 Central 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. At least two dams (Rio Grande I and II) are planned for the lower part of this section, but the residents are mobilizing against them.
See slideshows of this section on various trips:
MIDDLE GC SLIDESHOW_Jan16 [from the Jan16 (2014) trip]
MIDDLE 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, 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. Two dams (Chadin2 and Veracruz) are already approved to be built and will flood the entire LowerGC section, but residents and SierraRios opposition seem to be delaying the Chadin2 dam.
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: [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.
SierraRios trip Jun4 2014: Group of 16-19; 29 days led by Contos: Puchka to Montenegro.
SierraRios trip Sep22 2014: Private group of 16 (Landes); guided by Contos/Peña; 15 days Chagual to P.Malleta
SierraRios trip Oct1 2014: Private group of 18 (Gayner); guided by Contos/Baca; 18 days Chagual to Montenegro
SierraRios trip Oct14 2014: Group of 12-14; 29 days led by Contos/Peña: Puchka to Montenegro
SierraRios trip Oct29 2014: Group of 10-14; 29 days led by Baca: Puchka to Montenegro
SierraRios trip Nov22 2014: Private group of 16 (McColluch) guided by Peña/Bergamin; 15 days Chagual to P.Malleta
SierraRios trip Dec4 2014: Group of 12; 16 days led by Contos/Peña: Puchka to Imacita
SierraRios trip Jan7 2015: Private group of 15 (Drevo/Rae) guided by Peña/Bergamin; 15 days Chagual to P.Malleta
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, Karnali, 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.
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.
This is 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: Ride to Chagual; take bus and/or vans toward Chagual put-in (12 hr); hotel or camp
Day 2: Central GC; rig rafts; launch; make 5-15 km; some class II and III
Day 3: Central GC; pass Vijus; Gansul (III); Llaupuy hike; slot hike; camp Sinchibin or nearby; class II-III; ~35 km
Day 4: Central GC; side hike; visit Calemar; to Choclo or near Muro Poso; class II; ~40 km
Day 5: Central GC; layover (also possible Day4 or Day6)
Day 6: Central GC; Muro Poso; Chuquiten; Llamara; hike; camp near Samosierra; class III; ~40 km
Day 7: Central GC; through Samosierra; camp near Balsas; class IV; ~30 km
Day 8: Lower GC; Balsas; possible cooler exchange/food resupply; visit Odebrecht office; class III; ~30 km
Day 9: Lower GC; Playa El Cura; El Choclón; near Santa Rosa; class III; ~30 km
Day 10: Lower GC; to Mendán/Tupén Grande; meet villagers and have lunch; 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; (also possible Day11 or Day13)
Day 13: Lower GC; Linlín; Totora; Sauce; pools at Q.Agua Blanca; class III-IV; ~30 km
Day 14: Lower GC; Amazon Cavern; Puerto Malleta by noon; derig; ride to Bagua; hotel; class III; 20 km
From here down you might continue into the Jungle Pongos trip (~4 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.
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 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. The pricing policy takes into account the costs associated with running the trip and the services offered. While typical rates are ~$4000 for a 14-day Grand Canyon trip or ~$2000 for a 6-day MF Salmon River trip, you can see that our rates for similar length trips where everything is taken care of are considerably lower:
Contribution guidelines: General
We strongly encourage potential participants to offer the general contribution rate if possible. Special discounts are sometimes offered to folks on our email list, so you are encouraged to sign up (Email List info). Reduced rates may also be granted to certain participants with more limited financial means. This can be to raft guides, safety kayakers, and experienced oarsmen willing to work on the trip, to others who can help with publicity and/or fill the trip, and to anti-dam activists who will be instrumental in protecting the river. Please send an inquiry to Rocky if you would like to be considered for a reduced rate, and keep in mind what basic Outfitting Services cost for a trip.
If interested in joining a trip, start a discussion by sending Rocky a note (email@example.com) 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 from Rocky, you will need to provide a deposit to reserve your place on the trip ($1000 for full trip). The balance must be received prior to trip commencement. See PAYMENTS for payment options.
A minimum of 8 particpants will assure a general SierraRios trip occurs, while our maximal limit is 20 on any trip. We may allow trips with fewer folks depending on circumstances. 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.
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. Although primarily a kayaker, Rocky started rafting 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 (7X), MF+Main Salmon River (4X), Río Mulatos-Aros (4X), Río Usumacinta (8X), 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 co-guide or 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, and other Peruvian/Chilean guides learning the river this year.
(6) Eusebio Chumpi 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