Paddle Peru Factfile

"So you dayglo piece of  gringo garbage, you think of coming to Peru?"
There are three things you must know.

  • Learn to speak Spanish
  • Learn to hold your breath for 1 full minute
  • Learn to drink Rum and Coke until 3 in the morning

Kayaking in Peru has become significantly easier from a logistical point of view in the last few years. You are extremely unlikely to be shot at by terrorists and despite Peru's reputation for petty (and often violent) theft we found it no worse than other kayaking destinations we've visited (Nepal and Chile).Perhaps the most difficult aspect of paddling there is the lack of logistical information on carrying boats around the country and the lack of an up to date guidebook.

Part 1. Travelling. (How to get about Peru with a large, banana shaped rucksack!)

The expensive bus companies don't carry boats, mainly due to lack of roof-racks (however they do have stewardesses with unfeasibly short skirts, so they're forgiven). This means you have to travel on the cheaper, dodgier buses and watch you kit carefully. You will also have to fight with "chicken" women for your own seat because they will sit on it, and on you if you're too polite. Be careful, one of the buses we travelled on exploded with us on board.

They travel everywhere there is a road in Peru, and some places where there is no road, they seem to have no problems when carrying boats.

Flag down a taxi with a roof-rack and negotiate the price, then load the roof-rack with all the other boats that you have been hiding out of the drivers view during negotiations.

Mules and Donkeys
Avoid these creatures at all costs. If you really have to use them use your roof-rack ties and show no mercy.

You can travel with boats on trains in the Urabamba valley. In Cusco go to the Equipaje office at the station and send your boat in/on the baggage carriage. Out of Cusco you have to improvise, some trains have Equipaje and some don't, but they might have a roof-rack. Trains don't stop long in stations so be ready and lob the travellers on the train roof some cash if they help you.

Very useful for getting to Peru although you must be careful which company you chose to fly with since some may try and charge you for the boats. Highly recommended by most boaters are Venezuelan International Airways South America (Viasa). They are usually the cheapest and don't charge for carrying boats.
Flying internally with boats is both cheap and cheerful, local companies Faucett and Aero Peru didn't seem to mind carrying boats for us on the Cusco-Lima route.

Part 2. The Rivers

For river information contact the South American Explorers Club, they have loads of notes and river trip reports and an extremely nice clubhouse in which to escape when Lima gets too much for you.

Colca Canyon
Grade 4 and 5. From Arequipa take the bus to Cabanaconde and then to Huambo. Hire mules for the hike into the canyon to Canco. The river takes two or three days for a self supporting group of kayakers and seven days with rafts, the river includes one un-inspectable grade 5!.

Apurimac (Commercial Section)
Grade 4 and 5. It is easiest to do this trip with one of Cusco's numerous rafting companies. I recommend Instinct Rafting on Gringo Alley. If you really have to do the trip self supporting take a truck from Cusco to Puente Hualpacacha, it is three days to Punto Cunyac where you can buy beer and catch a bus or truck back to Cusco. You could also carry on down the infamous Acobamba Abyss from here!

Apurimac (Upper Section)
Grade 4 and 5. By bus from Cusco to Puente Tilko, two days to the start of the commercial section. If you time it right you could get a lift back with the rafting groups bus.

Urabamba (Santa Teresa-Quillabamba)
Grade 4 and 5. Best accessed and egressed by train. Expect hard water at the start, it does ease of eventually. Takes about two days.

Grade 3 (dry season) Grade 5 (wet season). One day of fun boating near Urabamba town, could combine this with the monthly rave in Urabamba!

Rio Pampas
Grade4 and 4+. Access by bus from Cusco to Puente Pampas. Eight days long, one day portaging. Finishing in the BIG water grade 4 and 5 Apurimac Canyon. Egressing this river is an adventure in itself. Take a motorboat from Villa Virgen to San Francisco where everyone will aasume you are a drugs courier. because you are a Gringo in a drug growing area. From San Francisco take a truck to Ayacucho, the trucks only travel in daylight and in convoy for some reason. From Ayacucho you can either bus it back to Cusco (24 uncomfortable hours) or fly to Lima and then onto either Cusco or home (there are no direct flights to Cusco).

Urabamba (from Chilca to KM88)
Grade 5. Access by bus and truck via Ollantaytambo. Egress by train to Cusco or down to Machu Pichu if you feel like being a tourist.

Many thanks to Tom Hughes for putting this report together, also thanks go to the Instinct Rafting of Cusco, Eddylines (llangollen) and all the folks at the Carmen Alto and Kamikase Bar, Cusco.

Wait! Theres More.....

Rivers in Peru that I havn't run yet.
You can get further information on these runs from the South American Explorers Club in Lima, membership is highly reccomended.

The Puarcatambo
First run by two yanks about fifteen years ago, it took them three weeks. Steve Wetman, a Brit kayaker, ran this solo in three days back in '95 and reported that it was harder than the Acobamba abyss. Probably grade 5/6.

The Tambapata
A long but beautiful river, dropping into the rainforest. It is commercially run by a few rafting company's in Cusco. Grade 4.

The Acobamba Abyss
An extremely hard paddle from Puente Cunyac to the Cachora trolley bridge, then a six hour walk to the road back to Cusco. First run by a husband and wife about twenty years ago; he survived, she didn't. Grade 5/6. Local kayaker Dulio Vellutino says, you "simply cannot swim in this water".

The Colca
From Cabanaconde to Canco and then the usual run down to Hacienda Peru. According to Dulio this hasn't been run since the Poles did it in 1981. It took them three weeks, it should take the modern paddler about three days.

The Cotahausi
One valley along from the Colca and a contender for the title "the deepest gorge on earth". Reputedly about nine days long with a massive portage in the middle. Grade 5 (may be harder).

The Canete
Two hours from Lima and apparently a cracking good paddle. Grade 3.

The Santa Maria
A tributary of the Urabamba that drops in from the right near Quillabamba. Very steep and described by one bloke who's paddled it as 'death defying'. Grade 5, easing off to a Grade 4 after a while.

The Machu Pichu Gorge
On the Urabamba. Little known, rarely paddled. First run by a team including American John Foss. Probably grade 5.

The Maranon
I had some notes from the S.A.E.C. about an early run down this major tributary of the Amazon. It sounded gnarly.

There are loads of possible firsts for boaters in an exploratary frame of mind, including plenty of creeks towards the end of the rainy season, there's possibly a major trib of the Apurimac and also other possibles up in Huaraz, where all the crag rats hang out.

Instinct Rafting / Benjamin Muniz
Procadures 50, Plaza de Armas
Cusco, Peru.
Tel/Fax 084 233451