Kayakers Guide to Whitewater of Peru

Maranon River whitewater kayaking

John Wasson and some friends first ran the Rio Marañon in 1977 in hollowform kayaks. Their one-month navigation of the river’s course was a major accomplishment given the equipment of the era is heralded as one of the first successful explorations of the “Big canyons” of the Peruvian Andes. Parts of the lower section of the river have since been rafted but the upper reaches were never again ran until July 2000 when Franz Helfenstein, Greg Moore, Andreas Fischer and Kurt Casey completed the Upper 189 Km stretch from La Union to Puente Chagual.

The Marañon, which means “Cashew”, is one of the principal tributaries of the Amazon. Its headwaters are in the high peaks of Cordillera Blanca and the Pasco watershed.

It is relatively easy getting to the put in for the Marañon. We chose to put on in the town of La Union in the Department of Huanuco with an elevation of 3200 meters. From Lima there are two good ways to get to La Union. The first is to follow the road to Huaraz and turn off at Pachacoto following the road past Pastoruri to the other side of the cordillera Blanca. Most of this road is paved and in good condition with bus service from Lima. The other way is through Huanuco and Chavinillo.

In La Union the put in is on a small, cold, unattractive tributary called the Rio Vizcara. We put on July 9, 2000 with a flow of 150 CFS. It is a one-day paddle of 25 KM to the confluence with the Marañon (elevation 3000 meters) where the combined flow is 800 CFS. Here there is a beautiful beach to camp with good trout fishing. Being just above town of Tingo Chica there is little firewood in this section so a stove is a good idea. This point could also serve as an alternative put in.

It is mostly flatwater for next 10 km downstream to town of Quivilla where you will find an old destroyed bridge signaling a 1 km portage past a sieve felled maelstrom. The trail on the left is very good making it an easy portage. Soon after putting back on the Rio Aco comes in on the left through a fissure in the massive canyon wall on river left. Approx 1 km below this there is another bridge that signals another 500 meter portage on the left. Although on a trail, the portage is more difficult as it involves lowering the boats back into the river. For the next two hours the river crashes through a canyon with class 3, 4 and 5 rapids and one portage. A good camp can be found at the beach formed by the confluence with Quebrada Sausa (Mamin) flowing down from Miraflores. Elevation is 2750 meters resulting a day drop of 250 meters in 20 KM.

Day 3

From camp it is only 1 hour to town of Chuquibamba. Here is the last opportunity to purchase any food and if you look around in town you can locate pasta, onions, garlic and carrots. For several Km’s below the bridge you will be passing gold dredges. A good camp can be found on the beach beside Quebrada Yanahuilca (elevation 2650 meters) which lies about 1 km upstream of the Rio Tantamayo confluence. Days drop 100 meters in 17 KM.

Day 4

River is now running 1000 CFS with cool green water. It is possible to paddle in a shorty. Just below camp and still above the Tantamayo confluence is a heavy 1-1/2 hour 300-meter long portage on river right. It is good boating for next hour and then there is a huge portage where the walls of the canyon come together and the river disappears in massive sieves. We called this one “Big Mama” and it took 3 long, tiring hours. At one point we got back in our boats and paddled through a tunnel in the rocks. Camps can be found just below the portage at elevation 2550 meters. Days drop 100 meters in 4 KM (almost all portaging)

Day 5

The morning starts off with a portage followed by class 5 rapids. Within 2 hours there is another massive portage. This one took 2-1/2 hours and involved carrying the boats high up a grass slope on river right, traversing the face and lowering them back to the river. The whitewater remains class 3-4 and 5 until the Quebrada Carpa enters on the right with 150-200 CFS of coffee colored water. Downstream a landslide blocks the river and requires a difficult portage right along the water on unstable sharp rocks. Below this the river has more class 5 rapids until camp was found on river left at 2435 meters. Days drop 115 meters in 7-1/2 KM.

Day 6

The first rapid out of camp is a portage on the right over razor sharp rocks. The lower part of the drop is a runnable class 5. The next two hours of boating are very good with the river entering a micro canyon with steep, vertical walls. At the end of the mini gorge the walls open up and you pass two-foot bridges. The boating is still very good until camp at 2275 meters, which lies just opposite the mouth of the Quebrada Molinoragra. Days drop 160 meters in 20 KM.

Day 7

Whitewater starts right off the bat with a bid rapid and continues for an hour through 4+ rapids. The pace of the river slackens to flatwater as it enters a huge walled canyon for 4-5 km. At the confluence of the Quebrada Tamiajalian the river goes nuts with several km’s of class 5 rapids. Everything is runnable but is difficult and dangerous. Quebrada Pagay enters on the right and this signals a change to class 4 for the raining section down to the bridge and the Rio Putchka which enters on river left with 250 CFS of warm water. Below this the river mellows out for the remaining three hours to camp at 2000 meters. Days drop 275 meters in 30 KM.

Day 8

Huge paddling day. Nine hours on the river with only short breaks. The Rio Tantamayo from Pomobamba brought in 500 CFS bumping the flow up to over 2500 CFS. There is good whitewater mixed with flatwater in both open and boxed in canyons. Camp is at 1770 meters. Days drop 230 meters in 90 KM.

Day 9

The 15 KM stretch to the bridge and Rio Rupac is good and fast taking only 1-1/2 hours. From here it is 10 km or another hour to where the canyon opened and haciendas can be seen along river where a very dirty colored river enters on the right. A nice rest spot is at the Rio Actuy that enters very clear on the left one hour downstream. The river is wide here but moves swiftly and 45 minutes later the Rio Cajas flows in dirty on the right. An hour later the Rio Mayas flows in on the left and signals the beginning of a heavy big water section that drops over 100′ until it mellows out by San Pedro. In 2 km there is another heavy section of whitewater where the left wall is vertical hard rock. There is a mandatory 100-meter portage on the right and then big water action continues for another hour until a great camp is found under fruit groves of Matibamba at 1420 meters. Days drop 310 meters in ??? KM. The river is now around 3500 CFS.

Day 10

Within 1 KM from camp is the biggest whitewater of the trip. Huge rapids continue below Mogon for 2 hours (or 20 KM) until things mellow out. The final 25 KM to Chagual are on swift moving water with one more good rapid just above takeout at Chagual. From here the best way to get out is to fly to small airplane from Chagual to Trujillo but you will not be able carry your boat. Another option is the bus to Huamuchuco but we were unlike enough to arrive on Tuesday when there is no service. The road is absolutely deplorable but we hitched a ride in a slow moving truck from the mine to Huamachuco arriving 17 hours later. The same truck carried our boats and us to Trujillo where we arrived an additional 12 hours later.

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