Kayakers Guide to Whitewater of Peru

Pozuzo

The Pozuzo is an incredible adventure down a seldom visited valley in the central cordillera. For the first three days the Pozuzo follows a road and can be boated in one-day stretches via car camping or overnight sojourns from the town of Pozuzo. The ideal time of year is the month of June but some stretches can be run at higher flows in earlier months and at lower flows in July. To get there it is best to go in a private car but service is also available from Lima to La Oroya, Tarma, La Merced and eventually Oxapampa. Pozuzo is a word in the dialect of the local Indians meaning “fountain of salt”.

What makes the Pozuzo so special is the emerald green warm water and the local character of the valley (Valle Chontabomba). Austrians and Prussians settled the valley a few generations ago. Many of the local people still speak a dialect of German and maintain the characteristic blonde hair and blue eyes. Their homes and barns are built in a distinct European style and local cuisine includes such dishes as Trucha mit Kartofel, (trout with potatoes), and Schnitzel mit salat. The valley is well known for its abundance of curative plants such as Uña de Gato, Sangre de Grado and Valeriana. Food and fruit are abundant with some notable “must try” examples being the local coffee, yucca and friend plantains, local sausages and Naranjito (a citrus drink made from a vine crop resembling a tomato).

The first boat-able section lies 20 KM below the town of Oxapampa. The put in is at the bridge in the town of Huancabamba. During the first descent we started on June 25, 2000 with approximately 700 CFS. This first stretch of river starts drops roughly 150 KM in 12 KM and starts out as class 2 and progresses to 5+. After 12 KM the river Mallanpampa enters on river left at a place the locals call Tingo. Here the flow doubles to 1200 CFS. Unlike most rivers in Peru the Pozuzo does not have good topo maps available so gradient and distances are best calculated using the cars odometer and watch altimeter.

Day 2

From the Rio Mallapampa confluence it is 10 KM to the swinging bridge below the town of San Pedro. One can make an easy exit here or continue another 5 KM below town to a mandatory exit at the entrance to the National Park Yamachaga-Chemillén. This 15 KM class 4-5 day stretch finishes at what I would guess to be 1350 meters so the section drops 225 meter in 15 KM or averages 15 m/km (75 FPM).

There is no gate at the entrance to the park, only a sign. Immediately below this point all development stops and the river plunges into Quebrada Honda, a boiling cauldron of fury that continues to the National Park exit 14.5 KM downstream. The whole section through the park is a portage, which is best done in an automobile as the road to Pozuzo parallels the river a few hundred feet above the vertical walled canyon. In passing Quebrada Honda one gets fleeting glimpses of the river some 200 meters below. Some of the drops look run-able while others are out of the question. The thick jungle and vertical walls make running this section or even scouting it an epic adventure.

Day 3

The put in for section three is 17 KM above the town of Pozuzo. At the northern exit of the Park is a national park sign and beside this sign there is a road down to an abandoned office building. Park at the office building and follow the footpath down to a bridge over a side stream. Since the jungle is so thick we put in on the side stream and boated some ultra low volume waterfalls until we reached a mandatory portage down to the Pozuzo River. Here the river is literally squirting out of Quebrada Honda and has a big pushy feel. The run is class 4+ (5-) until the takeout at the swimming club 14 KM downstream. This section of river is roughly 2000 CFS and drops 15 to 20 m/KM over it entire length. With the warm water and incredible play spots this may be the single best “day run” in Peru. The run takes roughly 4 hours.

Day 4

Another option on Day 3 is to pass the swim club and paddle right into the town of Pozuzo which is only a few KM below the bridge. In town it is worth mentioning the Restruante Tipico, which has great food and fresh fruit juices. Several KM below town the Rio Santa Cruz enters on the left and once again doubles the volume of the river to an estimated 3500 CFS. Here there is a good beach for camping. From this point on the trip becomes a self-supported venture. After 2-1/2 hours of boating the terraced hillsides of the valley give way to a jungle character. From here the river really takes on a “Big water feel”. Many small tributaries bump the flow up to over 5000 CFS. The river crashes through rock walls scoured by the rains with incredible high water marks. This section of river along with the previous day would make for a spectacular rafting trip. Sightings of unforgettable birds such as Macaws and Peru’s national bird, “gallito de la rocka” along with cascading orchids make the infrequent mellow sections equally as exciting. After another 2-1/2 hours of boating a view of a massive and distinct “tepui” become visible on river right. A tepui is a jungle-coated mountain that stands alone in relation to its surroundings. At this point we made camp on a nice beach on river right approx 50 KM below town of Pozuzo.

Day 5

The morning starts out with another 1-1/2 hours of big water boating. The walls are still formed by housed sized rocks creating huge waves and phenomenal play spots. After passing under a foot bridge called Puente Pozuzo a tributary comes in on the left signaling the end to the whitewater. The mountains on both sides of the river quickly drop to nothing and the heat becomes oppressive. At this point be on the lookout for the first sign of a “Pecky Pecky”, or small river taxi. This zone is called Codo de Pozuzo (elbow of Pozuzo) and represents a radical 180-degree turn in the direction of the river. The area, although not serviced by roads, is connected to the rest of the world by boat. On our first descent we found a small dugout, motorized canoe leaving for the road crossing at Puente Constitucion some 50 KM or 3-1/2 hours downstream. We were on a boat with three government workers who were visiting the region to inoculate the local people against the recent rabies epidemic. In addition to rabies, the river, at this point, housed rays, which inflict a severe sting to people walking in the water. Gergons are large snakes which force people to walk through the jungle in tall rubber boats and to carry a machete. It is 2-1/2 hours to Porto Mayo at the confluence of the Rio Pachieta and another hour downstream to Puente Constitucion.

From Puente Constitucion there are two choices to return to Lima. The first is to seek transportation to Pucallpa which lies deep in the heart of the Peruvian jungle and from there fly or bus it back to Lima via Tingo Maria and Huanuco. The other option is to look for transportation to Villarica. Although it lies less than 180 KM away the road to Villarica takes at least 9-12 hours in a four wheel drive vehicle. We were able to find a ride for 150 soles ($ 40) in a Toyota pickup for four people and boats. The road to Bermudez is good but deteriorates substantially afterwards with dozens of river crossings and giant mud bogs. From Villarica there is regular service into La Merced and onwards to Lima. Recommended route is through Pucallpa.

Related Rivers