Kayakers Guide to Whitewater of Peru

Travel Tips

Maps

It is essential to have good topographic maps for any exploratory or multi-day trip in Peru. The maps can be studied and/or purchased from the IGM (Instituto Geographica Militar) located on Avenida Adambarú in Lima. Since this is a division of the military you will be required to surrender your passport to gain entrance. Almost the complete country is mapped on at least a 1:100,000 scale. The exception being parts of the country such as the Pozuzo Region, sections of Chacapoyas region, and parts of the Apurimac valley. In the year 2000 I found maps of the Huallabamba, which were not available during our first descent in 1998.

A suggestion is not to take the original maps on the river but to make multiple copies on a blueprint machine (available at “mailboxes” or Kinkos in Lima) and distribute copies to several different people on the river trip. At the local Kinkos in my city blueprints are copied for $ 1.68 each and can be scanned and saved as TIFF images onto a Zip or floppy disk (which you must bring) for $ 2.50 each. To save space parts of the maps can be cut off so that only the portion showing the river corridor is taken. Some people prefer to waterproof their copies by encapsulating them in plastic. On our Marañon trip in 2000 we used a GPS. Sometimes locking on to three satellites was difficult but once completed we quickly had an accurate fix of our latitude and longitude that allowed us to know where we were on topographic maps.
Transportation

Before committing to a plane, taxi, train, or buses make sure they can carry your kayaks. Many of the modern buses have cargo holds underneath that cannot accommodate boats. It is helpful to always have two 9’ cam straps available. These can be used to quickly secure boats onto not only the roofs of taxis/buses but also onto burros.

When buses/taxis are used try to get one with una parilla or roof rack. On buses you can expect to pay additional money for carrying your boat with the “negotiated price” often equaling the price of a ticket.

When using burros remember that most arrienderos or burro drivers have never carried kayaks or rafts before. Do not load full boats onto a burro. You can often rig your float bags onto both sides of the animal to form a saddle for the kayak. Mules and horses are much larger/stronger than a burro and can carry two kayaks and sometimes three per animal. Usual custom is to pay somewhere between 15 and 30 soles per burro per day. It is normal to expect to pay the owner of the burros or whoever accompanies them as well so when negotiating make sure to discuss this in advance.

Climate

With latitude between the equator and 18-degrees south, the climate of Peru is in generally very mild. For trips that take one above 3000 meters, frost can be expected and cold snow melt rivers. Between 1500 and 3000 meters the temperatures are usually very comfortable. As one gets below 1500 meters the temperatures can get quite high especially on the humid, eastern slope of the Andes. The rainy season for most of Peru begins in November and ends in early March. River levels generally match the rainfall with higher flows in Jan/Feb/March. During the dry season of April to November the coastal rivers see almost no rainfall and trips can be done with a bivy sack. Tents should be considered for jungle runs, which see occasional rainfall and often are thick with insects.

Food and water

The large towns of Peru have a good selection of foods which can be used on multi-day runs such as pastas, soup mixes, oatmeal, chocolate, etc. If certain foods such as powdered drink mixes, jerky, or freeze dried foods are on the menu these should be brought by the visitor. Trout and shrimp can be found in many of the coastal rivers while the jungle rivers host some incredible varieties of edible fish. If you have the desire and the equipment it is worth bringing along line and hooks. With animals grazing at all altitudes it is a good idea to have a water filter or some type of purification system.

I recommend that in some of the small towns and larger cities time be taken to visits some restaurants to experience Peru’s diverse regional cuisine. Along the coast excelent seafood can be found with ceviche and parihuela being some of my favorites. In Arequipa try the rocotto relleno and Ocopa. In Cuzco and the mountain regions are hundreds of types of Potatoes, Quinoa grain and Cuy (guinea pig).
Multi Day packing list suggestions

Apart from normal items used on all kayaking trip you should consider bringing the following:

Breakdown paddles
Bivy sack/tent
Water filter
Warm hat
Medical kit
Duct tape
Stow floats
Headlamp and spare batteries
Spanish dictionary
Laminated copy of passport or waterproof pouch for original

Optional

Quechua dictionary
GPS Global positioning system
Insect Repellant (note leaves of molle tree work when rubbed on body)

High quality film and any type of boating gear are not available locally. After a trip most gear can be sold in common tourist areas such as Cuzco.

Information sources

The South American Explorers Club is an excellent source of information for travel in Peru and the rest of the continent. Trip reports and other Information may be viewed online at http://www.saexplorers.org/ or at one of their clubhouses (members only) In Lima, Quito, Cuzco, or Ithaca New York. A monthly magazine has articles and travel tips.

A bilingual, web based source of information on Peru-related Web sites is available at http://www.perulinks.com/.

Metric conversions

Useful conversions for a boater are:

1 cubic meter per second = 30 cubic feet per second

1 meter per kilometer = 5 feet per mile

Language

Spanish is the official language of Peru but Quechua is spoken widely throughout the mountain regions. Some form of communications skills in Spanish is essential while knowledge of words in Quechua can be beneficial.

Documentation

Random police and military checkpoints are common when traveling in the country. A passport or identity card must be presented. Rather than carry an original passport on the river I have always photocopied my passport’s main page and laminated it into plastic. This can be done at Kinkos in the USA or Lima.

Tourist visas are generally good for only 90 days. If your plans keep you there longer take a day trip to neighboring countries of Chile, Ecuador or Bolivia to renew your visa.