The River Wide: Kayaking Ecuador's Amazon

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The ever-weaving Amazon River  (Brand X)

The 4,000-mile-long Amazon River channels one-fifth of the world's freshwater as it weaves through Ecuador, Peru, Columbia, and Brazil, penetrating the very heart of the rapidly depleting South American rainforest. The Amazon Basin houses indigenous tribespeople and one-third of the planet's living species, while the water itself offers more rapids than almost anywhere else on Earth. But with four countries and countless tributaries, locating the best whitewater of the world's second-longest river can prove quite difficult. Happily, Ecuador simplifies this quandary—it's got the rapids you crave and an ecosystem right out of Edenic lore, without the crowds that populate your vacation nightmares.
The Ecuadorian stretch of the Amazon spills eastward from the Andes, sloping down through the Oriente Region toward the border with Peru and eventually Brazil's distant Atlantic coast. Heavy rainfall in the region assures year-round river-running. The upper drainage of Río Quijos will stun both novices and veterans. It starts with some calm Class-II rapids before boiling over into Class IV to Vs that churn through narrow rock canyons. The furious waters and Class-IV rapids of Río Misahualli may soon overtake Quijos' popularity. Other well-known runs include the upper Río Pastaza, the Río Toro near Baños, Río Blanco in northern Sangay Park, and the challenging Río Alabi northwest of the capital, Quito. Río Puyango is another Class II to IV favorite; spend a full two days heading from the highlands through the Puyango Petrified Forest and into Peru. All the rivers are blessed with calm stretches, letting you savor your surroundings before hitting the next heart-pounding sequence of rapids.
River-running in Ecuador is still a relatively new pastime; at present, only a few tour operators offer guided trips down the Amazon. The upside to this embryonic status? Adventurous travelers are free to grab a kayak, pick a river, and blaze their own watery trail through the jungle. Some rivers may require portage over the more treacherous sections, and it's always advisable to employ a regional guide to fully understand what you're launching into before you put paddle to water. But even if you go with a seasoned outfitter, Ecuador's untapped Amazonian wilderness will leave you feeling as if you're one of the river's first pioneers.

Published: 4 Oct 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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