Ecuador is one of the most northern countries in the South American continent. Bordered by Colombia in the North and Peru in the East and South. It spans from the Pacific Ocean in the West, all the way into the Andes Mountains in the East. The landscape changes dramatically through the countries different regions. From hot coastal zones to humid, highly dense tropical rainforest and even cloud forest at the higher elevations. It’s jungle rivers boast some of the headwaters of the Amazon river.
Those headwaters are what caught my attention about adventuring in Ecuador. As a whitewater kayaker I am always interested in countries with dense river systems, because generally these yield the most possibilities for varied fun on water adventures.
A combination of steep, mountainous jungle, which is densely covered in rainforest means that there is an abundance of whitewater rivers for kayakers to explore. Add to that the logistical ease of getting to and from the country and getting around whilst in the country through the well-developed bus and taxi network and Ecuador truly is kayakers dream.
The icing on the cake of Ecuador as a kayaker’s destination is the time of year when the paddling is best. Ecuador’s equatorial location means that it has two seasons: rainy season, and the less rainy season. The rainy season which takes place through North America summer is heavy flooding, landslides and destruction. But whilst North America is freezing through Winter, Ecuador’s paddling season is perfect.
Ecuador has a variety of different kayaking zones, but I specifically love spending time along the banks of the Quijos river at the Cabanas Tres Rios hostel. Tres Rios is directly on the banks of the River and just downstream of the confluence with the Rio Cosanga and Rio Borja. It is also immediately upstream of another variety of sections of white water, meaning that almost every day you can either paddle home or start from home. A day in the life there is quite wonderful.
Because Ecuador is an equatorial country the sun rises every day at about 6:20am. At Tres Rios there is no need to be awake that early. 7am is just fine. I grab a cup of fresh Ecuadorian coffee (which is actually hard to find as most of Ecuadors beans are exported whole), head on down to the Yoga shala overlooking the river, stretch my body, drink my coffee and listen to the sound of the roaring rapid just 50ft away. If rain was heavy in the night this sound might roar louder as river levels rise and fall quickly. Following coffee and breakfast is usually an exciting part of the day where I sit down the other kayakers at the hostel and figure out where to paddle. It can be frustrating as there are so many great options to paddle, choosing one can take some time as everyone has their favorites.
Once a river section (or sections) has been selected then we make a quick call to a taxi (which are almost all pick-up trucks by the way). We load up the kayaks and head out to the river. Thanks to the knowledgeable staff at Cabanas Tres Rios, (especially Chris Ryman who also runs his guiding business, Endless Adventure International out of there too) all of the Taxi drivers know how to get to the put-ins and take-outs of the various different river sections. Many of the rivers start at a bridge, once you change and climb down to the river it’s game time.
A short day of paddling in Ecuador is around 10km of whitewater. Generally, once you leave that put-in bridge, the river winds away from the road, away from towns, cities and people and deep into the jungle. Car noise fades and is overtaken by jungle noises. Loud birds squawk and caw, bugs and insects buzz and hum with all of these noises competing with the roar of whitewater.
Deep jungle visuals are amazing, deep canyons lined with green jungle plants, tall weird looking trees. Canyons constrict, and rapids steepen, for kilometer after kilometer, seemingly without end. I love Ecuadorian rivers because the rapids are all about movement. Finding flow, working with the water to find the best way down, soaring over tall rocks with cool water splashing in my eyes. The cool water is a nice contrast from the warm, humid weather.
Finding that smooth line down the river becomes almost Zen-like after a while. Searching far ahead for where the flow of the water, what obstructions and obstacles you face. It is a challenge both mentally and physically. Looking around at my paddling partners I see they are mostly experiencing the same feeling. Those days aren’t guaranteed and often the river can humble you. It doesn’t stop, or turn off, or slow down. The river is constant, it won’t take breaks if you’re tired; it’s unyielding.
Eventually after either a few hours of meditative paddling or a few hours of surviving the onslaught of the river we arrive back to Cabanas Tres Rios. Hopping out of our boats and walking up the steps to put our boats down. Quickly changing to dry clothes my crew and I grab some cold beers and hop into the riverside hot tub. Listening to the river and watching the sun crawl back behind the mountains, taking a break before doing it all again tomorrow.