As might be expected from a country with massive mountains and copious rainfall, Ecuador has world-class conditions for white-water rafting and kayaking. What makes those sports even more exciting in Ecuador is the fact that its rivers flow though tropical forests that are home to hundreds of bird species and other animals. And some river trips can be combined with visits to traditional indigenous communities.
Thanks to almost year-round rainfall, the eastern slope of the Andes boasts one of the highest concentrations of rivers in the world. Those boulder-strewn waterways flow from the cloud forest down to the rainforest, winding through lush valleys and gorges, past waterfalls, massive trees, and an array of flora and fauna. The western slope of the Andes also has some popular rivers, which are more accessible, but their water levels are only high enough for rafting from January to May.
Río Toachi, in the western Andes, is conveniently close to Quito and easy enough for beginners, which makes it the country's most rafted river. A strong Class III/IV river, it can be run from January to May but flows through inhabited areas and farmland, which means its waters suffer from some pollution. Río Mulaute, a Class III river to the north of the Toachi, can be run as a 1- or 2-day trip. The upper Río Blanco, another Class III river farther north of the Toachi, flows through a less-developed, forested valley, making it a more pleasant trip. A good trip for beginners and experienced rafters alike, it is far enough from Quito to be a 2-day trip, and is only navigable from January to May. The lower Río Blanco, after its confluence with the Toachi River, can be run year-round, but is not as pristine as the Upper Blanco.
On the eastern slope of the Andes is the upper Río Napo, a Class III Amazon tributary that flows past amazing tropical forest. Its 25km (16-mile) white-water route is an exhilarating day trip that can be done year-round from Tena. Río Misahuallí, another eastern Andes river, is a gorgeous Class IV route that offers the country's most impressive and challenging white-water experience. Some rafting experience is required for this river, which can be navigated only at low water from October to March and which includes a portage around Casanova Falls. Río Upano, another Amazon tributary that flows through dense rainforest and spectacular Namangosa Gorge, then past indigenous villages, is a multiday trip, with rapids ranging from Class II to Class IV. Río Jatunyacu is a long and lively Class III white-water route perfect for beginners and nature enthusiasts. Río Anzu has an easier Class II/III white-water route that is perfect for families or beginners. Río Quijos, a difficult Class IV river east of Quito, is a popular route for experienced rafters and kayakers; it was the site of the 2005 World Rafting Championship.
Agencia Limoncocha (tel. 06/2887-583; firstname.lastname@example.org) is a smaller Tena outfitter that runs trips on most of the local white-water routes.
Ríos Ecuador (tel. 02/2904-054 in Quito, or 06/2886-727 in Tena; www.riosecuador.com) runs rafting trips on the Upper Napo and Misahuallí rivers, and an easy trip down the Class-II-to-III Río Anzu that is perfect for nature lovers and families. They also teach kayaking.
River People Rafting (tel. 06/2888-887; www.riverpeopleraftingecuador.com), a small outfitter based in Tena, runs rafting and kayaking trips on the Napo and Misahuallí rivers and on the Class IV Río Intag, east of Otavalo. They also have a kayaking school.
Small World Adventures (tel. 800/585-2925 in the U.S. and Canada; www.smallworldadventures.com), a Colorado company with a river lodge near Tena, runs multiday advanced rafting and kayaking trips on the Quijos, Misahualli, and Jatunyacu rivers. Small World is an especially good company for kayakers.
Yacu Amu Rafting (tel. 02/2904-054; www.raftingecuador.com), a well-established rafting and kayaking outfitter with offices in Quito and Tena, offers rafting trips on the most popular rivers as well as a 2-day trip on the challenging Quijos and a 4-day trip down the wild Upano. They also offer kayaking tours and instruction.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.