NOTES ON PADDLING IN ECUADOR
Chris Wheeler reports from deep in the jungle in Ecuador (first published in 'Canoeist' magazine)...
Reasons why Ecuador is whitewater heaven.......
1. There are lots of rivers
There are numerous rivers to choose from, so many that you could paddle every day for 2-3 weeks without running the same section twice. Also, the rivers are close together. Heading east from Quito you run into numerous rivers, all dropping down from the Andes into the jungle and on to the Amazon. There is a solid week's paddling to be had at Baeza, which is only a 3 hour bus ride from the capital, Quito. Another 2.5 hours on the bus and you arrive in Tena, where there is another solid week's paddling to be had. Another 3-4 hours and you arrive in Banos, home of the Topo river and others. Then, it's 3 hours back to Quito on the 'Pan American', having gone full circle. Then there are further options: a multi day paddle on the Upano, further south; paddling on the western slopes of the Andes, west of Quito; and surfing out west on the Pacific coast.
2. Quality whitewater
Lots of continuous medium volume grade 4/4+ most of which can be run on sight - just! You don't have to be 'whitewater warrior' standard but you'll enjoy it more with a strong group. I say this because many of the rivers are fairly committing - rivers that can rise and fall quickly if it rains hard, running through inpenetrable jungle. A good, solid Alps group would be fine in the dry season.
3. It's exotic!
Ecuador is a small, Spanish speaking, developing country, located in the north western corner of South America. It's not as developed as Chile but more developed than for example, India. Ecuador sits astride the Equator with the Andes running north-south through the middle of the country. As a result the landscape and climate is very varied.
4. It's somewhere to go in the winter
The season runs from October to March. Go in January or February if you want lower water levels - this is the dry season. Go earlier or later if you think you can handle slightly more water but bear in mind that there is a greater risk of running into 3-4 days of rain when all the rivers may be very high. We went in early March but it didn't rain much and most days the rivers were medium. Ecuador would make a very good Christmas/ New year destination.
5. It's easy!
No visas; a kayaker's hostel in Quito; buses that take kayaks; short distances; a guidebook; and taxi drivers with pick up trucks who take you to the put in and pick you up at get out. Satellite T.V., air con and en suite showers at the hotel in Tena and a choice of three internet cafes in town - you can be an intrepid explorer during the day time and a weak and feeble westerner at night. All these things make Ecuador, in many ways, easier than the Alps.....No 18 hour slog down through Europe in the car, no camping on soggy camp sites, no cooking with damp matches.....and you don't do three hours of driving every day, driving to and from rivers and shuttling.
6. It's cheap
7. You can hire boats