As more and more travelers seek outdoor experiences, Peru is the perfect destination for outdoor adventures of every kind, especially river rafting. Whether you’re looking for excitement or a gentle trek, the state offers many rivers for kayaking on both sides of the Andes, including waters suitable for beginners, families with children, and experienced and experienced rafters. Most trips include camping and cooking outside on the riverside and some feature a night or two at a lodge. For some of the best white water kayaking, check out the Apurimac, Urubamba, Cotahuasi, Colca, Chili, Utcubamba, Marañón, Tambopata, Mayo and Cañete rivers.
Here are seven regions of the country where kayaking vie with scenic views for unforgettable experiences.
The Apurimac and Arupamba rivers
Head from Cusco, the former capital of the Inca, to the Apurimac and Arubamba rivers for world-class thrills. The Amazon’s longest tributary and one of the world’s 10 best white water rivers, the Apurimac River offers many short trips suitable for beginners and intermediates, ranging from one to six days. Most excursions require a four to five hour drive over the Andes from Cusco to the Apurimac region. But some trips, like an easy one-day adventure through the Black Canyon river valley, start southeast of Cusco, and include hotel pickup and drop-off. A little more exciting for rafters of 13 and up with some experience, is a two-day trek through Granite Canyon in Apurimac to deliver Class II and III waters as a warm-up to the Class V rapids called Gates of Purgatory and Last Laugh.
Best time: May and June.
For those short on time, Cusco puts you just 45 minutes from the upper Urubamba River and an hour from the Sacred Valley. During the rainy season on this long stretch, the water level reaches its highest levels, and so there are more raft segments suitable for rafters of different skills. In the dry season, Upper Urubamba remains tame, never seen from the third class, and perfect for the first time. Short river cruises begin in the Sacred Valley, one of the former Inca town Ollantaytambo, and any of these trips would be a good follow-up to a visit to Machupichu. In the Lower Urubamba region, choose from one-, two-, and three-day river cruises through the rainforest with Class II, III, and IV rapids.
Best time: from May to December.
The Kutawasi, Colca and Chile rivers
The world’s deepest whitewater canyons, Cotawasi and Colca, draw the most dangerous rafters to the Arequipa region. On the Cotahuasi River, experienced rafters looking for the ultimate challenge will paddle 100 miles over five or six days with 50 miles of Class IV and V rapids non-stop across the world’s deepest gorge. At 11,595 feet, Cotahuasi Canyon measures twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The water melts with snow, and is cold throughout the year, and the river runs progressively faster as the water level drops 60 feet deep in the valley every mile. The adventure begins with a full-day drive from Arequipa to Kutawasi. There is one table section starting upstream from Cotahuasi and three starting down the river.
Best time: from April to September when the water level is lower and the weather is better.
Some of the Cotahuasi raft and the Colca River, which rolls through the world’s second deepest gorge at 10,225 feet. Colca Canyon is one of the most amazing canyons on earth where thundering waterfalls cascade into the river and Andean condors glide easily on strong winds. Most excursions last six days, and are only recommended for river experts and brave adventurers. The rafters face 100 miles of Class IV and V rapids after the confluence of the Mamakocha River where the water volume doubles. But there is also a day trip full of enough action for beginners and intermediate rafters on the second and third grade slopes.
Best Time: Best weather and flow is between March and December when the water level is at its highest; It can be floated all year round; Condors are most active between March and June.
With a starting point 20 minutes north of the historic center of Arequipa in the Chillina Valley, the Chili River is a great option if you’re short on time and your group includes beginners and/or intermediate rafters (minimum age 8). You’ll paddle 4 miles of Class 2 and 3 ramps, plus one Class 4 landing in less than an hour (or a little longer between July and December), adding up to 3 hours total from pick up to drop off at your hotel. But a day on the river won’t diminish your majesty and your sense of history. Scenic landscapes, pre-Inca terraces, and towering canyon walls provide great views, plus the river runs between two snow-capped volcanoes, El Misti and Chachani—both peaks less than 20,000 feet high.
Best time: The best times for weather and water are from April to December.
Travel to Chachapoyas and meet your dressmaker for a 45-minute drive to the entry point on the fast-flowing and sometimes turbulent Utcubamba River, which runs from the Central Andes and flows north into the Amazon. Full and half-day tours are offered on 7.5 miles of Class II and III slopes that require no rafting experience, and on a rocky section that requires transportation. While in Chachapoyas, make time for a side trip to Karajia (30 miles northwest) to see life-size sarcophagi that held the mummified remains of the pre-Inca Chachapoya nobles and perched on the edges of high cliffs.
Best time for weather and water, May.
For a smooth introduction to river rafting, consider the Mayo River near Tarapoto in northern Peru. Beginners and families with children aged 8 and up will find their comfort zone with moderate and fairly challenging slopes and enjoy the opportunity in a few places to jump off the raft with a life jacket and free float in calm waters for a while. The river passes through a beautiful valley that is a mixture of high forests and farmland. Fifteen minutes after the end there is a beach where you can take a break, swing from a Tarzan-like rope, and do a big splash.
Best time: Class II and III Rapids throughout the year.
Three hours from Lima and two hours from coastal Paracas, the small town of Lunahuana is the starting point for canoeing on the Cañete River. The water here is second, third, and fourth class, suitable for anyone from beginners (children ages 8 and up) to advanced rafters, on different sections of the river depending on their experience. For experienced rafters and novice athletes aged 18 and over, the most exciting section of Cañete is Lunahuana Paullo, a rocky stretch with grade 3 and grade 4 slopes. During the rainy season, the slopes reach grade 4 and above, and rafters attract experienced rafters from all over the world.
Best time: Summer (December to March) when the water level is at its highest due to rainfall in the Andes on its way downriver to sea level in the Pacific Ocean. From April to November, the slopes are quieter and are well suited for beginners, treks taking two hours or less.
To arrange transfers or tours, contact the official tourist information and assistance service at peru.travel/en/useful-data/iperu.