Select Page

A guide to paddling in Ecuador

Christina Kossis & Alex Horne

Flights and Transport:

Flights into Ecuador will bring you to the nation’s capital, Quito. From here, you have two options for transportation to your first or final destination:
Taxi – For our trip we had six paddlers arriving around the same time, so we hired two taxis to bring us to our first destination, Baeza. If you’re headed to Baeza, located in the Quijos River Valley, there are two hostels that offer shuttles to and from the Airport for around $100 a car (four people max).
Bus – The public transportation option is quite a bit cheaper but a little more involved. First you catch a taxi from the airport to ­­Pifo, and then get on the bus for Baeza/Tena. Typically the bus costs about $3.50 and the taxi to the bus stop costs about $8. The buses come often and all night long. They will take kayaks, but this depends on available space, and in some cases will cost a dollar or two more.

Common paddling destinations – Baeza and Tena:


Accommodations: In Baeza there are two kayaking-centric hostels that are located right next to each other. Casa de Rodrigo is one option. Rodrigo is a local that owns a couple of buildings with many rooms that sleep 2-5 people each. He is a great resource for all things kayaking in Ecuador and provides much more than a place to sleep. He has a fleet of about 15 kayaks that he rents and will either run your kayak shuttle himself or call someone that is familiar with the take outs/put-ins to take you. The hostel has a covered area to hang/dry your gear and a kitchen to cook in if you choose to.
The other option in Baeza is to stay at Gina’s. Gina’s hostel is a similar set up as far as rooms and space to hang gear, but as part of the hostel, there is an excellent restaurant that Gina runs. The food here is cheap and very good. Boof sessions rents kayaks out of this location and can also help with organizing trip logistics and shuttles.
Rooms range in price depending on how many roommates you have. Alex slept in a bigger room with three roommates and paid $12 per night, while Christina shared a single bedroom with her husband for $15 a night.
There are also other less popular housing options to stay at, but the downside to these can be that you may have a harder time finding shuttles and other paddlers in the area to paddle with and get beta from.

River Sections: From Baeza there are a lot of options for good whitewater nearby. The Quijos river provides a multitude of different runs of varying length and difficulty. The first section is called Cheese House and is a 3-mile section of class IV/V creeky-style paddling. Following Cheese House is the Bridge 1 to Bridge 2 section that consists of a couple miles of class IV boulder garden rapids. Another popular run is Bridge 3 through Chaco, a bit further downstream. This section is good class III/IV with a couple of bigger rapids and a beautiful basalt gorge. The last section of the Quijos is the Bombon section which consists of three miles of big waves and another beautiful Basalt Gorge. It is easy to do a couple of these sections in a day, for example Cheese House through Bridge 2 or Bridge 2 through Bon-Bon, depending on the type of paddling you and your crew are looking for.

Other runs in the Qujos Valley include the Oyacachi and Cosanga Rivers, which we were fortunate enough to be able to paddle on our trip. These runs consist largely of class IV rapids that are mostly boat-scoutable, with a couple rapids that we got out to look at. Some of our group also paddled Lower Papallacta, upstream of Cheese House. This is a class V creek section that’s about seven miles long.
The rivers in Baeza have a wide range of levels that are considered runnable, but with a heavy rain they can quickly increase in difficulty. It is important to get beta from the locals, sometimes the taxis drivers who come to the hostels may also have a decent idea of what is considered safer levels. If a river seems too high or too low, there are always other options in the area that come off of a different drainage.


Accommodations: Tena is located further south than Baeza, closer to the rainforest. This is a larger city of about 13,000 people and all the amenities that cities offer. Our group stayed right in the city at a hostel called A Welcome Break. This location was nice for walking around the city to shop or go out to eat, with everything needed within walking distance. This hostel had rooms that slept 2-4 people each with common bathroom areas. For Alex, who had one roommate and no private bathroom, the hostel cost $7 per night. For Christina, who had a private bathroom and 3 other roommates, the hostel was $11 per night. This hostel also had a kitchen to cook in.
Another option for a kayak hostel near Tena would be Oso Perezoso or Kayak Hostel Ecuador in Archidona. Gabriel and Nadia have a great space here with kayak rentals and the logistical help you could need. They also make great empanadas!

River Sections: From Tena there are a lot of great paddling options to pick from, including the Piatua and Anzu Rivers. The Piatua is a beautiful class III/IV section with lucious green scenery and clear blue waters that run over smooth boulders, providing a plethora of good boofs. The Anzu river is similar in difficulty, with mostly class III rapids.
Our group’s favorite section that we paddled on our trip with the Upper Jondachi. To reach the river there is a 20-30 minute hike through a cow pasture to a bridge where paddlers put in. From here you really feel like you’re in the jungle as you paddle through beautifully clear blue/green water that runs over large boulders, creating class IV/V rapids for about 5-6 miles. There are a couple of pieces of wood in the run currently, that require portaging, as well as a couple of larger rapids that deserve to be scouted. This river is really prone to flashing, requiring earlier put on times to avoid rising water levels. (See the last section “Useful information and hazards to be aware of – Flash Flooding” for more info and our groups experience)
We also paddled the Middle Jondachi (IV) and Lower Jondachi (III) into the Hollin River for a full (20+) mile day. The Middle Jondachi provides a couple of miles of boulder gardens and boofs that simmer down into class three as you approach the confluence with the Hollin River. The Hollin has a big water feel with beautiful waterfalls cascading into the river on both sides.

References for Rivers:
Most of the rivers above are what we were able to paddle on our trip. There are, of course, many more options for paddling in Ecuador. There are a couple of great references that paddlers can use to find more information about different runs and their difficulty / shuttling logistics.

Guidebook – “The Kayaker’s Guide to Ecuador” by Darcy Gachter, Don Beveridge and Larry Vermeeren is a great resource. This book has a plethora of information not only on the rivers in Ecuador, but also guidance on what to expect when traveling to Ecuador and how to prepare.

Facebook – “Ecuador Kayaking Community – gear swap, river reports, levels, etc.” is a great group for gear swapping and keeping up to date on information. There are always paddlers around the hostels in Tena and Baeza that are helpful if you’re traveling alone or looking for a group to do a certain section with. If your group would like a guided trip, there are a couple of companies that offer this, including Small World Adventures.

“Ecuador Water Level Report” – We used this group every day to check on river levels. A lot of taxi drivers are in this group and will post takeout photos of the local rivers before heading to hostels for pickup. It is also nice to be helpful to the community and post pictures before and after your run also!



Kayaks – There’s always a need for more kayaks in Ecuador because they’re difficult and expensive to get into the country. Therefore, if you’re able to, bringing a kayak to use and then selling it can be really cost-effective and helpful to the whitewater community in Ecuador. Of course, flying with a kayak is often difficult and involves a little creativity. In general most airlines will charge $150-$200 to fly your kayak one way, as oversized baggage or sporting equipment.
To rent a kayak in Baeza or Tena, it costs about $25-30 a day. This is definitely the most expensive part of my budget when planning a trip to Ecuador (other than the plane ticket). The rentals are typically in pretty beat up condition and it is important that you discuss with the owner the consequences of needing to replace your rental ahead of time.

Paddles – Everyone in our group brought their own paddle. Most airlines have rules about flying paddles that say they should be in a hard case. This is another situation where you can get creative. I have flown with my one piece paddle in a padded ski bag wrapped in clothing with success. I have also had my paddle broken on both blades from flying. This year I chose to fly with a breakdown paddle and put it in my checked bag, wrapped in clothing and other gear, which worked great. There are paddles to rent in Ecuador, if needed. These are usually $10-15 a day.

Eating in Ecuador:

Alex – I did most of my own cooking while in Ecuador. In Baeza, the hostel is a short walk from the town, where one can shop for food to cook. There are a couple of stores that sell fruits and vegetables in town, where I would buy most of what I was cooking. The vegetables are really affordable and fresh. I enjoyed eating peppers, onion, broccoli, potatoes, carrots and avocados with beans, rice and quinoa for about $1-2 a day. In Tena, there are similar options with grocery stores and vegetable stands to buy food at within walking distance of the hostel. I supplement what I’m cooking with snack bars and dried fruit/nuts that I bring in my checked bag from home. For me, this works best with my dietary restrictions.
Christina – A large portion of our group chose to eat at local establishments for breakfast and dinner and pack a small lunch for the river. Breakfasts commonly consisted of eggs, fruit, coffee, homemade bread, and marmalade and cost between $3-$6. We would bring fresh fruit from the markets for the river, we usually tried to pick fruits that you could peel the skin off to avoid any contamination from the water. Dinner ranged in price depending where you ate. We did not experiment with the street food carts on this trip to avoid getting sick and the sit down restaurants seemed to average in price between $8-$12 for a large portion meal. In Baeza, there were only a few restaurant options near the hostel for dinners, but they had many options including chicken, trout, steak, shrimp and veggie platters. Tena is a city and has a much more diverse selection of restaurants and we used google reviews and recommendations from locals for our meal selections. We had a few people in our group that were gluten and dairy free and they made a card with their restrictions written in spanish to give to chefs in restaurants, which is something you can try to plan ahead for to make eating easier.

Useful information and hazards to be aware of:

Language – most locals in Ecuador do not speak english. It is very common to go to a restaurant and everything is also in Spanish. Our group was fortunate to have a few moderately good translators and we all practiced the basics before our trip. A lot of us downloaded the Google Translate app for Spanish translation to our phones and were able to use this to translate conversations and menus very easily.

Money – everything in Ecuador is paid in cash, literally everything and mostly in small bills, less than $10. A lot of people in our group planned ahead of time and withdrew small bills from our banks before our travels. There are many ATMs accessible in Tena, but there is an international fee from your bank that costs up to $10.
A challenge we found was where to keep our cash. The safest place seemed to be locked in our rooms at the hostels and just taking what we needed for the day in our dry bags.
Another important thing to note is when you go kayaking with a taxi driver that you don’t know, plan to take everything you bring on the river with you, even your change of clothes in a dry bag. That taxi driver may be making other stops while you are on your run and he may not come back with your belongings.

Rentals – The rental kayaks are typically in pretty beat up condition, usually with a few welds in them and some questionable outfitting. A good rule of thumb is to bring extra foam, paracord, webbing, and tape with you, not only for your rescue kit, but to outfit and repair your kayak.

Flash Flooding – Flash flooding is very common on runs in Ecuador and it is very important to pay attention to the weather and try to start your runs early in the day to avoid the afternoon rains. Our group got to experience a flash flood first hand. We were scouting the last class V rapid on the Upper Jondachi and the river rose 1 foot in less than 10 minutes. We had a few kayaks run the drop without us and Christina’s rental kayak came out folded, with a massive hole and crack in the bow. Hiking out was not an option from the area we were at, deep in the jungle. With quick thinking we were able to repair the bow with tape and whatever we could find to paddle out, but the rental kayak was completely compromised and not safe to paddle. There were a few lessons learned here, as Christina now had to purchase a broken rental kayak. Make sure, especially in Ecuador on a remote run, you always put your kayak at least 3 feet above the water line if you are getting out of it.

Here is a video with some of the highlights from our trip and most of the sections that we did. The song was chosen in memory of Christina’s kayak that sank like the Titanic and because a lot of the restaurants in Ecuador were playing it:

Alex on the Jondachi, picture credit Art Barket