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Rafting and Kayaking in Peru’s Water Playground

From the Amazon River that snakes through Peru to its canyon rivers and Pacific shoreline, taking to the water is one of the best ways to see Peru!

Organized rafting, kayaking and similar water-vessel adventures are absolutely abundant in Peru — from calm water to Class V rapids, with long, long stretches of winding river. But before choosing a location or operator, ask yourself this: what’s your skill level on a river or in whitewater; what’s your risk-averse vs adrenaline-prone metre; and what tempo or pace do you prefer?

Peru has options for almost all skill and preference levels, so these guidelines can help you choose the right river, pace and operator. Trips can vary from an afternoon (as part of a greater trip) to one day or several days, and typically include guides, food, equipment and accommodation by camp or ecolodge. Weather and water conditions in most areas mean trips are usually offered between May and November.

Cusco is a great launching point for a multitude of accessible rafting options on the gentler Urubamba River — though don’t be fooled; it can get choppy and claims Class II and IV rapids in some areas. Another bucket-list-worthy trip takes you down the Tambopata River on a multi-day adventure, with ever-changing difficulty and landscapes as you go from the south Andes into the deep Amazon. The river includes calm stretches (though it also has Class IV rapids) is ideal for wildlife spotting and ends near the Tambopata National Reserve in the rainforest.

Great whitewater near Chachapoyas, Peru. (Daniel Silva Yoshisato/PROMPERU)

Other notable jungle currents to raft or kayak include the Utcubamba River near Chachapoyas, a city in northern Peru gaining attention as a tourist hot-spot. The Mayo River (which is beginner-friendly) and the Huallaga River near Tarapoto, also in northern Peru, are also good options.

Beginners should consider the Arequipa region, where the Rio Chili is friendly and the nearby Rio Majes slightly more challenging. The two deepest canyons in the world, Cotahuasi and Colca, are carved by rivers of the same names which you can raft or kayak. While you’re treated to jaw-dropping scenery, you have to stay focused (don’t get distracted by the condors gliding overhead!) — rapids on these rivers are not for the faint of heart. Cotahuasi is registered as Class V and sometimes known as the Everest for kayakers!

Closer to Lima lies the adventure capital of Lunahuana and the nearby Cañete River, with its various classes of whitewater. (Here, you can follow with ziplining or a bodega-hopping excursion.) If you prefer views to adrenaline, many kayaking trips are designed for a slower pace and noteworthy adventures are available on lagoons and ocean-side throughout Peru. Kayaking on Lake Titicaca, or at Paracas on the Pacific Ocean south of Lima, are wonderful ways to see tourist gems and wildlife from a different perspective.

On the Río Cañete, Peru. (PROMPERU)

You can kayak in the Pacific right at Lima as well, and just north of Lima in Albufera de Medio Mundo, a calm ocean-side lagoon. In the Amazon, Sandoval Lake (near Puerto Maldonado) is surrounded by ecolodges, with serene views and wildlife, including giant otters. Tarapoto offers tranquil kayaking at Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon) and Lago Lindo (Beautiful Lake) — both offer stunning jungle panoramas.

Kayaking on Laguna El Sauce and Laguna Azul, Peru. (Concurso Cazadores de Aventuras)

Since the earliest days, indigenous people and explorers alike have traversed the Amazon River by raft. It’s said the Amazon has more water than the next eight on the world’s largest-rivers list combined! It’s possible to kayak its entire length (but not every tributary)—the expedition could start on the Andean slopes that are the headwaters of the Apurimac River in southwestern Peru (said to be the most distant source of the Amazon itself) and end in the Atlantic Ocean. (It’s not impossible but it would take months.) The Apurimac is another fantastic option for whitewater adventure—it runs through the rugged Apurimac Canyon.

You can tackle many rafting spots in Peru via extreme kayaking — and vice-versa. Just keep in mind the sports are not always regulated so proceed with caution. It’s best to book with knowledgeable guides and reputable companies, and if possible reserve a trip with a rescue-trained kayaker following along.

  • Carla Bragagnini, a Canadian-Peruvian, is associate editor of infromtheoutpost.com PERU. All photos PROMPERU.
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