With its spectacular mountains and abundant rainfall, Ecuador is an ideal destination for travelers looking to enjoy world-class white-water rafting adventures. The scenery as you flow downstream is breathtaking taking you through cloud forests and rain forests that are home to all kinds of wildlife.
The eastern slopes of the Andes have one of the highest concentrations of rivers on the planet. The Upper Napo River (also known as the Jatunyacu River) is a class III Amazon tributary that can be run year round and is perfect for beginners. Setting off from Tena, the river passes through the jungle with views of the western Andes and is fed with water from Cotopaxi.
More experienced rafters can head east of Quito to the Quijos River, a difficult Class IV / IV+ river which can be run from September to March and was host to the 2005 World Rafting Championship. The Quijos River passes through cloud forest often allowing glimpses of bears or the beautiful Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Meanwhile the more accessible western slopes are also home to several popular rivers, such as the rivers Blanco and Toachi, class III rivers ideal for beginners, conveniently close to Quito and which can be run year round.
Some rafting excursions, particularly on the western slopes of the Andes or on the Quijos River, are easily accessible from Quito and can be enjoyed during one day tours that include private transportation in minivans. Others are a little more difficult to get to and are only recommended if you’ve got a few days to spare.
To raft the Upper Napo River in the central Amazon travelers first need to get to Tena which can be reached by public bus from Quito (5 hours), Baños (3 hours) and Cuenca (9 hours), or by hiring a private or shared chauffeur-driven minivan. There are also flights from Quito, but the service is not very reliable and it is costly.
Find out more about how to travel to and around Ecuador in our Ecuador Travel Guide.
Always ensure you purchase a suitable travel insurance when traveling to Ecuador. When planning to go rafting in Ecuador, ensure your policy covers rafting activities. If you’re not sure, contact your insurance provider.
Whitewater rapid classification system
All whitewater rapids are rated on a scale of I to VI to help adventurers know what to expect from a river. While most rivers in Ecuador are apt for beginners, make sure you communicate your level of ability to your tour provider before booking your rafting tour.
· Class I Rapids: Fast moving water with small waves, few riffles and a few obvious obstacles. Little risk to swimmers and easy self-rescue possible. Ideal for small children and beginners.
· Class II Rapids: Easy rapids with small waves and a few obvious obstacles. Some maneuvering may be needed, but rocks and medium waves can be easily avoided by trained paddlers. On the upper end of this range rapids are labeled Class II+.
· Class III Rapids: Rapids with irregular and high waves that can be hard to avoid. Some strong currents can be present. Complex maneuvers and good boat control may be needed in tight passages. Scouting advisable. Self-rescue usually easy, but group assistance may be required. On the lower or upper end of this range rapids are labeled Class III- or Class III+.
· Class IV Rapids: Powerful, intense and difficult rapids which require precise boat handling and can feature unavoidable waves and holes or passages that require fast maneuvers under pressure. Moderate to high risk for swimmers. Self-rescue may be difficult. Group assistance for rescue often essential. On the lower or upper end of this range rapids are labeled Class IV- or Class IV+.
· Class V Rapids: Extremely difficult, long and violent rapids. High level of fitness required to maneuver large, unavoidable waves and holes. Swims are dangerous and rescue often difficult for experts. Practiced rescue skills essential.
· Class VI Rapids: This class of rapids are at the extremes of difficulty and danger. They have mostly never been attempted. Errors can be fatal and rescue impossible.
A river’s classification can change as the water level fluctuates or due to storms, floods and landslides. For example, high water levels usually increase the difficulty of rapids, although this is not always the case. The system does not take into account the type of boat being used as particular rapids can be more or less difficult for rafts or kayaks.
While most of the rafting experiences available in Ecuador require no training, it is very important to know your limitations. Professionals recommend you pay particular attention to the security talk provided before embarking on a rafting adventure, especially if you don’t have any previous experience.
Health & safety
Make sure to speak to your tour operator or travel specialist before booking a tour to let them know if you have any health afflictions for which you could need to take medication such as asthma or diabetes. Take this medication with you in a water-tight container. Find out more about health recommendations when traveling to Ecuador in our Ecuador Travel Guide.
Always ensure you book your rafting tour with a reputable, licensed and professional tour operator that follows safety requirements and guidelines.
Please read our Ecuador Travel Guide for general tips and advice when traveling to Ecuador, including practical advice about entry requirements, money, costs, electricity, phone and internet, health and vaccine recommendations.
* This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please check before traveling.
Most rafting adventures in Ecuador are available all year round, apart from some specific rapids such as the Quijos River which is only open for rafting from September to March. Rafting conditions are affected by local seasons and water levels so it is always a good idea to contact your tour provider before booking so they can help ascertain your level of ability and calculate the best rafting month and river for you.
Besides public holidays, the high season for rafting in Ecuador runs from June to August due to increased demand from travelers. Find out more about weather conditions in different parts of Ecuador, as well as Ecuadorian holidays and festivals in our Ecuador Travel Guide.
When packing for a rafting adventure make sure to take sun protection, 30%-50% DEET insect repellent, any medicines you might need in a water-tight container, swimsuit / shorts, a spray jacket, sandals with heel straps, a baseball cap, sunglasses/glasses with eye glass strap, waterproof camera, a change of clothes (long-sleeved shirt, long trousers, a light jumper, shoes and socks) and a towel. At some times of year you should use a wetsuit, but this can be rented if you don’t have one.