RÍOS DE COLIMA: Tropical Volcano and Granite Gorge Boating

~100 miles paddling; class III and IV, 7 days, cost TBD
September, 2013: rendezvous in P. Vallarta. RESERVE NOW

Join the first commercial descents of several river gems in the state of Colima, home of the 14206 ft Volcán de Colima. Contrast the volcanic rock gorges of Ríos Armeria and Coahuayana with the granite of Río Marabasco. This trip is suited for intermediate or advanced paddlers seeking varied class III and IV tropical whitewater experiences. Bring your boat or use one of ours: raft passengers welcome.

Slideshow: Marabasco
Slideshow: Armeria
Slideshow: Coahuayana


    The Colima Rivers trip is for those seeking varied tropical whitewater experiences with a lot of class III and IV. The trips will have raft options and at least one will be multi-day raft support. Although there is some shuffling around from one river to the other, a high amount of gradient is descended, and you get to experience many typical aspects of Colima: beaches, volcanic canyons, a colonial Mexican city (Colima), and of course, her amazing rivers. Colima is known for its giant volcano - the most active in North America. It looms 4330 m (14206 ft) above the coastal plains below. Two rivers run along the west (Armeria) and east (Coahuayana) sides of it, passing through young volcanic rock gorges. When the rivers emerge from the class IV gorges, they continue with surprisingly high gradients (~9 m/km or 50 fpm) nearly all the way to the ocean with tons of class III rapids. The volcanic canyons and terrain of the Armeria and Coahuayana contrast with granite bedrock of the Marabasco to the west, which is another coastal river cutting through the more typical granite in the Sierra Madre del Sur. We will paddle the best and most appropriate sections of each of these rivers, which are remarkably well-suited to rafting and kayaking trips due to the completely runnable class III and IV rapids.

The itinerary below is not set in stone and some aspects need to be worked out, so expect changes. Also, the trips may be rearranged per water levels or client requests. We are planning to drive through Puerto Vallarta enroute to Manzanillo, so can pick you up there if you happen to find a better flight. [You may have to return there by bus at the end of the trip]. Trip price only includes 7 days of boating, assuming there may be less boating due to some unknown details of the trips at this point. We have Río Marabasco scheduled for both the start and end of the week because it is such an outstanding run, it deserves to be paddled twice - probably at two different flows. This also gives you some flexibility in when you join us. It may be possible to join us for only one of the trips listed at prorated amounts (#days you join/8 days).

To see more information about each river from the first descents, check out the slideshows:

Marabasco (Main - we only paddle the Main Marabasco, not the class V upper section)
Armeria (2 days planned on this river; lower parts are excellent but have wire cable dangers)
Coahuayana (3 days on this river; sorry, not many good photos)

Day0 (Fri): rendezvous with participants in Guadalajara or Manzanillo
Day1 (Sat): DAY 1; run RÍO MARABASCO (25 km; 1 day class IV; 170m-40m)
Day2 (Sun): DAY 2; start RÍO ARMERIA (40 km; 2-3 day class IV trip; 300 m drop)
Day3 (Mon): DAY 3; end Río Armeria trip (possibly end next day; stay in Colima)
Day4 (Tues): DAY 4: launch on multi-day trip RÍO COAHUAYANA (87-112 km total; class III-IV)
Day5 (Wed): DAY 5; Río Coahuayana; class III-IV 
Day6 (Thu): DAY 6; Río Coahuayana; class III  
Day7 (Fri): DAY 7; optional: MINATITLÁN/MARABASCO 

DAY 1: Río Marabasco. On DAY 1, we will paddle the incredible class IV day section on this river going through a scenic granite gorge. The rock is reminiscent of California's Sierra Nevada, and so are some of the rapids. The biggest ones will have you scouting and musing over lines: Clahbay, Malo, Guadalupe, Perote, and Crescendo. We may camp by the river or return to hotels this evening.

DAYS 2-3: Río Armeria. On DAY 2, we will drive up to Río Armeria and launch on the upper class IV section upstream of the city of Colima. We will paddle through volcanic terrain and the major La Lumbre rapid before arriving at an intersesting slot canyon on the Nevado de Colima side of the river, where we will hike a bit. We plan to camp by the river - perhaps in this section, or perhaps with car support. On DAY 3 we will paddle another 20-40 km of the river, enjoying open class III rapids. We will end and stay the night in the colonial capital city of Colima.

DAYS 4-6:Río Coahuayana. On DAY 4 we will pack up the rafts for a multi-day trip down Río Coahuayana (also called Río El Naranjo) located on the southeast side of Volcán de Colima, and launch. Over the course of 3-4 days on the river, we will paddle numerous class III (possibly IV) rapids and maybe a final 30 km flat section to the beach at Boca de Apiza. After enjoying a piña colada and playing in the surf a bit, we will load up and return to Manzanillo.

DAY 7: Río Marabasco. We may do a day run on Río Marabasco one more time; experts in the group can tackle the upper class IV-V Minatitlán-Marabasco (first descent).


Day8-10: Exploratories (shared costs); generally class III-IV; some V (from the following: Toscano, Nueva Italia, Placeres, Temascaltepec-Punganarancho, Tlaplaneco, Putla-Verde, Atoyac-Verde, Tehuantepec)

The general price for this trip is To Be Determined.

If you are interested in this trip, send Rocky a note regarding yourself, your paddling experience, what boat you would want to use or bring, how you would arrive, and whether you would want to do another trip on either side. Once approved, you will need to provide a deposit of $400 to reserve your place on the trip. Full payment must be received 30 days before the trip or you may lose your spot. Payments may be made by sending a check (make out to Rocky Contos, 5071 Constitution Rd., San Diego, CA 92117), transferring money via PayPal (to rocky@sierrarios.org), or making a credit card payment online.

As of February, our group total stands at 1. You may make a deposit or pay a balance with the "donate" button below. ($400 deposit for each person; when paying remaining balances, specify discounts that apply); be sure to send Rocky a message with a little info about you and your group.


We reserve the right to cancel the trip at any time. In particular, the trip may not be feasible to run if there are too few paying individuals. If we cancel the trip, all deposits and payments will be refunded.

If you must cancel the trip, we reserve the right to keep a percentage of your deposit according to the following guidelines:
5% if you cancel >60 days before the trip
50% if you cancel 30-60 days before the trip
100% if you cancel <30 days before of the trip

(1) Rocky Contos, the trip leader, has explored nearly every river in Mexico, including Ríos Marabasco (in 2002), Armeria (in 2008), and Coahuayana (in 2002), and likely has first descents on them (as part of his ~120 first descents covering ~8,000 km of river and ~54,000 m of drop in Mexico). He wrote the guidebook to the Sierra Madre Occidental and is preparing a guidebook to the Sierra Madre del Sur. Your participation in this trip will be documented in the next guidebook to be printed. Rocky has paddled over 150 multi-day journeys on rivers, with dozens in the range of 4-22 days. He worked as a kayak instructor and guide for UCSD's Outback adventures from 1993-1996 and gained valuable group planning skills. Although primarily a kayaker, Rocky started rafting in the mid-1990s in order to introduce more people to the wonders of river travel. Since then, he has organized numerous large group raft and kayak expeditions, including five through Grand Canyon (18-22 days), two on the Salmon River (4-10 days each), and dozens on the Salt, Kern, Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Thompson, Similkameen, and in Baja (2-6 days each). Rocky founded SierraRios with the goal of conserving the rivers of Mexico, and hopes that increased awareness and enjoyment of the resource will lead to protection. On this trip, Rocky will either be kayaking or rowing/captaining a cataraft or self-bailer.

(2) Other guides have yet to be determined.

We will have a vehicle to pick you up in Puerto Vallarta or Manzanillo and transport you to the river. Depending on the number of paying clients, this vehicle might be a large pickup (5-person capacity), Suburban (7 or 9-person capacity), or combination of the two. The trip will end in Manzanillo. If you must return to Puerto Vallarta, you may have to take a bus.

For the multi-day trip, we will organize the food and bring the kitchen (tables, pots, plates, bowls, utensils, and stoves). You can expect to eat to your tummy’s content. If you have specific food restrictions/preferences let us know and we will try to accommodate you. You can accompany Rock during the shopping for the trip. There will always be vegetarian options. Rocky’s menu typically consists of the following:

Breakfast: usually there is a range of foods to choose from: coffee, tea, fruit, cereals, milk, tortillas, and perhaps something special such as eggs/omelettes, pancakes, or french toast. If you have specific preferences, let Rocky know and he will accommodate.

Lunch: Items typically available are trail mix, dried fruits, energy bars, chips, cookies, and/or sandwiches, but there will be some variety (e.g. PB&J always; maybe ham, turkey, tunafish, cheese, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, mustard, mayo)

Dinner: Rocky’s dinner menu will include selections from the following types of food: Italian (pasta/salad/cheese), Mexican (tamales, burritos, and/or tacos), Indian (Tasty Bites), or American (turkey).

Desserts: There will always be some form of sweet to eat – cookies, chocolates, etc.

No beer/wine is included in the price of the trip. We will purchase and carry a certain amount for you on the raft subject to an additional donation ($3/beer; $15/bottle wine). Do not pack beer cans in your drybag because the cans often burst! There is a limit to the amount we will carry for you (max: 12 beers or equivalent weight).

We will bring bottled water or filters to purify clear clean side streams on the multi-day trip. You will be responsible for buying water when we are in cities.

CHORES (Multi-day trips only)
SierraRios trips are designed to be participatory in nature, and therefore participants are expected to help with camp duties including loading/unloading rafts, camp set-up, food preparation, and washing dishes. We generally have a rotating schedule. Duties can be swapped with others, as long as someone is there and you end up contributing equally in the end. Everyone is expected to help load/unload the rafts each day. A few individuals may be designated to help with camp set-up. Two individuals will be assigned to help with food preparation and wash dishes each morning and evening. After washing and rinsing, dishes are sterilized in a dilute bleach solution. If you are assigned to help with the food, please make sure you wash your hands and keep them clean.

Urinating should be done directly into the river or away from camp and out of sight of others. To defecate, you should walk away from camp to somewhere above the high-water line, dig a hole 4-6” deep, and cover your feces. Carry your TP back and put in the “TP trash” or burn your TP and bury the ashes in the hole. Bathing can be done in the river. We may carry a solar shower.

There has been little drug violence in Colima in the last few years. In addition, the rivers we will be journeying down did not have any marijuana cultivation visible near them. Because of this, and also the fact that the violence is generally confined to drug traffickers (narcos) and those associated with them, we are not likely to be harassed or molested in any way related to the drug war.
For further discussion of the drug war and safety concerns, click here.

Independent of the drug war, there has always been potential danger for assault in Mexico by armed bandits (bandidos). This is the same now as it was 5 , 10, or 20 years ago. Such risk is common in any third world country where citizens are very poor. In the event of assault, we will do all we can to protect our clients and ourselves, but may have to sacrifice our possessions. Because we can never guarantee against such assault, you must agree not to hold us liable for consequent personal injury/damage/loss you sustain on this outing.

The other aspect of safety is prevention of accidents. It is of utmost importance that you take all precautions necessary to avert injury, sickness, and complications while on the trip. As guides, we are there to help get you safely to the river, down it, and back out, but cannot guarantee against accidents. You must accept the responsibility for what happens on the river if you are in control of your craft. If you are concerned about the whitewater or other aspects, it is your responsibility to make appropriate decisions whether to run the rapid or not and to stay close to someone who can watch and oversee you (if you desire that level of protection). If an accident occurs, we will do all in our power to help you, see that proper care is rendered, and/or evacuate you if need be. Rocky is trained as Wilderness First Responder and will administer appropriate emergency medical care if needed. We will have two basic first aid kits available. We will also carry a satellite phone for emergencies and changes of plan.

We have timed this trip to coincide with good probability of encountering decent river flows in Colima. In October, flows average 50 cms (1700 cfs) on Río Marabasco, ~50 cms (1700 cfs) on Río Armeria, and ~70 cms (2200 cfs) on Río Coahuayana. It is very likely (~80% chance) that we will have good flows during our trip, but there are slim chances they will be quite low (10%). Water levels can fluctuate rapidly due to spotty intense thunderstorms that are characteristic of the monsoon season in the region and we cannot predict what the flows will be. Pray for rains before your arrival and during the evenings of our trip.

You will need to pack appropriately for spending 4 days/nights out in the Mexican wilderness. Although it will generally be quite warm on the trip, it can get chilly at any time due to storm activity. Come prepared. Your personal camp gear will be transported down the river in one large drybag. We will provide one if you need it. Do not pack excessively. It is in your best interest not to overpack your drybag because it often causes lack of proper sealing and consequent leaking if dunked, and you will likely be hiking it ~10 km down into the canyon.

River items to bring:
-Shorts, shirt
-Paddle jacket (we may be able to provide one if you don’t have)
-Water shoes (preferably multipurpose for wear on the river and hiking)
-PFD (if you don't have one, we will provide)
-Kayak gear (only if kayaking: helmet, skirt)
-Hat and sunglasses (with retainer)
-Small drybag for your kayak or on raft (for passengers)
-Large drybag for camp gear (if it is a very large bag (>3 ft3), your small drybag must fit within)
-Water bottle (preferably with a carabiner to clip onto a raft)

Camp items to bring:
-Tent (a 2-person tent can be used by an individual)
-Sleeping bag (consider using your fleece or other item as a pillow)
-Therm-a-rest (chair and bed; we may have a few chairs for the camp)
-Basic clothing (t-shirt, shorts, light pants, light long-sleeve shirt, fleece, underwear)
-Camp shoes (these can be the same as your river shoes or a different dry shoe)
-Headlamp (plus extra set of batteries)
-Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, lotions, etc)
-Special medicines/lotions (anti-fungal cream, bug repellent)
-Lighter/matches (remember to check it if flying)
-Pocket-knife (remember to check it if flying)
-Mug (for your hot beverages; we'll have plastic cups for water/wine/etc)
-Reading material
-Bug repellent (very important for comfortable hanging-out in camp