Rio Grande-Colorado (Argentina) raft/kayak expedition: 14-18 days, 314 miles, class III and IV; JOIN US!

RÍO GRANDE-COLORADO: Best Expedition in Argentina!

410 km (254 miles), class III-IV (P), 14 days (half-trip possible)

launches: Dec4 Dec24 Jan12 RESERVE

Río Grande-Colorado offers he best expedition river trip in all of Chile and Argentina passing through beautiful higher elevation Andes canyon and the Reserva La Payunia with its eerie lunar volcanic landscape. We'll paddle through plenty of fun class III and IV rapids, spend nights on fine beach camps, feel the wind blow us downstream, and finish on Río Colorado at the northern border of Patagonia as we also explore caves, narrows, and volcanic craters. Each participant will see firsthand what will be lost with a series of planned dams that will drown most of the upper river. Let's do something to Save Río Grande-Colorado. check out the subsequent Río Neuquén trip.



Río Grande-Colorado begins its raftable stream about 70km upstream of the highway connecting Bardas Blancas (Argentina) to Talca (Chile). The river is fed by springs and snow accumulated from winter storms and melted during the warm spring season. Being the northernmost boundary of Patagonia and on the dry east side of the Andes, sunny weather and warm temperatures are the norm in late spring and summer. The first 4-5 days of this expedition will have class III and IV as well as one portage around the short narrow unraftable La Pasarela basalt gorge, followed by a more remote 4-day wilderness class III canyon section in the eerie volcanic Payunia Reserve. The reserve is currently under consideration as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site due to its unique concentration of volcanic cones/craters and flora/fauna, and the Argentinian government is seeking to expand the protected area. Some trips may continue an additional 3-4 days on Río Colorado down past Rincón de los Sauces through the final beautiful basalt canyon of the river to 25deMayo. For a slideshow with captions, see PHOTOS. For a video, see VIDEO(drone), or shorter clips: VIDEO(English) or VIDEO(Spanish).

Join us for a raft/kayak descent of this river and experience one of the last remaining raftable whitewater rivers that remains undammed in Argentina. See the scenery change as you descend from nearly 2000 m elevation down through eerie Mars-like basalt lava desert canyons of La Payunia reserve. Navigate challenging rapids and see the nature of the Cuyo and Patagonia. Although the first several days are on a river with frequent access points, the middle ~5 days will be in a more remote wilderness setting. The final ~3 days will be on an easier river in lower hot canyon country with the wind blowing us downstream. Help us in our mission to publicize this river's wonderful canyon to keep the river free-flowing without the dams that have been proposed (and one already approved for construction). Read more about this issue and sign a petition at: PETITION.

You might also consider joining a similar raft/kayak descent on the fine rafting river just to south: Río Neuquén.

The Río Grande-Colorado can be divided into about five sections: Upper Grande, Bardas Blancas Valley, Wilderness (Volcanic) Grande, Main Colorado and Lower Colorado. Most trips will cover the first four sections while others may cover all five sections or shorter parts. The Upper Grande is the most threatened with a series of 5 dams (the Portezuelo del Viento complex). The Wilderness Grande is the section that flows through the Payunia Reserve and is the most remote. The river has many access points possible aside from the Wilderness Grande section.

section km days class elevation m/km fpm note
UpperGrande 120 5-6 III-IV 2120-1420 m 5.8 32 fun whitewater; great hikes/scenery; road access lower parts
BardasValley 60 1-2 II 1420-1225 m 3.3 18 easy desert valley section ending with volcanic lava flow on RL
WildernessGrande 118 4 III-IV 1225-785 m 3.7 20 remote canyon; great hikes/scenery; Payunia Reserve; one V; one P
Main Colorado 87 2-3 II 785-585 m 2.3 13 desert to Rincón de los Sauces; downstream winds; nice crater hike
Lower Colorado 140 3-4 II 585-350 m 1.7 9 beautiful basalt canyon; downstream winds; to 25 De Mayo

Several Argentinian kayakers descended the ~30 km section betwen La Pasarela (P) and El Zampal (class V). There are no reported descents of the rest of the long remote Wilderness Grande or Upper Grande sections. Rocky Contos and Tomás Binimelis paddled much of the section in Oct2015. In Dec2016 the first full raft expedition group descended the first three sections of the river (SierraRios). The Lower Colorado has been descended by numerous individuals at times due to its easy nature and frequent access/proximity to Rincón de los Sauces and Veinticinco de Mayo.

Participants need no prior rafting experience as a raft passenger/paddler but everyone on the trip should be comfortable camping and have an easygoing attitude in order to get along with a diverse group on a multi-day trip for an extended period. All participants should be in good physical condition. We welcome competent boaters to paddle or row this river, but you need to have adequate and recent experience on comparably difficult rivers. If you are in charge of your own kayak or raft, you are responsible for what happens to you on the water and for the equipment you use. Every participant must sign a liability waiver.

Everyone joining SierraRios trips should have an interest in river conservation and help us on our mission to document the river further, talk to residents, and publicize the planned dams. You should plan to help facilitate the trip in any way possible, including transport of some gear down to the destination if necessary. You don't need to be bilingual but it is helpful and more fulfilling to communicate with local residents when we meet them.

The trip leader will have main authority when it comes to decisions for the group regarding river progress, camp, and other decisions affecting the group. If a participant has overestimated their ability to row or kayak, he/she may be mandated to ride on a raft, sit out days, and/or be assessed other penalties and in severely incompetent situations, not allowed on the multi-day part of the trip. Trip leader decisions can be vetoed by a majority vote of the group. Any participant always has the right to leave the trip if they so desire but refunds are at the discretion of the board.

We encourage everyone to sign a PETITION stating that you do not support construction of a series of 5 dams called the "Portezuelo del Viento" project. The project is already contentious, and government leaders need to hear that there is growing support to keep the river free-flowing for recreational and environmental use. There is strong opposition from the people of the province of La Pampa, mainly because the project is located in the province of Mendoza and they are planning to diver t ~35 m3/s out of the river and into the neighboring Río Atuel drainage (flowing down to San Rafael). There has been a lot of publicity about the project starting late 2015 through now. Below you'll find some links to more information on the dams.éctrico_Portezuelo_del_Viento


MENDOZA/SAN RAFAEL: Our main rendezvous will be San Rafael, located in Mendoza province. San Rafael is a 3hr drive to the southeast of the city of Mendoza and also in the main wine country. San Rafael has ~200,000 people, whileMendoza has roughly 1.1 million people in its metro area. The city of Mendoza is the capital of the eponymous province, known for its robust red wine often made from Malbec varietal grapes. Tourists to Mendoza or San Rafael often spend at least one day visiting wineries or other sites in the area (the Río Atuel is a popular day excursion close to San Rafael). Mendoza has an airport with service to Buenos Aires and Santiago, while San Rafael has service to Buenos Aires only.

Air travel: You might try booking your flight all the way through to Mendoza (MDZ) or San Rafael (AFA) - see But in general, international flights will generally land you in Santiago Chile (SCL) or Buenos Aires (BUE or EZE) and you might find better deals booking separately to one of these cities and then another local flight or bus. The Santiago-Mendoza flight is often very inexpensive (see SkyAirlines). The domestic flights from BUE-AFA or BUE-MDZ are more costly (see AerolineasArgentinas). Alternatively, a less costly but longer option is to take a bus from Santiago to Mendoza (7-8 hr; ~$25USD) or from Buenos Aires to Mendoza or San Rafael (14hr-16hr).


Grande-Colorado; 14 days
Day0 rendezvous in SanRafael; shopping; meet participants; Hotel Complejo Mi Sueño
Day1 to Grande put-in (270km paved + 70km dirt; 5hr); start rigging;  car camp 
Day2  Upper Grande: hike in Valle Hermoso; rig and launch; into Cajón Grande; km 0-15; 15 km class III-IV 
Day3  Upper Grande: through Cajón's toughest rapids (IV); km 30-55; 25 km class IV 
Day4  Upper Grande: gorgeous scenery and continuous II-III; camp Portazuelo del Viento; km 55-85; 30 km class III-IV 
Day5  Upper Grande: hike to cerro PDV; to Bardas Blancas km 85-121; 36 km class III 
Day6 Bardas Valley: optional excursion to Cueva La Bruja or paddle Bardas Valley section; km 101-161; 60 km class II 
Day7  Wilderness Grande: portage LaPasarela(P); camp in gorge section; hike; (km 162-172); 10 km class III(P)   
Day8  Wilderness Grande; hike and enjoy volcanic gorge; km 172-191; 20 km class III-IV
Day9   Wilderness Grande; arrive to and walk passengers around Zampal (V); km 191-211; 20 km class III-IV(V)
Day10  Wilderness Grande; narrows hike at camp; km 211-241; 30 km class III;  
Day11  Wilderness Grande; to near Barrancas confluence; km 241-281; 40 km class II-III
Day12  Colorado; km 281-330; waterfall canyon hike; 49 km class II
Day13  Colorado; km 330-380; into more open terrain; possible take-out; 50 km class II
Day14  Colorado; km 380-410; Volcán Los Loros crater; to Rincón de los Sauces; dinosaurs; return San Rafael; 30 km class II

Some trips may be converted to Río Neuquén depending on flow and group.  

Expected Progress:
We will generally paddle from ~9 am to 4 pm with some stops for side excursions. At normal higher spring season flows (Oct-Dec) the river is very fast so it is usually quite easy to cover 10 km/hr of class III water even in rafts as long as we are on the water focusing on downstream progress. Stops for hikes, scouts, flips, and water collection do cause signficant delays, but we should still easily cover the full distance in the allotted time if flows are average and we do not have unplanned delays. With average flows there should be plenty of time in camp. If flows are abnormally low, there may be less time for such activities. With extra time, we may arrange additional excursions.

If you have provided a deposit for the trip, you can access printable maps of the river with appropriate pass codes. Topo maps span the entire river with roads, rapids, features and potential beach camps marked. Otherwise, if you would like access to the maps, you can sign up as a member of SierraRios specifying you're interest in Argentina.

This trip is being run because it is one of the most incredible in the world and more paddler visitation is needed to help raise awareness. More ecotourism income to the region and appreciation of the natural resource will help stop the river's destruction with dams.
Our general pricing guidelines are found at the following link: Contribution guidelines: General

Once you get the go-ahead from Rocky, you will need to provide a deposit to reserve your place on the trip ($500). Full contribution must be received before the trip. See PAYMENTS for payment options and cancellation policy. Trips may be cancelled 3 months before launch if there is not enough interest (6-8 paying participants will assure a trip occurs).


Rocky Contos (scheduled trip leader), kayaked the Upper Neuquén and Grande-Colorado in Oct 2015 and led the first group rafting trips on these rivers in Dec2016. He also kayaked the first descents of Ríos Pilcomayo and Grande in 2015 and 2016 (Bolivia), and has also paddled most rivers in Peru and Mexico. In Peru this includes Ríos Cotahuasi, Colca, Cañete, as well as all of the upper Amazon headwater streams (Mantaro, Apurímac, Urubamba, and Marañon) as part of his Headwaters of the Amazon expedition. He discovered the most distant source of the Amazon [see articles C&K, Outside, Nat.Geo, FoxNews, LaRepublica]. He has explored nearly every river in Mexico including >100 first descents covering ~8,000 km of river and ~55,000 m of drop. Rocky is fluent in Spanish and has organized and guided many Grand Canyon length trips. Several articles have featured Rocky (American Whitewater; Kayak Session; Canoe & Kayak). While attaining his Ph.D. in neuroscience (see CV), Rocky worked as a kayak instructor and guide for UCSD's Outback adventures from 1993-1996 and gained valuable trip planning skills for large groups. 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 and throughout his years as a postdoctoral research associate, he organized and led numerous large group raft and kayak expeditions, including five through Grand Canyon (18-22 days), three on the Salmon River (4-10 days each), two on Río Mulatos-Aros (8-11 days), eight on Río Usumacinta (7-8 days each), eight on Río Marañon (14-30 days each), dozens to destinations such as the Salt, Kern, Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Thompson, Similkameen, and Baja California (2-6 days each). Rocky founded SierraRios with the goal of conserving the rivers of Latin America, and hopes that increased awareness and enjoyment of the resource will lead to protection. He is organizing all aspects of the trip. He likely will be kayaking but may row a raft.

(2) Other guides/trip leaders are to be decided, but likely will be selected from other SierraRios and Argentinian/Peruvian guides: Ariel Diaz, Tomás Binimelis, Lorenzo Bergamin, Luciano Lázaro, Gigo Castillo, Antonella Urbina, Pedro Peña, and Julio Baca.

(3) All oarsmen will be experienced river runners and raft captains guides with extensive experience. Non-experienced and less-experienced participants are welcome to inquire about joining as raft paddlers/passengers.

(click here)

(click here)

(click here)

A major aspect of safety on this trip is prevention of sickness and accidents. It is of utmost importance that you take all precautions necessary to avert sickness and complications while on the trip. For example, it is a good idea to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Tetanus [however, no vaccines are required].

All participants must assume responsibility for themselves and sign a liability waiver before the trip. We cannot guarantee against accidents. If you're an inexperienced boater, the trip leader and guides will advise you on saftey issues. If you are an experienced boater in control of your craft, you must accept the responsibility for what happens to you on the river. It is the experienced boater's responsibility to make appropriate decisions whether to run the rapid or not and to stay close to someone who can watch and oversee you. A certain level of freedom will be provided, but each such person must abide by trip leader requests, which may mandate not paddling certain rapids. If an accident occurs, we will do all in our power to help you, see that proper care is rendered, or evacuate you if need be.

We will have an Inmarsat satellite phone ($1.50/min for calls) and possibly a SPOT device. Anyone can see the latest SPOT position of the SierraRios trip if we utilize it.

BUGS / UV / SILT: UV rays from the sun can be intense so it is recommended that you use sunblock liberally. While few biting insects were encountered on the first reconnaissance trip, this aspect has not been determined so it is best to prepare with some repellent. However, due to the cooler evenings and covering up with clothing, you probably will have little skin area exposed. The main tough circumstance to deal with is the wind, which can often be strong in Patagonia. However, we will attempt to select camps with protection.

The trip occurs at temperate austral latitudes starting in relatively arid country at moderate elevation and ending at lower elevation full Patagonian desert. The weather is usually sunny and warm - phenomenally nicer than the cool often rainy summer weather of the Futaleufú and much sunnier/warmer than the even the weather along the Bío Bío. Average temperatures and/or river flows for several locations are presented below. Trips are run Oct-Jan which is the spring to early summer dry season with warming temperatures. Although it can be cool in October and even November, from Nov-Jan it will generally be hot in the day and cool at night. The water in the river is cold (10-15oC) so usually a drytop will make kayaking more comfortable during bigger rapid days, and a paddle jacket and pants will make rafting more comfortable. As one progresses to lower elevations, the temperatures increase. Winds can be strong at times, but the prevailing direction is to the east so they will often be blowing downstream. While few biting insects were encountered on the first reconnaissance trip, this aspect has not been determined so it is best to prepare with some repellent. However, due to the cooler evenings and covering up with clothing, you probably will have little skin area exposed.

Water in Río Neuquén in spring to early summer comes mostly from snowmelt but also from springs. The snowpack in the region is a good predictor of general flow levels this time of year. The 2013-2015 spring seasons had much lower than average flows. Flows during the spring snowmelt period fluctuate with temperatures as well as with the occasional rains. Warm temperatures, long days, and high flows are desirable on this expedition, so our trips will generally be run November to January, but sometimes may start in October.

Station Ene Feb Mar Abr May Jun Jul Ago Sep Oct Nov Dic - Avg
ChosMalal (974m) temp(C) 31 30 27 22 17 13 13 15 18 23 27 29 - 72
temp(C) 12 11 8 5 3 1 1 1 3 6 9 11 - 56
precip(mm) 10 10 11 17 42 36 32 30 15 13 10 9 - 237
---------------------------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- - --------
temp(F) 88 87 81 72 63 56 55 59 65 73 80 85 - 72
temp(F) 54 52 47 41 38 34 33 34 37 42 48 51 - 56
precip(in) 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.7 1.7 1.4 1.3 1.2 0.6 0.5 0.4 0.4 - 9.1
---------------------------- ----- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- - --------
Grande (BardasBl.) est. cms 120 70 50 40 40 40 40 40 45 80 150 160 - 144
cfs 4100 2500 1700 1400 1400 1400 1400 1400 1600 2800 5200 5700 - 5100
---------------------------- ----- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- - --------
Colorado (ButaRanquil) cms 231 140 96 78 81 83 77 79 89 159 294 318 - 144
cfs 8200 5000 3400 2700 2800 2900 2700 2800 3200 5600 10400 11300 - 5100

See boats available in Argentina. We will be augmenting the fleet later this year with more kayaks and rafts.


"XX - this trip has not been offered before; see other trip comments for a general idea: e.g. Full Comment "