Rio Huallaga guided raft/kayak expedition: 14 days, up to 712 km, class II-III; JOIN US!

RÍO HUALLAGA: Big Amazon Jungle Adventure

up to 712 km (442 miles), class II-III, up to 21 days; cost TBD

Dates TBD: rendezvous in Lima . APPLY

If you are a beginner or intermediate kayaker or even just want to relax on a raft in the jungle, consider joining our expedition down one of the biggest rivers in Peru: Río Huallaga. This raftable section starts at Tingo Maria and continues to Yurimaguas 712 km downstream with occasional mild whitewater. Come share with us an unforgettable experience touring through the Amazon jungle area of Peru on a river with a smattering of class II-III rapids, interesting side hikes, caves, villages, and lot of jungle wildlife.



Río Huallaga, like the Marañon, is one of the biggest and longest rivers in the Americas. It courses north over about 1/3 of the length of the Peru in the low jungle part of the eastern Andes. See satellite images of the river starting at Tingo Maria at this link: Google Maps

The average gradient of the river from Tingo Maria to Yurimaguas is 0.7 m/km (4 ft/mile). Gradient is highest in the canyon section between Puente Pizana and Juanjui (1.3 m/km or 7 ft/mile), where there are likely class II rapids (possibly some IIIs). This is an easy river suitable for novice and intermediate paddlers. Former descriptions of the river are somewhat vague but most were successful without mishap. Part of the purpose of this trip is to accurately document the river features.

The Huallaga passes through both open valley and canyon as it flows north from Tingo Maria. The main canyon sections are called "pongos". The first isolated canyon starts just after Puente Pizana and lasts for ~100 km. The second (after Juanjui) lasts about 80 km and includes the the Pongo de Aguirre. Campsites look plentiful and amazing nearly all the way down. There are several known caves that would make interesting excursions.

Basic stats: Listed for access point and section below it:

km location elevation avg. flow July gradient difficulty description (e.g. from Puchka down)
0 uppermost 4600 m - 28 m/km (154 fpm) V-VI headwaters; small & steep
52 Yanahuanca 3150 m 10 cms (350 cfs) 16 m/km (87 fpm) V great rapids on Río Huertas
120 Ambo 2070 m 30 cms (1000 cfs) 5 m/km (29 fpm) III valley by Huánuco
171 Churubamba 1800 m 50 cms (1600 cfs) 10 m/km (56 fpm) V dreaded Huallaga Gorge
284 Tingo Maria 640 m 240 cms (8000 cfs) 0.8 m/km (4.2 fpm) II mostly flat; a few rapids
521 Puerto Pizana 460 m 700 cms (24000 cfs) 1.3 m/km (7.1 fpm) II-III mostly flat; a few rapids
672 Juanjui 260 m 1800 cms (63000 cfs) 0.4 m/km (2.2 fpm) II Pongo de Aguirre; at least three class II-III
996 Yurimaguas 130 m 7000 cms (250000 cfs) 0.7 m/km (3.9 fpm) I flat
1219 Marañon conf. 114 m 9000 cms (315000 cfs) - -

Expected Progress:
We do not anticipate paddling the entire 712 km raftable distance in 14 days, which would require an average of 51 km/day. Instead, we will focus on the more interesting sections of river - primarily from Puente Pizana down. Even from Puente Pizana to Yurimaguas is 475 km, which would mean an average of 34 km/day. It might be possible to take out just past the Pongo de Aguirre to shorten the trip to just 370 km. We will have to see how we are progressing and make the call of where we will take-out once on the river. Each of the town access points has stores/food so we will resupply at one of them.

The trip occurs at low elevation tropical latitudes in the jungle dry season. Average annual precipitation is about 2000-3000 mm (80-120 in). Days will be hot (30-32oC/86-90oF). Nights will be warm (20-25oC/68-77oF). We might have some rain even though this is the dry season.

Peru is a travel-friendly country that readily offers tourist permits for up to 90 days. Flights would be into Lima. You should be vaccinated against Yellow Fever, Typhoid, and Hepatitis A. You will be traveling into a malaria area as well so you might consider bringing anti-malaria medication.

Prior descents:
The river has had several descents in the past centuries but not many in the past few decades:
1560 Aguirre's expedition: started near Juanjui and passed downstream through Pongo de Aguirre

1834 Smyth and Lowe (English) and Beltran/Azarate (Peruvian) expedition
1851 Herndon expedition (USA) started from Tingo Maria
1949 Udesco-sponsored raft expedition: This trip included scientists documenting flora and fauna.

You must be a jovial person who doesn't complain much and is likely to get along with others on a small Grand Canyon-style trip for up to two weeks. You must expect surprises on the water, with rapids, villagers, etc. You should be in top physical condition and willing to push forward even if you are suffering from mild illness such as cold or traveller's diarrhea. You should plan to help facilitate the trip in any way possible, including transport of some gear down to Peru and to the river if necessary. You may be asked to carry a bag on your IK depending on space on the raft.

The policy we will take on the trip is that the trip leader will have main authority when it comes to decisions for the group regarding river progress, camp and expeditures. However, trip leader decisions can be vetoed by >60% vote of the group. Any participant always has the right to leave the trip if they so desire. If a participant is deemed a liability to the trip due to less-than-adequate skills or other personality conflict issues, you may be asked to leave the trip early.

Part of the purpose of this trip is to find and document interesting locales along the river such as caves, side canyons, waterfalls, ruins, and beaches. We will ask local residents to direct us to these, and also can figure out where some are from maps/satellite imagery. Aside from the river trip, there are some cool places to visit in northern Peru, including thermal baths, lakes, natural wonders [such as the Catarata de Gocta; 771 m high and one of the tallest waterfalls in the world], as well as many ruins such as Caral, the oldest known city in the Americas (near Barrancas on the coast), Keulap, the Machu Picchu equivalent of the Chacahpoyas culture (near Chachapoyas), and Chavín de Huantar, a site worth a stop enroute to the Puchka put-in.

Rocky already has all topo maps of the entire river. When you sign on to the trip, you will gain access to them so you can view and print out a copy for yourself.

Aug1: arrive Lima; meet trip leader; hotel
Aug2: take bus to Tingo Maria (10 hr)
Aug3: rig and launch
Aug4-14: progress down river; we may want to skip some flat sections or shuttle up a trib for more action
Aug14: Take-out
Aug15: Free to explore more or make way back to Lima

The main rendezvous will be in Lima. Starting from Lima, we will arrive to the put-in by bus, first to Tingo Maria (10 hr), and then then to Puente Pizana. We will rig there and depart on the river.

This trip may be organized in the future for various groups or can be organized as a privately outfitted trip. If you're interested, send send Rocky a note describing a little about your group and what you'd like to accomplish.

If you are interested in this trip, send Rocky a note.

As of XX, our group total stands at X (we can handle 8-12 total). If we are full, you should still send a note of your interest in case things change. Be sure to send Rocky a message with a little info about you.


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, you'll probably get your money back, but we reserve the right to keep a percentage of your deposit according to the following guidelines:
5% if you cancel >40 days before the trip
50% if you cancel 20-40 days before the trip
100% if you cancel <20 days before of the trip


(1) Rocky Contos, the trip leader, has explored nearly every river in Mexico including >100 first descents covering ~8,000 km of river and ~55,000 m of drop, and is turning his attention to Peru. He will have been paddling in Peru for 2 months prior to this trip (including Ríos Mantaro, Apurímac, Urubamba, Huallaga, Colca, Cotahuasi, and Tambo). He plans to prepare a guidebook to Peru and offer the Marañon raft-support trip in the future. He is fluent in Spanish and has paddled over 150 multi-day journeys on rivers, with dozens in the range of 5-22 days. 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 has organized 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), two on Río Usumacinta (7 days each), and dozens to destinations such as the Salt, Kern, Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Thompson, Similkameen, and Baja California (2-6 days each). Rocky has dreamed of rafting the Marañon for over 10 years and has all the maps and information. 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 rowing a large cataraft with gear and passengers, but may safety kayak if a competent rower is availlable.

(2) Barbara Conboy, is Rocky's wife and a class IV paddler. She is fluent in Spanish and has joined many expeditions including two first descents with Rocky on Ríos Balleza (Chihuahua) and Atoyac (Veracruz). Barb will be kayaking, in an IK, or a passenger on the raft. Read a little more about Barb here.

Food will be planned and purchased in Lima and/or Tingo Maria and at our main resupply point midway down at Juanjui. You will have a say in what we bring. Generally, you can choose cereals/fruits/etc for breakfast. We may plan sandwiches or other items for lunch. Dinners will be communal and consist of rice, potatoes, pastas, and whatever else we can find appealing in Peru. [sorry, we won't be eating guinea pig!] Rocky does not eat red meat, Barb does not eat red meat or poultry, and Boris has no restrictions. To have an idea of what types of food we generally bring, see below:

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. There will also be drink mixes available, such as Gatorade, iced tea mix, or lemonade.

Lunch: Items typically available are trail mix, dried fruits, energy bars, chips, cookies, and sandwiches. Sandwiches can vary: early in trip maybe ham/turkey, cheese, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, mustard, mayo; later maybe tunafish; always PB&J). There may be wraps or pita/hummus type food one day. We will have many dates available (produced in the nearby desert).

Dinner: Rocky’s dinner menu usually includes selections from the following types of food: Mexican (tamales, chile rellenos or tacos along with beans/tortillas/guacamole/chips/salsa and possibly tortilla soup), Italian (pasta with marinara, pesto, or alfredo sauce, parmesan cheese, chorizo and/or sauteed squash; salad), Indian (Tasty Bites, curried lentils, couscous or rice), American (turkey, steak, and/or salmon; mashed potatos, sweet potatos, corn, gravy), and maybe Greek/Asian. Meat will always be prepared separate. The meal plan will be sent out about a week before the trip.

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

Alcoholic beverages are not included in the price of the trip. We can carry some for you.

We will bring filters and treatment products and provide safe drinking water on the entire expedition. The river often runs with a lot of silt and takes more effort to convert to clear drinking water than many of the clear side arroyos. The arroyos with little or no habitation contain pristine water that is usually much safer to drink and doesn't clog filters. A common method used is to treat with hypochlorite, but we may also use iodine, filters, or boiling before drinking. Water will be transported in one 5-gallon container. You should have your own water bottle (or two).

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, washing dishes, fire duties, and burning trash. 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 and rig/de-rig at the start/end of the trip. A few individuals may be designated to help with specific camp set-up chores. Two individuals will be assigned to help with food preparation and two others to 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. We will make sure the camp is left just as we found it or better. SierraRios trips practice leave-no-trace as much as possible. We do not leave ashes or trash at any camp and try to clean up trash we find. Those who pay their deposits early have the advantage of signing up for the chores they prefer. If you have no preference for chores, let Rocky know a few things about you so he can assign appropriate ones:

-Do you really enjoy preparing food or specific things like pancakes?
-Are you more of a night-owl or a morning person?
-Do you have pyromaniac tendencies?
-Are you willing to set-up/deal with a groover station?
-Do you prefer to wash dishes?

Duty list:
Kitchen set-up:

Kitchen pack-up:

Groover set-up/take-down:

Dishes: 2 individuals each time:
Food prep: 2 individuals each time:

Fire and Trash/TP burn:

For bathing, the river and side streams will be warm enough to use on the trip. You can bath directly in the river using biodegradable soap. We may also have a solar shower, which may be preferable as the soap goes into the dirt and decomposes there instead of in the river. Please wash and bath with a minimal amount of soap/shampoo and try not to leave foamy residues for others in the camp to find.

Toilet: Urinating should be done directly into the river or away from camp and out of sight of others. We will not be bringing a toilet system on this trip. We may use a designated latrine. The latrine will be excavated away from the camp. A paddle across the path indicates the spot is occupied; an upright paddle indicates it is not. TP and a TP bag will be by the latrine. TP should be placed in the bag for later burning. A wash station will be nearby - always wash your hands afterward. The latrine will be covered with dirt in the morning before we take off on the river.

Alternatively, you may also find your own place to away from camp to somewhere above the high-water line, dig a hole 4-6” deep, and cover your feces. A kayak paddle can come in handy in this regard. Carry your TP back and put in the TP trash bag or burn it at the spot and bury the ashes with the feces.

The Sendero Luminoso was a terrorist group in Peru operating over the past 30 years. However, they were weakened enormously and in the past few years were only based near the upper Huallaga and Ene. In the past few years, all major leaders have been caught or killed. The one main leader, Comrade Artemio, announced in late 2011 that the war had been lost. He was captured in early 2012. Read story here. We do not anticipate any problems with terrorists. However, there have been reports of robberies of boaters along parts of the lower Huallaga. We will do what we can to avoid such assault.

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. You should be vaccinated against Yellow Fever, Typhoid, and Hepatitis A. You might consider taking anti-malaria medication if you do not plan to use insect repellent or protect yourself adequately from mosquitos. We 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, or evacuate you if need be. Rocky is a trained Wilderness First Responder. We are not planning to have a satellite phone, but if you can contribute one, we may offer a little reimbursement from the group fund.

Most days we will launch around 10 am, stop for lunch around noon, and be at camp around 5 pm. There may be an interesting hike we'll allow time for in the morning, lunch, or after landing.

The Huallaga varies more seasonally up above Tingo Maria than down in the jungle areas since there is more consistent rainfall throughout the year in the jungle. Average flows at different points along the river are listed below in the table for both a dry-season month (July) and the highest wet-season month (March).

km location elevation avg. flow July avg. flow March
0 uppermost 4600 m - -
52 Yanahuanca 3150 m 10 cms (350 cfs) 50 cms (1700 cfs)
120 Ambo 2070 m 30 cms (1000 cfs) 150 cms (5000 cfs)
171 Churubamba 1800 m 50 cms (1600 cfs) 250 cms (8000 cfs)
284 Tingo Maria 640 m 150 cms (5000 cfs) 900 cms (32000 cfs)
521 Puerto Pizana 460 m 500 cms (18000 cfs) 2100 cms (73000 cfs)
672 Juanjui 260 m 1000 cms (35000 cfs) 4000 cms (140000 cfs)
996 Yurimaguas 130 m 2500 cms (90000 cfs) 6000 cms (210000 cfs)
1219 Marañon conf. 114 m 3000 cms (100000 cfs) 7000 cms (250000 cfs)


You will need to pack appropriately for spending several weeks out in the wilderness. Although it will generally be quite warm on the trip, it can get cool at nights and during thunderstorms. Come prepared for both. During travel up to the altiplano you may also experience cold temperatures, so have some warm clothes as well. Your camp gear will be transported down the river in one large drybag. You should bring an additional small drybag for day-accessed items; this will go in your kayak or (if a rafter) on the raft. We can provide these, but it is probably better to get your own and see how all your gear packs into it beforehand. The best size for your one large drybag is about 3800-4600 (such as Bill's 2.2 DryBag or the NRS Duffel). Do not pack excessively. These sizes are large enough to fit a 2-person tent, Therm-a-rest chair, light sleeping bag, 2 changes clothes, dry shoes, toiletries, headlamp, reading material, with a little extra space. There are larger drybags out there (e.g., 3.8 cu.ft/ but if you bring one this size, you should expect it not to be full – rather, it should be very easy to close and your additional small drybag should fit inside. It is in your best interest not to overpack your drybag because it often causes lack of proper sealing and consequent leaking if dunked.

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)
-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)


16' NRS cataraft
16' Rocky Mountain Raft self-bailer (w/frame)
Kayak: Prijon Rockit

Kayak: Liquid Logic Stomper
Kayak: Liquid Logic Jefe
Kayak: Pyranha H3 245
Inflatable kayak: NRS Bandit II
Inflatable kayak: Tributary Tomcat

If you reserve a boat, you can paddle it most of the time, but expect to switch off in the easier sections of river when others might want to try paddling/rowing. If you've ever done a Grand-type trip, you should know that it is often comfortable for kayakers to hang out on a raft some of the time on flatter sections - or row some. Appropriate experienced oarsman will be welcomed.

You might consider bringing your own kayak or inflatable kayak. You may get a discount for that if they are needed (i.e. the boats available are not occupied).

The boats will remain in Peru after this trip. If you would like to do some boating after the raft trip, you can rent them.



"Hi Rocky, Thanks again for a sensational and unforgettable trip. You did such an amazing job organizing. I especially am psyched to have met you and to have another kayak friend/guide to work with. You guiding me off the waterfall was a big highlight... Erik."
[2011b Usumacinta trip]
Erik Weihenmayer, blind mountaineer/author and budding kayaker (see )

"You led one of the best trips I've ever been on... and I've been on a lot. " [2011b Usumacinta trip]
Chris Wiegand, former olympic runner and C1 paddler, founder of Sportainability and guide for Erik Weihenmayer

"Thanks for everything man, it was a trip of a lifetime ... We´ll be in touch and I look forward to conquering new rivers in the future. Salud, Eric" [2011b Usumacinta trip]
Eric Bach, Modern Gypsy (see

"Hey Rocky, Thanks for the great trip... Looking forward to another trip down the road. John"
[2011b Usumacinta trip]
John Post, Modern Gypsy (see

"Great synopsis of a fabulous trip. Expect to hear more from Team Weihenmayer in the future... Cheers, Rob. " [2011b Usumacinta trip]
Rob Raker, climber extraordinaire and guide for Erik Weihenmayer (also see here)

"Thanks again for the great tour and the late-night excitement, Greg" [2011a Usumacinta trip]
Greg Scwhendinger, kayak explorer of Chiapas and Central America (see

"Thanks for everything, Rocky! What a blast that all was.  When's our next trip?!! -Suzy" [2011b Usumacinta trip]
Suzy Garren (Oakland, CA), former Grand Canyon trip participant.

[2011 Mulatos-Aros trip]
ike Doktor (Portland, OR), former raft guide for Ken Warren Expeditions