RÍO LACANJÁ-LACANTÚN: Pristine Jungle River

106 km (66 miles), class III-IV, 6-8 days

Dec20 (2016); rendezvous in Villahermosa/Palenque. RESERVE

Río Lacanjá offers one of the best tropical jungle wilderness floats in the world. Experience jungle wildlife up close, run dozens of small travertine ledges, and explore the amazing ruins of Bonampak, Lacanjá, and Landeros! The final days of the trip are on Ríos Lacantún and the upper Usumacinta, ending at Frontera, from which you can continue on the Main Usumacinta. This trip is suitable for intermediate kayakers. Some raft passengers can be accommodated.

Slideshow: Lacanjá1 (2011)
Slideshow: Lacanjá2 (2011)
Slides: Upper Usumacinta (2010)
VIDEO: Dec2012 trip


Río Lacanjá is a small tributary of Río Lacantún, which is one of two rivers forming the mighty Usumacinta. Río Lacanjá flows through the Reserva Montes Azules, a protected jungle reserve with old growth forests and little disturbance. It is one of the few remaining intact jungle areas in Central America. Jungle wildlife is abundant. We will have a local Lacandón guide with us, as stipulated by the tribe.

Our journey will traverse the entire length of Río Lacanjá in IKs, kayaks and rafts. We will spend 7 days paddling down the 86 km of the small jungle river to the confluence with the Lacantún. Enroute, we'll stop to explore the ruins of Lacanjá, Bonampak, and Landeros. On the river, there are numerous travertine ledge rapids up to 2.5 m high, but each has a great recovery pool and can be handled by class III paddlers. There is one portage of a class V+ drop on the lower half. Novice paddlers can come and paddle on the raft. To get a better idea of the trip, watch a video of the 2012 trip.

Once we finish the Lacanjá, we face 20 km on the fast-flowing but flat Lacantún to the first access point at Quirinqüicharo, then another 30 km to a bridge and access point at Puente Benemérito, where we can have passenger exchanges. Not far past the bridge, the Lacantún joins Río Chixoy officially forming Río Usumacinta, and flows 50 km to Frontera. There are several attractions in this section, including the inscription ruins at El Planchón, the travertine waterfalls at El Chorro, and a small canyon with big water class II rapids. After 3 days on the Lacantun and upper Usumacinta, we'll arrive at Frontera, where we'll rendezvous with others and exchange passengers for the journey down the main Usumacinta. All in all, if you do the entire Lacanjá-Lacantún-Usumacinta, you'll be paddling down 328 km (203 miles) of river over 18 days, a Grand Canyon-length of trip through amazing jungle. [86 km Lacanjá+100 Lacantún/UpperUsumacinta +142 Main Usumacinta = 328 km]

OTHER ATTRACTIONS: Chiapas is full of natural wonders and Mayan ruins. See this slideshow for a taste of a few main attractions. While you are down here, you definitely will want to visit the ruins of Palenque and possibly also check out some other paddling runs. Greg Schwendinger's MayanWhitewater.com website has descriptions of many runs, including class III Río Chocoljá and class III Río Shumuljá. There may be a few days of class III-V kayaking before or after the trip. Also, if you are competent enough (class IV or V kayaker), you might consider joining Rocky for kayak descents of Ríos Santo Domingo, Paxilhá, Agua Azul, lower Tulijá, or possibly some new exploratories.

The itinerary is modifiable, especially if you make your deposit early and/or your group consists of most people on the trip. Please describe what you'd like to do, and we may make changes. Otherwise, this is the planned schedule.

DAY 0: everyone meets in Palenque; night in Hotel Lacandon or other
DAY 1: drive to put-in at Lacanjá Chansayab; rig and paddle to first camp close to put-in: class III; ~2 km
DAY 2: more travertine drops; arrive Bonampak camp; class III-IV; ~8 km
DAY 3: hike to and explore Bonampak ruins; paddle in afternoon; ~6 km
DAY 4: machete-whacking through flat brush-choked channels; arrive Ruinas Landeros; class II; ~12 km
DAY 5: visit Ruinas Landeros; paddle pristine jungle rio; class III; ~25 km
DAY 6: many travertine drops, some IV; arrive and portage Cascada Reina; camp; class III-IV; ~20 km
DAY 7: end Río Lacanja (~20 km); paddle ~20 km on Lacantún to Quiringuicharo; class II; ~40 km

[possible to END TRIP at Quiringuïcharo]
DAY 8: pass Puente Benemérito; El Planchón; pass Chixoy confluence; ~35 km
DAY 9: upper Cañon Usumacinta; class IIs; arrive to/near Frontera; ~30 km
DAY 10: meet Usu group; rig/start Usu trip

Depending on the group's goals, it is possible to end the trip at Quiringuïcharo or continue downstream to Puente Benemérito and/or Frontera. If continuing on the main Usumacinta, it is nice to paddle the entire distance.

he price includes getting you from Palenque to Lacanjá Chansayab (the put-in) and back to Palenque from the take-out. Palenque is a small city with many hotels and restaurants and is the base for many travelers visiting the ruins of Palenque, Bonampak, Yaxchilán, and the Cascadas Agua Azul and Misol-Ha. If arriving by plane, there are several airports to consider flying to:

Palenque (Pal), has an airport and Interjet started service from Mexico City several times per week in February 2014. However, if flying from the USA, it might be easier to fly into Villahermosa.

Villahermosa (VSA), a 2.0 hr drive/bus ride from Palenque. VSA is serviced by United, Continental, American, AeroMexico and other Mexico-based carriers (also as partner airlines). If several of the group are arriving at VSA airport, we'll arrange to pick you up (a little extra fee). If you drive down, you can meet us in Palenque and get a significant discount for use of your vehicle in shuttle.

Tuxtla Gutiérrez (TGZ), the capital of Chiapas, is approximately a 5 hr drive from Palenque. The route between Tuxtla and Palenque passes San Cristóbal de las Casas, a charming colonial city very popular with tourists, and the Cascadas Agua Azul, another of the major tourist destinations in the region.

Cancún (CUN) has international flights from just about everywhere, is serviced by most international US carriers, and generally is the most inexpensive to fly to. Although it is pretty far away (~11 hr by bus to get to Palenque), you would get to see more of the attractions on the Yucatán peninsula, including it's famed beaches, cenotes, and various other Mayan sites (Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, and Tulúm, for example) before or after the trip.

This trip is being run to increase appreciation of the river and help preserve this unique natural resource. We welcome everyone: raft passengers, raft paddlers, raft rowers, kayakers, IKers, and guides. The pricing policy has been carefully considered and takes into account the costs associated with running the trip, the services offered, and what other outfitters charge for similar long multi-day trips. While typical rates are ~$4000 for a 14-day Grand Canyon trip or ~$2000 for a 6-day MF Salmon River trip, you can see that our rates for similar length trips where everything is taken care of are considerably lower:

Contribution guidelines: General

We strongly encourage potential participants to offer the general contribution rate if possible. Special discounts are sometimes offered to folks on our email list, so you are encouraged to sign up (Email List info).

Reduced rates may also be granted to certain participants with more limited financial means. This can be to raft guides, safety kayakers, and experienced oarsmen willing to work on the trip, to journalists or filmmakers who can help with publicity, and to anti-dam activists who will be instrumental in protecting the river. Please send an inquiry if you would like to be considered for a reduced rate, and consider what folks might pay for basic Outfitting Services.

If interested in joining a trip, start a discussion by sending Rocky a note (reservations@sierrarios.org) stating how you found out about the trip and a little background info about you and your paddling experience and what dates might work for you. Once you get the go-ahead from Rocky, you will need to provide a deposit to reserve your place on the trip. The balance must be received prior to trip commencement. See PAYMENTS for payment options.

A trip will definitely occur with a minimum of 4 participants. Other launch dates can be arranged for groups of 4 or more. For small groups wishing to minimize costs by sharing some expenses, we can list the additional launch date here tentatively to see if others might be interested in joining to make a full trip.

We reserve the right to cancel the trip 2+ months in advance. This generally will occur only if there are not enough folks signed up (<12). If we cancel the trip, all deposits and payments will be refunded. 

If you must cancel, you'll get your money back if you find someone to take your place on the trip. If you don't find someone, we may allow much of the payment to be applied to a future trip (at our discretion). The amount depends on the circumstances surrounding the cancellation.

(1) Rocky Contos is a potential trip leader. He is fluent in Spanish, explored nearly every river in Mexico, solo kayaked the entire Jataté-Lacantún-Usumacinta in early 2010, successfully led six raft/kayak trips down the Usumacinta (e.g. see Dec2011 and Jan2012, kayaked the entire Lacanja in 2011 (Lacanjá1 and Lacanjá2) and led a successful Lacanjá expedition in 2012, wrote the guidebook to the Sierra Madre Occidental, and is preparing guidebooks for the rest of Mexico. In Mexico, he has ~200 probable first descents covering ~8,000 km of river and ~55,000 m of drop. He also discovered the most distant source of the Amazon and made the complete first descent of the entire river and all the headwater streams. He has paddled over 150 multi-day journeys on rivers, with dozens in the range of 5-22 days. While attaining his Ph.D. in neuroscience, 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 numerous large group raft and kayak expeditions, including five through Grand Canyon (18-22 days), three on the Salmon River (5-10 days each), and dozens to destinations such as the Salt, Kern, Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Thompson, Similkameen, and Baja (2-6 days each). Rocky founded SierraRios with the goal of conserving the rivers of Latin America. He will captain a raft or safety kayak as necessary.

(2) Alejandro Quiroga (tentative trip leader) is a rafting/climbing/general guide who lives in San Cristobal, has paddled/guided the Lacanjá several times, and co-guided the 2012 SierraRios Lacanjá trip. Alejandro will likely be guiding his 14' NRS raft on the trip with paddlers and gear onboard.

(3) Mario Chambor or Adolfo Chankin (local Lacandon guides). As stipulated by the Lacandon tribe, we will arrange for a Lacandon native to accompany us all the way to the Lacantún. This guide will provide additional information on the tribe's customs, point us to ruins, and describe the flora/fauna of the jungle.

(4) Safety kayaker. To be determined.

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Several folks on the trip, including me, are trained in wilderness first aid, and we can provide medical attention to injuries.  We will have one major first aid kit and one minor kit.  Our first aid kit will have some pharmaceuticals such as ibuprofen, anti-allergy pills, immodium, and possibly antibiotics, but if you think you might suffer from something in particular, please bring yourself (especially a dose of ciprofloxacin or similar if you can get it easily).  Probably the most common ailment folks suffer from sometimes is gastrointestinal distress or traveler's diarrhea.  You should try to minimize chances of suffering from it by avoiding potentially dirty foods before and during the trip. If you do end up suffering diarrhea, vomiting, nausea more than a day, you might consider taking ciprofloxacin for a few days  (this generally makes the problem go away quickly).

For more information on recommended vaccinations and other health issues, visit the CDC page for travelers and select your country to visit: in this case "Mexico" or "Guatemala".  Anyone traveling to Chiapas should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. You might consider Rabies immunization as well, and taking anti-Malaria medicine. 

The violence in Mexico surrounding the drug war has been in the news a lot in the past three years. The violence is generally restricted to drug traffickers (narcos) and those associated with them, including law enforcement. As such, 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. Note that Río Lacanjá, in particular, is one of the safest in Mexico as it flows through a biosphere reserve with no drug activity and nobody around.
This river has never experienced the assaults previously common on the Usumacinta and never had suspicious residents stopping tourists (like on the Jataté and various other rivers in Chiapas and Guatemala).

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, 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 SPOT device for emergency communicaton and/or a satellite phone for emergencies and changes of plan.

The dates of this trip coincide with generally medium levels on the Lacanjá, allowing for good progress and filling in the rapids well. Although this river can fluctuate, the average flow in December in the past has been ~30-50 cms (1000-1600 cfs). On the Lacantún the flow averages 700 cms (24000 cfs). In general December is one of the drier months of the year with more sunshine and higher temperatures, but this rainforest can always be wet and cool. Expect 2-3 days with rain. In general, highs will be 23-30oC (76-86oF) and lows 18-22oC (64-72oF), but it can be cooler during rainy weather.


"Just wanted to say thanks again for the awesome trip. I've never been on a jungle river before and now I can't wait to do another one. A really incredible experience." [2012 Lacanjá trip]
Sam Morrison, guide for R.O.W. in Idaho and kayaker on Lacanjá

"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 www.TouchTheTop.com )

"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 www.TheModernGypsies.com)

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

"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 www.MayanWhitewater.com)

"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