Rio Neuquén (Argentina) raft/kayak expedition: 7+7 days, 212 miles, class III; JOIN US!

RÍO NEUQUÉN: Patagonia's finest rafting river

419 km (212 miles), class III-IV then II, 14 days

launches: Nov28 (2018) RESERVE

Río Neuquén is one of the finest whitewater rivers in Argentina. Located in the the northern part of Patagonia, the river is fed by snowmelt in the Andes just across from the Bío Bío and Ñuble drainages. On this expedition, we'll descend the river from it's main source at Lago Vavarco, enjoy hot springs and class III-IV rapids for several days, and then paddle an easy wilderness section of the river through amazing Patagonian desert canyon. See a short video. You might also consider the nearby Grande-Colorado expedition.



Río Neuquén begins at the confluence of Ríos Vavarco and Pichi Neuquén at 1200m elevation in the northern Patagonian Andes of Argentina's Neuquén province. Fed by snows from winter storms on the east side of the BioBio and Ñuble drainages, this river grows to a size of nearly half the volume of the Colorado in Grand Canyon by the take-out at Paso de los Indios. The first week of this expedition will have class III and IV days (and perhaps a little optional V), followed by a remote 6-day wilderness canyon class II adventure. See more of what the river is like at the SLIDESHOW or a short VIDEO (upper) and VIDEO (wilderness).

Join us for a raft/kayak descent of this river and experience one of the finest raftable whitewater rivers that remain undammed in Argentina. See the scenery change you descend from the high elevation of Lago Vavarco down to Paso de los Indios. Navigate challenging rapids in the first week as we progress downstream and feel the river swell from additional tributaries. Enjoy hot springs and other accessible camps along the river in the first week, with a change to wilderness solitude in the second week. And help us in our mission to publicize this river's wonderful canyon to keep the river free-flowing without the dams that will inevitably be planned to drown the entire canyon.

You might also consider joining a similar raft/kayak descent on the threatened volcanic river just to north: Grande-Colorado. Please sign a PETITION related to the dams on this river.

The Río Vavarco-Neuquén trip can be divided into two main sections: Upper Neuquén and Wilderness Neuquén. SierraRios trips will have a potential passenger exchange at the midway point (Day 6 or 7 of the 13-day trip) in Chos Malal for those who can only make it on the first or second week.

section km days class elevation m/km fpm note
Vavarco 60 2 IV 2080-1300 m 14 70 expert kayakers and class IV-V rafters; very challenging
UpperNeuquén 140 5 III 1300-600 m 5 30 delightful raftable canyon; frequent class II and III; lots of play
Wilderness Neuquén 219 6 II 600-350 m 1.3 7 easy section with incredible desert canyon and hikes


The Wilderness Neuquén section was descended in the 1990s by some Argentinians (AraucaniaRafting expedition). There are no reported descents of the upper Neuquén sections or Río Vavarco aside from Oct2015 when Rocky Contos and Tomás Binimelis paddled much of the Upper Neuquén.

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. 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.


CHOS MALAL: Our main rendezvous will be Chos Malal, the closest town of any significance and located along the Neuquén between the Upper and Wilderness sections.

MENDOZA: We plan to have a van pick up participants in the city of Mendoza just before the trip and bring them to Chos Malal. Mendoza is the capital of the eponymous province, known for its robust red wine made from Malbec varietal grapes.

Air travel: International flights will generally land you in Santiago (SCL - Chile) or Buenos Aires (BUE -Argentina). If you fly to Santiago, you can take a bus to Mendoza (about 5 hr). If you fly to Buenos Aires, it is a 12 hr bus ride to Neuquen and Chos Malal or you can get a domestic flight to Neuquén (then 3 hr drive to Chos Malal) or Mendoza. Regional flights are generally best booked on SKY, AerolineasArgentinas, or using

Passport/Visa: Argentina welcomes tourists from the USA, Latin America and Europe (see Argentina Visa policy). General information on travel to Argentina is available at the US State Dept. Citizens of the United States, Canada, and Australia generally have been required to pay a reciprocity fee to obtain a visa for tourist visits of up to 90-days, but as of March 2016 the $160 reciprocity fee for US citizens has been suspended (see Reciprocity fee). Although there are forms to fill out, tourist visits Argentina are relatively straightforward but you will need a passport with expiration date of >6 months later than your planned visit (see Argentina Embassy).


Upper Neuquén; class IV then III; 7 days
Rendezvous with group in Mendoza or San Rafael ; HOTEL
Day1 Drive to Lago Vavarco; raft/fish/hike on lago; kayak section between lagos (km 0-7); camp by lake;  Lago car camp
Day2   Vavarco (km 7-40) to hot springs or Pichi Neuquén (km0-15; class III); hot springs cabins
Day3   Vavarco to confluence (km 40-64; 1470m-1180m; IV-V) or Pichi Neuquén to confluence (class III); confluence camp
Day4   Upper Neuquén (km 64-100); 36 km class III;  raft camp
Day5 Upper Neuquén to near Trocoman (km 100-137; 945m); 37km class III; raft camp
Day6   Upper Neuquén: LAYOVER (possible to paddle a tributary: Trocomán or Nahueve);  raft camp 
Day7   Upper Neuquén to camp near Chos Malal; resupply (km137-169; 858m); 32km class III; raft camp  

Wilderness Neuquén; class II-III; 7 days
Upper Neuquén to past Puente Chos Malal; pickup new participants & resupply; (km169-209); 40km class II-III; raft camp 
Day9 Wilderness Neuquén: pass ferry crossing; beautiful canyon area; (km209-252); 43km class II;  raft camp 
Day10   Wilderness Neuquén: possible hike; (km252-282); 30km class II;  raft camp 
Day11  Wilderness Neuquén: possible hike; (km282-324); 42km class II-III;  raft camp  
Day12  Wilderness Neuquén: possible hike; (km324-350); 26km class II;  raft camp 
Day13  Wilderness Neuquén: paddle to just past Río Agrio confluence; maybe do a hike; (km350-380); 30km class II;  raft camp
Day14  Wilderness Neuquén: Final day to Paso de los Indios (km380-411); derig; load up; 31km class II; HOTEL
Day15  Sort gear and group disperses  

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 to paddle some tributaries. There will be at least one layover day option when some of the group may get a ride up to paddle one of the tributaries.

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: COST

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. 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.

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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 / WIND: 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 (10-16oC) so usually a drytop will make kayaking more comfortable during bigger rapid days, and a paddle jacket and pants will make rafting more comfortable. The Wildnerness Neuquén is warmer with few rapids so on this section it is probably safer to dress with less. Winds can be strong at times, but the prevailing direction is to the east so they will often be blowing downstream.

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.

CLIMATE Ene Feb Mar Abr May Jun Jul Ago Sep Oct Nov Dic - Year/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
---------------------------- ----- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- - --------
RIVER FLOW Ene Feb Mar Abr May Jun Jul Ago Sep Oct Nov Dic - Avg
Neuquén (ChosMalal) cms 126 68 51 53 121 174 189 174 174 258 332 253 - 169
cfs 4500 2400 1800 1800 4400 6100 6600 6100 6100 9200 11700 9000 - 5900
---------------------------- ----- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- - --------
Neuquén (PasoIndios) cms 240 130 96 100 230 330 360 330 330 490 630 480 - 312
cfs 8600 4500 3400 3500 8300 11600 12600 11600 11600 17500 22300 17100 - 11000

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 "