SierraRios Marañon trip: Grand Canyon Amazon: Chagual launch details

Río Marañón: Bagua and end-of-trip options

Hotels in Bagua
Bagua travel options
River take-out options
Post-trip sights/option
Jungle Pongo considerations

Marañon trips usually will end at Puerto Malleta (end of the Lower Grand Canyon section), Montenegro or Imacita (after the first part of the Jungle Pongos) - - see the Overview Map. The payment for any SierraRios trip includes transport of you and your gear from the river take-out point to Bagua Chica ("Bagua"). In Bagua, the gear is cleaned, dried, sorted and then sent back to Trujillo, Lima or Huaraz with a transport company. It is important to note that SierraRios service ends in Bagua. Each person must pay for their own hotel in Bagua and arrange subsequent travel. Aside from full-service options, we do not provide transport back to Trujillo, Huaraz or Lima because participants usually go different ways at the end of the trip and do different things (see the Post-trip sights below). Below are descriptions of the various river take-out points, the end rendezvous cities of Bagua/Jaén, travel options back to Lima, other post-trip travel options and sights, and the considerations for rafting into the Jungle Pongos and beyond.

There are many places to access the river starting at Puerto Malleta. On SierraRios trips, we have used Puerto Malleta, Rentema, Montenegro, and Imacita. In general, most trips will be ending at Puerto Malleta, Montenegro, or Imacita.

Puerto Malleta: This is the first decent take-out point after the Lower Grand Canyon section where vehicles can easily drive to a gravel bar by the river. This is a small community with a ferry service across the river for vehicles and some small stores and basic restaurants to order lunch. You'll usually find several vehicles and people waiting on either side for the ferry to take them across. We usually stop just upstream of the ferry on river right (RR) and have lunch in town (if we are continuing downstream) or derig on the gravel bar. About 100 m from the ferry is the main town, which has two restaurants and a few vendors of produce, cool beverages and basic food items. There is often a taxi in town that can be employed to take a few folks to Bagua or Jaén with some gear, or the bus/colectivo coming from Lonya Grande can be boarded if it passes (several times per day). We have sometimes sent some folks out at this point on the taxi. If the whole group is ending here, we will have arranged a truck and van/bus to take everyone to Bagua (2.5 hr drive).

Cumba: 18 km downstream of Puerto Malleta on RR is Cumba, the next ferry crossing and potential take-out location. Compared to Puerto Malleta, the gravel bar area may not be as nice for derigging. We have not utilized this take-out on any SierraRios trips. The town of Cumba is larger than Puerto Malleta and has more taxis, restaurants, and stores, but it is farther away from the ferry spot. Corral Quemado is 22 km downstream from Cumba.

Bellavista: 18 km downstream of the Corral Quemado bridge on RL, this take-out location is a common beach-type hang-out area for residents of Jaén, replete with palapas, cold drinks, and open-air restaurants serving food. A ferry service takes passengers across the river here. If Jaén is the desired end rendezvous city, this is the preferred take-out as it is very close to the city and taxis can easily be arranged. Up on the bluff above Bellavista is the Gotas de Agua reserve, run by Luciano Troyes. Some trips may stop here for an excursion into the reserve to walk around and identify the flora and fauna of the tropical dry forest.

Rentema: 22 km downstream of Bellavista and just downstream of the Río Marañon confluences with Ríos Utcubamba (RR) and Chinchipe (RL) is the take-out of Rentema. This also happens to be just after the river has entered a mountain range squeezing the river to a narrow width. The take-out point is located on RR at another ferry crossing where vehicles can drive down to the water. We took out here after our 4-day exploratory Chinchipe descent.

Montenegro: Located about 33 km downstream of Rentema on RR, this is the last access point by the road before Río Marañón enters more isolated Awajún territory. At low to medium flows a gravel island just upstream of Montenegro may make an ideal final camp. Vehicles can drive down to the water at the main take-out gravel bar. The friendly Awajún village of Mahush is located 0.5 km downstream on RL and could also serve as a final camp, but their motorized lancha would need to bring people and gear back upstream [this can also be arranged from Nahém 2 km downstream].

Imacita: Located 51 km downstream of Montenegro on RR, the small city of Imacita is a typical Amazonian jungle town with a small plaza and numerous stores, restaurants and a few cheap hostals. Imacita contains a mixed population of Awajún and mestizos and is generally safe for gringo tourists. This port has been our take-out on many occasions (though the take-out spots are not the cleanest) and involves a 3.5 hr drive back to Bagua. From Imacita, there is regular passenger boat service downstream to Awajún communities and sometimes to Nieva. There is also regular taxi and van service to Bagua. A trip from Montenegro to Imacita traverses the final difficult class III-IV pongos that are not normally passed with passenger boats. These big-water pongos have simply caused too many upsets of motorboats with passengers drowning. Anyone venturing on the river between Montenegro and Imacita must have Awajún permission and be accompanied by local Awajún guides - if you don't , you will be detained and encounter hostility.

Santa Maria de Nieva: Located 126 km downstream of Imacita at the confluence with Río Nieva, the city of Nieva is a charming outpost in Amazonia with an increasing number of tourists, many restaurants, stores, a pretty plaza and half a dozen hotels. A river journey to here will pass through isolated Awajún areas that are only accessed by boats on the river. If paddling the section to here, it is absolutely necessary to have proper Awajún permissions and local guides along to avoid uncomfortable or hostile/dangerous confrontations. The river is only class II max between Imacita and Nieva, but passes through pretty gorge much of the way. There are regular vans and taxis making the drive from Nieva to Bagua (7 hr).

Sarameriza: Located 89 km downstream of Nieva and about 40 km downstream of the Pongo de Manseriche (the final intimidating Marañón gorge in the Andes with a class II-III rapid at high water), this port is used to load/unload cargo being transported up and down the Amazon. A trip to here is satisfying in that you will have emerged out of the Andes into the flat wide Amazon proper and will have experienced for several days and nights the Amazon jungle climate, flora/fauna, residents and culture. You'll often find larger ships anchored at Sarameriza, where the Marañon averages ~4800 cms (~170,000 cfs) and is over a kilometer wide. There is road access back to Bagua (10-12 hr) with colectivos departing on the journey when full. Regular passenger boat service continues downstream to San Leandro where additional passenger boats are available. On our Jul-Sep 2015 Red Bull Mission:Amazon trip we ended the rafting portion of the trip here.

Bagua Chica ("Bagua") is the primary end rendezvous point for most folks and a nice place to stay in a hotel for a shower just after the trip. Bagua is a city in a tropical dry forest area of Northern Peru and has a lot of agriculture nearby (mainly rice and fruits). In Bagua there are over a dozen hotels, dozens of restaurants, many stores, a pleasant plaza, hundreds of mototaxis, and even an ATM (though often not working). Mototaxi rides in the city generally cost 1.5NS for a single person ride (or 2-3NS for 2 or more). Once in Bagua, you will be dropped off at the Transportes Linea raft sorting area or a hotel. Many participants will want to get to a hotel and have a shower. No hotels in Bagua have hot water, but it usually not a problem as the rooms are very hot initially before the air conditioning kicks in and the water is tepid. [Bagua is considered one of the hottest places in Peru with average high/low temps throughout the year at 32oC / 22oC (90oF/72oF).] Although there are many options for hotels, one of the nicest to stay at is Hostal Antara [Jr. Libertad 213; 965 051 330; single/double rooms 60NS/80NS ($22/$30); wifi; fans or AC (more); no hot water]. Another hostal next to the gear sorting facility is very inexpensive (20NS/30NS). Although our groups have always found suitable rooms when just showing up, if you would like a reservation at Hostal Antara, tell the trip leader and he will call to make the reservation when approaching the end of the trip.

Jaén is a larger city in the area and about a 60 min drive from Bagua (22NS by colectivo) and a bit closer to Chiclayo. Jaén offers nicer hotels than Bagua - many with hot water and wifi. Of several options, you might consider Hotel Prim's (76 431 039; Diego Palomino 1341; 50-90NS/room; free wifi) located <2 blocks from the main plaza. There may be regular commercial flights from Jaén to Lima on LAN starting late 2014. Some participants may want to go directly over to a nicer hotel in Jaén after arrival in Bagua, especially if traveling onward to Chiclayo. However, those helping clean/dry/sort gear should probably stay the night in Bagua. There are many bus options from Jaén to Chiclayo (e.g., see Transportes Linea, Movil Tours, Emtrafesa).

Bagua Chica is distinct from the similarly-sized town of Bagua Grande (also called Utcubamba), which is a ~30 min drive south (8NS by colectivo). [Note that the unspecified short name of "Bagua" usually refers to Bagua Chica.] Transport within Bagua is by walking or by mototaxi. The general rate for a ride in town on a mototaxi is 1.5NS per person. From Bagua you can travel in various directions, but to get back to Lima the quickest and easiest option is the first of the three options below:

(1) Jaén flight to Lima: for this option you'll have to to take a 40-min taxi or colectivo to Jaén and then board one of the daily LATAM flights from Jaén to Lima departing at 1:10pm (initial costs were $148 for the one-way flight that was just launched in August 2016). It might be a good idea to stay the night in Jaén which has nicer hotels compared to Bagua.

(2) Chiclayo (flight or bus to Lima): This used to be the fastest way back to Lima before LATAM started flights into Jaén. For this option, you'll board a 7-hr bus from Bagua or Jaén to Chiclayo and then board a flight from there to LIma (CIX-LIM; 1 hr; $100-150 LATAM or TACA). Chiclayo and the coastal areas nearby can also be a destination themselves (see "Post-trip sights/options" below). From Chiclayo, you can get to Lima either by flight (CIX-LIM; 1 hr; $151-156 LAN or TACA) or bus (10 hr; $15-40; see Movil Tours, Transportes Linea, and Cruz del Sur).  Buses can be quite comfortable with the majority going overnight. Chiclayo and the coastal areas nearby can also be a destination themselves (see "Post-trip sights/options" below).

(3) Tarapoto (flight to Lima): Tarapoto is an 8-9 hr ride from Bagua (colectivos are also available) and has an airport with regular flights back to Lima (TPP-LIM; 1.5 hr; $102-$110; STAR or LAN or PeruvianAIR). If you are planning to visit Kuelap and the Catarata de Gocta (based out of Chachapoyas), you'll be 2 hr closer to Tarapoto and going all the way afterward will allow you to visit true Amazon jungle area. Tarapoto is also enroute to Yurimaguas on Río Huallaga, where the HENRY passenger/cargo boats with hammock space and cabins offer an interesting 3-4 day river voyage to Iquitos, where you can immerse yourself in the Amazon jungle and even stop to canoe in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve (highly recommended; see "Post-trip sights/options" below). If you go to Iquitos there are regular flights back to Lima.  

Transport out of Bagua: Everyone will be arranging their own land-based transport out of Bagua by bus or colectivo. Colectivos are like taxis that wait until filled with 4-5 passengers and then take off for the destination. When full, a colectivo car will cost roughly 1.5-2X/pp what a bus ride will cost, but will reduce the time to arrival and also allow for requested stops. They are a great option for a group of 3-4 participants who would like to travel together. Colectivos differ from taxis in that the colectivo makes the return journey with a full paying load of passengers as well, helping to keep costs low. Colectivos to various destinations can be found at the main terminal terrestre in Bagua (usually arrived at via mototaxi). In the terminal, colectivo cars and sometimes vans are parked by a sign to the destination city where they are filling up. When a car is full, it will depart. The other option out of Bagua is to take a bus. There are morning and afternoon buses departing from Bagua to Chiclayo (~7 hr; ~40NS or $14) on several carriers - you'll have to ask around for departure times and locations (SierraRios guides can help you find this). [One carrier to Chiclayo departs from the street across from where we sort/send the raft equipment.] If taking a bus to Tarapoto (8-9 hr; ~50NS or $18), you have to first go to Bagua Grande by colectivo, and then catch one of numerous buses traveling from Chiclayo to Tarapoto.

There are a number of things to do/see based out of Bagua or Jaén after your main Marañon trip ends. Note that in general, Jaén is a nicer city to stay in compared to Bagua.

(1) Additional kayaking or rafting (1-8 days): There are a lot of awesome little-known shorter river runs easily accessible from Bagua or Jaén. Most of these are day trips but some can be made into multi-day runs. See a C&K article describing some of the runs. Several options to consider are the following: Middle Chinchipe (III-IV), Lower Chinchipe (II), Middle Tabaconas (III-IV), Lower Tabaconas (II-III), Middle Utcubamba (IV-V), Lower Utcubamba (III-IV), Huancabamba (IV), Chamaya (III), and Jaén (III-IV). Rafts are fine on many of these - Río Chinchipe often has as much water or more than the Grand Canyon Amazon during the dry season. For those wanting more action, there are a number of class V runs as well: the Upper Chunchuca (IV-V) or Lower Chunchuca (V; the NF Payette of Peru!) and Río Chirinos (V). For jungle paddling, you can drive northwest into Ecuador and kayak a number of rivers feeding into Río Chinchipe (Ríos Numbala, Mayo, Palanda, and others). From Bagua, you can also drive east toward Tarapoto and run Río Mayo, which has day trips as well as a longer (4 day) class IV+ big water run in the Peruvian jungle (near Tarapoto). This region also has three serious multi-day class V kayak expeditions deep in the jungle: Ríos Chiriaco, Nieva, and Huallabamba.

(2) Visit GOTAS DE AGUA reserve by Jaén (1-2 days). Jaén is a nicer town to stay in compared to Bagua but it doesn't offer the same facility for gear sorting/cleaning and transport. However, you still might consider spending a couple of nights in Jaén and visit the Gotas de Agua natural reserve run by Luciano Troyes. The reserve, located high on a hill outside of Jaén, features dry forest plant specimens and numerous birds and other wildlife to view. Some even call it a birder's paradise. Tours on the trails with a naturalist (along to point out the flora/fauna) can be very rewarding. Rustic accommodations are available at the reserve (~$8/night; no hot water; beware of mosquitos) but after a long river journey you probably will prefer to stay at a nice hotel in the center of Jaén (such as Hotel Prim's; ~$25/night).

(3) Visit Kuelap and/or the Catarata de Gocta (1-2 days). Kuelap is sometimes called the Machu Picchu equivalent in Northern Peru - it's a citadel high in the Andes built by the Chachapoyans in pre-Incan times. A visit to Kuelap usually takes a full day and is best based out of Chachapoyas. The best plan would be to take a bus or colective from Bagua to Chachapoyas (~4 hr), that evening arrange the tour the following day, and plan to stay in a hotel two nights. The Catarata de Gocta is one of the highest waterfalls in the world and enroute between Bagua and Chachapoyas. A visit usually requires a hike of several hours for full appreciation - a good thing to do the day after visiting the Kuelap. Chchapoyas is reached from Bagua via a road that follows Rio Utcubamba, a river that has various sections ranging from class II to V-VI. You can look up more information about Bagua and places to stay at Lonely Planet: Chachapoyas.

(4) Head to Chiclayo (1-3 days). Chiclayo is the 4th largest city of Peru and has just many services/stores/hotels, as well as regular flights to Lima. There are a number of things to do and see in and around Chiclayo, including some archeological sites and various beaches: see Lonely Planet: Chiclayo. Although there are beaches close to Chiclayo, some folks like to head several hours north to Mancora - a more famous surfer's town in northern Peru.

(5) Continue downriver on Río Marañón/Amazon to Iquitos (7+ days). Passenger boats can carry you from Imacita downsteam to Iquitos. You will probably want ~7 days for this journey into the heart of the Upper Amazon. You'll get to visit the town of Nieva, pass the Pongo de Manseriche, visit the mostly abandoned town of San Borja, as well as the towns of Sarameriza, San Leandro, Lagunas (up the Huallaga a bit), and Iquitos. You should consider a 2-3 day stop in Laguas to canoe in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, and then take a cabin on a Henry boat for the 1-day/2-night sail to Iquitos, the quintessential Amazon city. [Note: although rafting and kayaking parties are subject to potential hostility from unfriendly Awajún, it generally is always safe for tourists to travel on the motorized passenger boats from Imacita downstream].

(6) Tarapoto and riverboat cruise to Iquitos (4+ days). With this option, you'll get a real feel for the jungle Amazon. Instead of passing through the Awajún areas on Río Marañón, you'd take a more well-traveled route: first a bus or colectivo over to Tarapoto (see Lonely Planet: Tarapoto). After a short visit in Tarapoto, you can hop on another bus to the town of Yurimaguas on Río Huallaga where there are regular large cargo/passenger boat departures to Iquitos (the Henry ships; 3 days; ~$220 for a cabin w/2 beds; ~$50 hammock - I've ridden these boats which are mellow interesting cruises with food included; but not luxurious). If you take a river boat downstream, you can stop in Lagunas and visit the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.

(7) Cusco and Machu Picchu (4+ days). Machu Picchu is the most popular tourist destination in all of South America and therefore is often on a participant's list to see. Machu PIcchu is accessed from Cusco, a city located in Southern Peru. You can still plan a visit after your Marañón trip, but you'll have to make your way back to Lima and then get a RT flight to Cusco (~$180; STAR or LAN or PeruvianAIR). Cusco is one of the highest cities in the world at 3400 m (11000 ft) and usually quite chilly. Machu Picchu visits usually require ~2 days once in Cusco. These are truly amazing destinations to visit in Peru and highly recommended despite their broad touristic appeal. If you are planning to visit here either post-trip or pre-trip and want a travel partner, consider letting the group know.

Some SierraRios trips will continue the Río Marañón journey into the Jungle Pongos. This section starts at Rentema just past the confluences of Ríos Chamaya, Utcubamba, and Chinchipe, which more than double the volume of the the river. In Rentema, the river enters an impressive canyon that lasts more-or-less for the next ~170 km. After a valley section break, there is one last gorge (the Pongo de Manseriche) with some class II-III water. By the end of the Jungle Pongos, the river averages ~170,000 cfs, ~10X the volume of the Grand Canyon section (which happens to be the same as in the Grand Canyon Colorado).

There are special considerations for floating through the Jungle Pongos section, primarily relating to the the indigenous people who inhabit the area (the Awajún). The Awajún (also called Aguaruna) are a tribe of ~50,000 who were never conquered by the Inca, and not really subjugated by the Spaniards. They are wary of outsiders, and have been known to be hostile, attack and even kill tourists.  Tensions are higher now with the Curva del Diablo massacre a few years ago - when Awajún were protesting foreign petrol development in their areas without adequate compensation to them. Also, myths of foreigners killing children for fat and organ transplants are very prevalent leading to a generally suspicious attitude of white foreigners.

Rentema to Montenegro: Despite the dangers posed by the Awajún, the initial 33km section from Rentema to Montenegro is generally always safe to float. It is interesting enough to merit paddling as a final segment of a longer Marañón trip because it has some class III rapids and you will see the vegetation change to lush jungle. Although there are some Awajún communities in the section, they know our guides and are generally friendly. Thus it should always be OK to paddle through this initial section to Montenegro on SierraRios trips, which will give a good feel of the change to classic Amazon jungle and allow you to meet some of the Awajún.

Montenegro to Imacita: The next 51 km Jungle Pongo section to Imacita is isolated from the road and passes several Awajún communities. Nobody should venture into this area without prior approval of Awajún governing bodies and without Awajún guides along.

Brief history of SierraRios trips passing through the Jungle Pongos:

On our first trip through the Jungle Pongos section (July 2012), we were fortunate to have met some friendly folks (the Piedra family of El Muyo) just before entering the Awajún area, two of whom (Noe and Marco) accompanied us on the raft, and allowed us to make contacts with several friendly Awajún. Eusebio Chumpi (apu of the village of Nahém) and his son Manasés (apu of the village of Mahush) accompanied us through the final section of class III rapids to Imacita.  Without them along, we would have been detained, possibly attacked/robbed/injured, and forced to leave. In Imacita we bade farewell to our new friends and continued on passenger boats down the rest of the Marañón to Iquitos. [Note: it is always safe for foreigners to travel on the motorized passenger boats from Imacita downstream]

On the Sep28 (2013) Marañón trip, our group had permission from an official Awajún governing organization to pass and we were accompanied by four Awajún, including Eusebio Chumpi, Manasés Chumpi, Segundo Valera (an Awajún friend who helped coordinate the permissions) and also Luciano Troyes (an environmentalist from Jaén who runs Gotas de Agua). Although Segundo and Luciano helped me secure permission from an official Awajun body (ORPIAN-P) for us to pass on the river to Imacita, we were still stopped at Yupicusa, a village of >1000 Awajún, where the leaders made clear to us that official permission should be obtained from them and other Awajún governing bodies in the future (the congressman, AIDESEP, and a different ORPIAN).

On the subsequent Jan16 (2014) trip, I gained official permission directly from the apu of Yupicusa as well as from ORPIAN-P again and we were warmly received in Yupicusa. However, just downstream we encountered some agitated villagers who did not know us or our intentions and seemed initially upset, throwing rocks at some of our party. Some of them intercepted us on their canoes and they calmed them down when Eusebio, Luciano and I explained our intentions and showed the permission letter.

On the Jun4 (2014) trip, we had permission to pass but many Awajún had become extra suspicious of foreigners due to recent Facebook posts circulating with a photo of an eviscerated young woman's corpse in central Peru. This apparently fueled their suspicions of organ-snatchers, potentially incresing hostilities with us should we pass. We were advised by Manasés and others in the area not to venture past Montenegro, so we ended the trip there.

Several SierraRios groups in fall and winter 2014 passed into the Jungle Pongos but ended at Montenegro.

On the Dec4 (2014) trip, I had arranged permission again through Anfiloquio Paz (of Chiriaco) who assured us that it would be fine to pass Yupicusa and all other villages. He and other Awajún accompanied us through the initial Jungle Pongos section and we intended to go all the way to Sarameriza. However, we were again stopped in Yupicusa and Anfiloquio was perplexed at some of their attitudes. Regardless, many warned that we should not pass farther downstream than Imacita on the rafts, though Anfiloquio had communicated with villages there and we even had permission from the alcalde of Imacita. The group decided to abort the intended rafting of that section and most boarded the motorboat rides to continue downstream. Many in the group continued to Iquitos and one to the mouth of the Amazon (Tom Morrison).

In Aug-Sep (2015), I had arranged meetings (through AIDESEP) with all the Awajún apus of villages along the river to meet me and hear about the impacts of the planned hydroelectric dams, as well as our intentions as tourists floating down the river. Two meetings were held in Nazareth and Nieva at which over 100 apus attended. Nearly all apus were opposed to the hydroelectric projects due to the impacts on the river and their communities - and were very welcoming of us to pass along the river in the future. However, the apus from Yupicusa and two adjacent villages (San Ramón and San Rafael) continued to voice distrust and suspicion. I learned that these apus were receiving money from Amazonas Energía, the company undertaking the project to dam the Marañon just upstream of Yupicusa, and AMEC, the company contracted to perform the impact studies of the large hydroelectric project. These apus apparently did not understand the true impacts of the project and due to the gifts they were receiving and the promise of electricity in their villages, they were favorable to the project. However, when our rafting group passed two weeks later (Sep 2015), we heard that many in the community of San Ramón wanted to hear the presentation about the dams, so we arrived and were welcomed there. I learned that most in the communities were opposed to the projects - it seemed to me that the leaders were being paid off to allow the projects to move forward despite the opposition of the people in the general communities. Although we did not encounter hostility in this section, when we camped nearby some armed Awajún did come out to find out who we were and what our intentions were. Our Awajún guides explained all to them and we were fine.

In Oct 2015, another SierraRios group passed to Imacita without problems but did not inform Yupicusa ahead of time.

SierraRios trips in the future: Although we have good relationships with most of the ~60 communities along the Marañón in the Jungle Pongos section all the way to Sarameriza, the communities of Yupicusa and San Rafael can still be problematic. We will continue to work to build trust among our guides/rafting groups and the Awajún in all communities, but it will take time. Trips in the future can always progress at least to Montenegro/Nahém or points upstream. Depending on the situation in Yupicusa and San Rafael, groups may be advised not to pass and to end at Montenegro. I hope this situation will change in the future and I will continue to work to make known the impacts of the hydro projects and unite the Awajún in opposition, as well as recognize us as allies in their fight to preserve their communities and traditions. SierraRios operates in a way to minimize any risks to us and our groups, but you should be aware of the dangers of the section if you do embark into it. If you are not comfortable with rafting into Awajún areas, you can always depart a trip at El Muyo or Montenegro (where there is still easy access to the road back to Bagua).