Updated February 8th, 2019.
Rafting in Ecuador is big business and no place more so than Tena, the capital of Napa Province. Showcasing some of the most stunning rainforest scenery in the country, there really is no place better to get your adrenaline pumping on white water.
Selecting a Rafting Trip in Tena
Having already tried kayaking, my boyfriend Tim and I were keen to jump on a raft and compare the two experiences. From what I had read, rafting was much easier, as there is more dependence on a guide and you are usually taken out in a group. As I was organising my rafting trip with Kayak Ecuador, I opted for what they described as their ‘best’ trip: a day spent rafting the Jondachi-Hollín River.
Why Kayak Ecuador?
Let’s first rewind a little though so I can tell you why, out of all the tonnes of companies in Tena, I chose Kayak Ecuador. Whilst I enjoy water-based activities, it would be a huge overstatement for me to claim I am confident in the water. Having had a few hairy experiences when I was younger, I was determined that any company that I chose would provide a safe environment in which to learn.
Despite there being many tour agencies in Ecuador who offer rafting and kayaking, very few of these hire only certified instructors so this was a massive selling point of Kayak Ecuador for me. They ensure that all of their guides are members of either the IRF (International Rafting Association) or the ACA (American Canoe Association), although it is common for guides to be members of both!
All of Kayak Ecuador’s rafting trips are done with at least one safety kayaker to check for problems ahead and perform rescues if necessary. They also employ the use of satellite tracking to monitor the progress of the raft during the tour. Whilst I had been reassured that it is highly unusual for anything serious to happen on these types of trip, it was still hugely comforting to know this kind of safety net was in place.
Whilst there are cheaper companies available, any kind of water sport performed on a river comes with inherent risk. In my opinion, it is definitely worth paying a little more to ensure that your guide knows what to do to keep you safe. Kayak Ecuador ensure that at least one guide who accompanies the trip is first aid certified which is a big comfort when you consider the unpredictable nature of a river.
Aside from the importance of safety, I had read the Tripadvisor reviews of Kayak Ecuador and they were great! Kayak Ecuador founder Santiago has guided rafting expeditions all over South America and all of the staff were highly rated in terms of expertise and friendliness, which is always important!
What to pack for a rafting trip in Ecuador
- Quick dry t-shirt
- Quick dry board shorts/ leggings
- Bathing suit
- Closed-toe shoes (that do not come off easily)
- Change of clothes (everything previously mentioned will get soaked)
- Insect repellent
- Camera/phone (optional)
- Dry bag (optional)
Our Day of Rafting Begins
We were picked up promptly by our Kayak Ecuador driver who took us to the warehouse for our safety talk. We were due to meet the other members of our group at this location but unfortunately, they were running late as they were travelling from Quito.
We were introduced to the team and our guide for the day, owner Santiago. He explained what our daily itinerary would be and was in regular contact with the driver of the group from Quito. After more disruption to their journey, Santiago decided we would meet the group en route to the river so we didn’t lose any more time.
When the group arrived, we made our way to the river and started the day with a muddy jungle trek to the ‘Gran Cañon’ where we would be exploring waterfalls and natural caves. The night before our rafting trip, it had rained heavily and continued to rain throughout that morning. After checking the area, the team informed us that there was far too much rainfall to make our trip into the caves possible. It was a shame but sadly it was out of anybody’s control.
After the hike, Santiago delivered the safety talk to the whole group outside before the rafting commenced. Owing to the late arrival of the other rafters and the rain, both Tim and I were very impressed with how the team dealt the change of plans. Not at any point did the staff appear to be panicked and instead moved seamlessly from one activity to the next, all the time keeping us informed as to what was happening.
Santiago is a vibrant character, whose enthusiasm is highly contagious. Even though we were listening to a safety talk (which usually isn’t the most riveting of activities) Santiago was not afraid to demonstrate rescue positions on the jungle floor in puddles of mud and kept us all engaged and laughing along.
The safety talk was longer than I had expected, mainly because we would be running a class IV river which is suitable for intermediate to advanced rafters. Despite this, I felt completely confident before getting on the water. We had been given all of the information that we needed in every scenario.
Time to Head Out Onto the Water!
There were eight of us rafting so we split off into two groups. Each group was given a guide and there were also two safety kayaks accompanying us. We set off down the Jondachi River (mainly class III but with a series of class IV rapids), obeying the commands delivered by Santiago.
In a short time, Tim and I were paddling in sync with the rest of the group and speeding down the rapids. Whilst the first jolt caused by a wave took me by surprise, it wasn’t long until I was laughing along with the others.
Santiago’s instructions were always clear and he really encouraged camaraderie within the team. After navigating a challenging rapid he would shout ‘paddles up’ which was our cue to high five with our paddles. Coupled with Santiago’s jokes, all of these things put the group at ease and helped us to form a rapport with each other.
After two hours rafting, we stopped for lunch on a small jungle beach as the Jondachi meets the Hollín River. Both Tim and I were ravenous by this point and even more excited when we saw that burritos were on the menu!
The food provided on the trips is all homemade by Kayak Ecuador team member Daniela and absolutely delicious. She buys fresh produce from local businesses and purchases food which is going to sustain your energy throughout the afternoon.
The burrito buffet was laid out and accompanied by guayusa tea, a local speciality. For dessert, juicy pineapples were provided along with homemade brownies which were heavenly. After stuffing our faces, we headed back over to our raft for the afternoon session.
Time for Round Two!
It was very apparent that the Hollín was the choppier of the two rivers and we would need all of our skills practised that morning for this new and more difficult challenge! The rapids were rougher but with that came much more fun.
Owing to the rainfall, we sailed swiftly through the rivers, rarely getting stuck on rocks. Whilst the rainfall had caused us to miss out on the ‘Gran Cañon’, it was surely worth it for the excellent rafting conditions.
There was an occasion during the run where our raft capsized but having been told this was a possibility, everyone dealt with it calmly and simply implemented what we were taught in the safety briefing. As I floated down the rapids with my feet in the air, I was surprised at how quickly one of the safety kayakers appeared and made my rescue. This was an event that could have been very scary but the team had previously prepared us which gave us an element of control over the situation.
When we were all back on the raft (which happened surprisingly efficiently) we got back into our rhythm and continued to navigate the rapids. During calmer waters, Santiago pointed out interesting rainforest wildlife including Oropendola birds and gigantic spiders on the rocks.
The backdrop of this trip is really what sets it apart, and the cañon in which you raft through has been repeatedly recognised as one of the most beautiful in the world. It is even possible to see monkeys swinging in the trees further along the run! Aside from the spectacular wildlife, this trip showcases 15 stunning waterfalls which you can admire from your raft. There is also a bridge which is draped in vines and foliage; I was convinced Indiana Jones was going to swing by!
As we pulled up to the shore, I felt an immense sadness that the trip was over. Surprisingly for me (as I am a massive wimp!) I had adored every minute on the water and couldn’t wait to get back on a raft again.
Reflections on the Day
As a frequent traveller, I have used a lot of different tour companies around the world for various experiences. Whilst most of them have been good, I have never had an experience of the same quality that I received from Kayak Ecuador on this trip.
All of the staff who helped to organise the tour and those who accompanied us were completely professional. Whilst there was an important emphasis on keeping the group safe, this was by no means a detriment to the amount of fun that we had. The day was an absolute blast which was only made better by Santiago’s infectious enthusiasm and ability to bring everyone together.
It is clear that the team working for Kayak Ecuador are hugely passionate about what they do and want to deliver the best possible experience for their guests. They work together efficiently and make all of their jobs look effortless when I’m sure they are anything but! On our trip, one of the safety kayakers was an intern which goes to show that the company is hugely invested in development and career opportunities of local young people as well.
Kayak Ecuador provide not only a safe environment in which to play but also bring buckets of enthusiasm and a personal approach to their guests. They offer a variety of kayak and rafting trips on the Jondachi-Hollín River and the nearby Jatun Yacu River.
I simply cannot recommend them enough. If you are looking for an unforgettable rafting experience in a beautiful rainforest setting, jump on board and get paddling!