Marañón River, Peru - Balsas to Puerto Malleta

Marañón River, Peru – Balsas to Puerto Malleta

October 23-November 1, 2016 - Class IV

More than forty years ago international river trips were expeditions, challenging participatory adventures on which everyone worked together for a safe and fun trip. As the adventure travel business became more mainstream and sophisticated, this type of trip seemed to vanish. Comfort and catering now dominate the industry. Then along comes a throwback like this one.

This trip on the upper Amazon is all about great expeditionary rafting. You’ll be part of the team in camp and on the river, expect to cook and clean, de-rig rafts, and set up camp. While on the river, if you have rowing experience, the guide may even hand you the oars to maneuver down river for a bit. If you’ve been waiting to experience or relive the glory days of river exploration, this is your chance. And it is a chance unlikely to be repeated: as in so many places, dams are scheduled to inundate this glorious river stretch soon.

On the trip you’ll experience the Peruvian Andes and one of the deepest river canyons in the world. We will hike verdant creek ecosystems, visit ancient Pre-Incan ruins, marvel at red wall canyons, take a refreshing dip in the waterfalls of Quebrada Aguablanco, and lounge on expansive white sand beaches. We will run one of the longest, more challenging, technical class IV rapids of the canyon – Linlin, as well as enjoy easier class II – III rapids.

This expedition features spectacular scenery, passing through arid desert-like canyon with sparse vegetation and numerous cacti, as well as many vertical walls rising directly from the riverbed. The majority of the scenery is a dry cactus-studded canyon; however, the last three days of the trip slowly transitions into jungle and then opens up again into the Bagua Valley at our take-out.

A unique highlight of this expedition is the opportunity to interact with locals whom live along the river. Through conversations with the inhabits of the riverside communities of Mendán and Tupén you will become aware of the threats to the Amazon river and learn about how we are teaming up with the riverside communities, Peruvian city dwellers, International and Peruvian conservation NGO’s as part of the campaign to “Save the Amazon”. This trip contains one of the 20 dam sites proposed for the Rio Marañón. Chadin II dam is in the latest planning stages. This section of the river is likely be the first to be drowned by reservoirs.

Many different levels of rapids are found along the way - including class IV+. November is the start of the rainy season so the river volume can increase. Water could be as high as 17,000 cfs; higher water has the potential for a wild ride. The biggest rapids are El Choclón, Tupén Grande, San Lucas, Playa El Inca, Magdalena, Totora and Linlín. Although some of these rapids are quite long, they are not more difficult than the toughest rapids on the Grand Canyon. Anyone comfortable rowing/paddling the Grand Canyon of the Colorado or Main Salmon in Idaho at high water should be comfortable.

SAMPLE ITINERARY - Balsas to Puerto Malleta

Shorter Trip, Easier Logistics - 8 days on the river and 2 days transport

October 23

Day 1. Arrival Day, Cajarmarca

Fly into Cajamarca, Peru on this day. Connections through Lima are available from many US gateway cities. Check into a hotel walking distance from the towns ‘Plaza de Armas’. From here you can spend the afternoon sampling Cajamarca’s renowned cuisine: cheeses, chocolate (made from local organic cacao), and Papa a la Huancaina are a few favorites that can be found in shops and restaurants. In the evening we will gather for a meet and greet welcome dinner, overnight hotel in Cajamarca.

October 24

Day 2. Transport to Put-in and Launch, Pueblo Tour of Celendin & Balsas

Stunning drive through the Peruvian highlands to Celendin, where we’ll cross the Andes and descend into the picturesque Maranon Valley to Balsas where the rafts will be waiting. During our drive you will get an idea of the scale of this immense river corridor as it cleaves its way through the Andes. The recently paved road drops through several distinct zones, from cloudy farmlands high on the mountain, down into the dry forests that the Maranon is famous for. After a local lunch and orientation in Balsas, we launch to begin the river journey.

Km to cover today: 10 (~ 6.25 miles)
River Rating: Primarily Class II
Class III or higher: unnamed (III)

October 25

Day 3. Playa el Cura Ruins

Hike and explore the Pre-Incan ruins site of Playa el Cura. Experience ruins of ancient adobe houses, spiritual centers, an ancient guard tower high on a bluff overlooking the river and more waiting to be discovered. After lunch continue downriver, encountering several class II-III rapids. Camp beside the fun wave-train rapid of El Choclon.

Km to cover today: 23 (~ 14 miles)
River Rating: Class I, II, and III
Class III or higher: Two Channels (III)

October 26

Day 4: Pueblo Mendán Visit

Fun class III-IV rapids through the morning until we arrive at the village of Mendán. A short hike up to town through picturesque fruit and coca plantations, trees heavy with oranges, mangos, bananas and coconuts were we will be welcomed into a pueblo for a local made lunch. On a full-belly we will stroll back to our rafts and continue downstream through a class III section of river to the village of Tupén. Camp on the expansive white sand beach of Playa La Mushka.

Km to cover today: 16 (~ 10 miles)
River Rating: Class III - IV
Class III or higher: El Choclon (III), Yangas (III), Mendán (III), Hoodoos (III), unnamed (III)

October 27

Day 5: Pueblo Tupén, Cocao Plantation, Waterfall, Layover

Many options to choose from today; such as, visit with the inhabitants of the exceedingly scenic adobe village of Tupén and have, or watch, a rousing game of soccer with local kids, or take a tour of the Chavez family organic produce plantation and learn how cacao is grown, picked and fermented. Which is then shipped out of the steep valley on the backs of mules. Or another local family may demonstrate the process of making hot chocolate from the organic local grown cocao beans. Or maybe you would like to relax on the expansive white sand beach, have a dip in the river, and nap in the shade. For the fitness buff we can take a rigorous hike to Tupén waterfall. A generous lunch will be prepared by the Chavez-Rivera family in one of the original adobe homes of Tupén. In the evening relax with a camp fire on Playa la Mushka.

Km to cover today: 0

October 28

Day 6: Chadin 2, Many Exciting Rapids, Magdalena Playa

After waving goodbyes to our friends in Tupén, we will embark on a day full of class III-IV rapids; action packed fun until we reach what may one day be the Chadin II dam site. The water slows at this point and the canyon walls narrow; marvel at the unique beauty of the rock wall cliffs that stand now, but will be greatly defaced by the impending dam. This evening participate in a discussion about ways to support the Peruvian and International conservation movement to save this fabulous river corridor. Camp on the scenic Magdalena beach, directly above the thrilling Magdalena class IV rapid.

Km to cover today: 28 (~ 17.5 miles)
River Rating: Class III with three class IV’s
Class III or higher: Tupén Grande (IV), Chipche (III), San Lucas (IV), Playa El Inca (IV), several unnamed (III)

October 29

Day 7: Heart of Whitewater, Waterfalls of Quebrada Aguablanca

The day starts with the whitewater rush of class IV Magdalena rapid, next we run several unnamed class III’s, including the exciting Wall rapid, and by mid-morning we arrive to the most challenging rapid of the entire trip, the long class IV+ Linlin rapid. We will stop river left and scout our line. Everyone has the option to scout, take photos and walk this rapid if they do not feel comfortable. Afterward, three more technical rapids lie downstream. Early evening arrival to the bedrock waterfall camp of Quebrada Aguablanca. Let the sounds of the gentle river riffle lull you to sleep, wake in the morning to the incredible number of different birds that call the Maranon valley home.

Km to cover today: 37 (~23 miles)
River Rating: Class III - IV
Class III or higher: Magdalena (IV), unnamed (long class III), Wall (III), Linlin (IV+), Totora (IV), Saura (III)

October 30

Day 8: Cascadas de Quebrada Aguablanca, Amazon Cave

Morning to hike and explore the Cascades; a geological phenomenon occurring as a creek drops off the plateau above, forming a series of waterfalls, each ending in a pool perfect for swimming or relaxing. Once back on river we will stop and linger at the acoustic Amazon Cave to explore its depth and to take time for more photos of yet another fabulous wonder of the Upper Amazon river. As we continue on downstream we will be inspired by the changing landscape as the cactus and dry forests of the Maranon give way to greener, lusher vegetation. Red sandstone walls lined with lush riparian vegetation and trees filled with birds of every variety.

Km to cover today: 9 (~ 5.5 miles)
River Rating: mostly class I & II with a couple of III’s
Class III or higher: Palaguas (III), Chinuna (III)

October 31

Day 9: Take-out Day, Transport from Bagua Chica

Arise early today; this will be a very busy day. After paddling 11 miles we will arrive to Puerto Malleta our take-out. Were we will de-rig the boats, break-down all equipment and load everything into the transit vehicles. Enjoy a final celebratory lunch with the whole team before we load into vans for a 2-hour ride to Bagua Chica. In the evening will board a comfortable bus with almost bed-like reclining seats to Chiclayo.

Km to cover today: 18 k (≈ 11.25 miles)

November 1

Day 10: Departure Day, Chiclayo

Your guide will help you arrange transport to the airport for flights home or to your next destination if you plan to linger to see some of the ruins or enjoy the coastal resorts.



Self-bailing oar rafts All group rafting gear needed for the expedition (frames, oars, ice chest, dry boxes, water purification system, complete camp kitchen, rain tarp, First Aid kit, repair kit, ropes, etc.) Personal river gear: paddle jacket, PFD, helmet, dry bags Personal camp gear: tent, sleeping pad 1 hotel night in Cajamarca All arrangements in the field on the river by professional river guides All river meals and a head cook to help participants with preparation of all meals and clean-up Welcome dinner Celebratory lunch at Take-out restaurant in Puerto Malleta Ground transportation
Cajamarca to Balsas
Take-out at Puerto Mallata to Bagua Chica
Bus from Bagua Chica to Chiclayo


•Alcoholic beverages
•Personal Gear: water shoes, sleeping bag
•Insurance of any kind, including medical evacuation insurance


The menu will be based on the local and regional foods available at this time of year. Following is the general menu to give you an idea of the meals. Breakfast contains items such as, fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, pancakes, and occasionally eggs. Lunches may include sandwiches, chips, cookies, couscous, cheese, crackers, salami, hummus, or tortillas wraps. Dinners start with an appetizer such as soup or cheese and crackers. The main entrées are simple and usually based on one of four basic dinner staples; pasta, beans, potatoes or rice. Dinners include fresh produce as available and a bit of meat for some meals. Often there is a simple dessert.

If you are vegetarian there will be foods on the menu that you can eat, as there will be nonmeat items. If you have severe food allergies, are vegan, gluten-free, celiac or a “steak and potatoes” person this may not be the trip for you. Inquire with Lacey if you have questions.


This expedition will be enjoyed by experienced multi-day boaters. All participants will need to fully participate in river activities and responsibilities; including camp cooking and clean-up, collecting firewood and building fires, collecting and filtering drinking water, setting up rain tarps, digging toilet latrines, rigging and unloading rafts on a daily bases, etc. This is not a commercial trip where all such activities are done by guides. On this expedition camp responsibilities / duties will be shared by all. The trip will be enjoyed by folks who have multi-day wilderness river experience and are strong and fit. If you have enjoyed multi-day trips on the southwest river desert canyons of the United States such as; the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, the Yampa, Salt or Green then you will be delighted by this expedition.