Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures: Part Two

It’s winter and for most people the kayaking season has been over for a few months. For those in the northern hemispheres that are still paddling, you are likely wearing a lot of layers to ward off the chill. Time to think about heading SOUTH for warm water and warm weather…

Most people think that they can’t go off on a winter kayaking trip unless they are solid class 4/5 paddlers, and that you certainly can’t take kids! This is absolutely not the case! Over a series of four posts, we are going to lay out our experiences and recommendations for heading south as a kayaking family.

Destination #2 is Ecuador, which is located in the northwest corner of South America and is an amazing country. There are four distinct zones in Ecuador – the Amazon jungle in the east, the Andes mountains in the middle, the Pacific ocean in the west and then the Galapagos Islands off the western coast. 

As a country, Ecuador is going through a number of positive transitions. It is a relatively clean country (daily garbage pick up) with solid roads, education and health care systems. The water and sewer systems are not as strong so you do need to pay attention to where your water is coming from (both drinking water, ice and food cooking water) and remember that you can’t flush toilet paper other than at the airport. It is also a very safe country and we wandered around in the evenings in a number of the towns that we visited without a single concern.

The main airport is in Quito, which is also the capital city. The main kayaking areas are all to the east and south east. In the Andes to the east the main paddling bases are in San Francisco de Borja and Baeza, two small towns near the Quijos river basin. Further to the east is Tena, which sits right on the edge of the Amazon jungle and is one of the key bases for jungle tours. To the south east is Banos, the adventure capital of Ecuador, which offers kayaking, hiking, ziplining and more. The primary currency is US $$ but be sure to bring a lot of small bills as most stores can’t change anything bigger than a $20.

Similar to our Costa Rica trip, we went to Ecuador as part of a guided trip. We chose to go with Ecuador Kayak because they offer to provide as many guides as needed to meet the levels of the group. This meant that Hunter and I could have one itinerary and Tim could have another. It worked out superbly well – Hunter and I had a great week that focused on his progression in creeking while also embedding an extra amount of local culture and information to support his homeschooling activities. Tim was able to spend his week on various class IV rivers and we got to hear all about them when we met up at the end of each day.

Other organizations that we have heard positive things about that run trips to Ecuador are Endless River Adventures (with a summer base on the Nantahalla River) and Small World Adventures (been in Ecuador for over 25 years). All three organizations are based out of San Francisco de Borja on the Quijos river but include rivers in Tena in all their trips.

We have been to Ecuador twice and have loved both trips. It is a great mixture of creeking and big water kayaking, with amazing culture and people mixed in. 

We have paddled the following rivers while there:

Quijos River – there are at least five sections of this river and they run through the Quijos valley. They start out as steep creeking and then move into big water. The difficulty correlates directly to the water level. 

Borja – a fun creek that runs into the Quijos and is only available when the Quijos is at medium to high levels. It is narrow and shallow but nice and close to the home base in Borja and it runs directly into the Quijos so the take out is a short walk.

Cosanga – a rocky creek style river in the Borja valley with an upper class IV section and a middle class III section 

Misahualli – there is an upper, a middle section and a lower section to this beautiful river near Tena. The Upper is good solid class IV creeking with big round boulders and boofs everywhere. The Middle section is great class II/III and perfect for teaching the basics of creeking. 

Upper Anzu – a fun class III river in the Tena basin with some holes and surf waves

Jatunyacu – big water, big wave trains class III run in the Tena basin that can be a half day run or a full day adventure. The Upper run starts at a fabulous eco resort with rope swings and is a class IV section. The middle starts a few bridges down and is perfect class III. This river is also known as the Upper Napo river and it is part of the headwaters of the Amazon.

Pastaza – a big water class III/IV run near Banos. Super fun with big wave trains. Beware of the water quality and try not to swallow any water and shower after the run.

Jondachi River – the quintessential class IV creeking river – amazingly scenic jungle section with super big boulders and clean blue water. Fun hike in that involves local porters carrying your boat – with it being the best $5 you have ever spent 

Hollin River – a class III/IV river in the Tena basin that has something for everyone – boulders, canyons, side streams, and drops

Things to think about when considering Ecuador:

  • The Andes region is like spring paddling in most of North America – while it is sunny a lot of the days, drytops are needed most of the time and it’s great to have long pants and a fleece or light puffy jacket for evenings
  • The Amazon region is sticky and hot – perfect for rash guards and splash tops
  • Bring both bug spray and sun screen for on and off the river
  • You can use US $$ in all places but be sure to have lots of small bills.
  • Assume that the water is NOT drinkable and always ensure that the water you are drinking has come out of a bottle
  • We have invested in break apart paddles so we can bring our own paddles easily with us on the plane. For those that don’t have them, you can rent paddles in most places, which is often easier than checking full paddles as luggage (no matter how well you pack them)
  • We took full face helmets on our second trip and were really glad we had them based on the number of scratches you could see. The local paddlers just wear regular helmets so it comes down your skill and confidence levels
  • Experiencing the culture of a new country is half the fun – be sure to check out the fun foods that can be found at the corner stores and the small community restaurants
  • Try to spend a day in Quito at the beginning or end of your trip. Even better if you are there for the weekend market, which is full of local vendors. Be sure to check out the buildings and history of old town
  • If you have the time, be sure the extend your visit by even a few days and check out the town of Banos or some of the small villages in the Andes region. An amazing add on is a few days in the Gallapagos, but it can be quite expensive.

  The Vincent Family ( // // // )

More info can be found at:

Kayak Ecuador (

Endless River Adventures (

Small World (

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