Rafting in Chile

Chile’s extreme topography and wealth of rivers makes it one of the best destinations on the planet for white-water rafting.

Thursday, July 21, 2011  

There’s no doubt that Chile is well-endowed with natural beauty and great rivers for rafting.

The reason? The unique topography of the country makes a perfect launchpad for world-class rapids. From the Andes to the Pacific Ocean, it’s is a short quick drop of white-water heaven. Chilean rivers are short and intense, ideal for rafting. 

Here are some of the best rivers in Chile for rafting, recommended by professional guide Cristian Henríquez of Chile Rafting.

Maipo River

Near the outskirts of Santiago flows the Maipo River, with waters that run from grade III in the fall-winter season and grade IV in spring-summer.

The river hosts views of the spectacular Maipo volcano, where the river begins peacefully but transforms later into a torrential descent down the steep canyon floor.

The adventure starts by pushing off at the ecotourism resort Cascadas de las Ánimas and finishing 10 miles (16 km) later in the town of San José de Maipo, after rushing through rapids and past boulders that make this narrow river one of the best-known challenges for experienced rafters.

Even beginners can get a shot at the action at the Cascadas de las Ánimas, where there are expert guides on hand, specially prepared to lead inexperienced rafters down the river.

Tinguiririca River

The most important river of the O’Higgins region in central Chile, the Tinguiririca has grade III and IV rapids, and descends through the native forests and open country of the central region.

Rafting club Cumbre Andina offers special packages, including transportation from Santiago and a guide for the hour and a half descent. The service includes all equipment necessary, as well as the makings of a picnic to celebrate the run: barbeque, salads, wine, soft drinks, “pan amasado” bread, desserts, and tea.

Rafters should have plenty of experience and skill, as well as the capacity to execute complicated maneuvers under pressure.

Claro River

Located in the national reserve Siete Tazas in the Maule region, the Claro River stands out for its waterfalls and beautiful surroundings, as well as a privileged view of the Andes.

While you’re there, enjoy the sight of seven natural pools and their respective waterfalls that give the site its name (literally, seven teacups). Nearby attractions include the Catas valley, near the San José de Frutillar ranch, with nearly 2,000 acres (800 hectares) of paths, native forest, rivers and waterfalls.

The river is rated a grade III, an intermediate level with moderate and irregular rapids that are more dangerous for an open kayak than an inflatable raft. Big waves and strainers and easily avoidable, but it is a good idea to scout the river before launching.

Liucura River

Further south near international tourist destination Pucón, first-time rafters can enjoy the Liucura River for a perfect beginner’s experience. From Pucón, it takes about an hour and a half through beautiful mountain landscape to get to the start of the run. Once in the water, you immediately experience the thrill of a river with grade II and III rapids, where you’ll see waves up to 3-6 feet (1-2 meters).

Trancura River

With rapids rated grade IV and V, the Trancura River is another option near Pucón, capable of challenging even the most well-prepared and intrepid rafters. You’ll come up against waves up to 10 feet tall, requiring strength and quick reflexes of all the rafters on board, accompanied by the pounding sound of the Trancura’s rushing waters.

The run usually lasts about an hour and a half, enough time to get your heart pounding and develop a strong sense of teamwork with the crew.

Rafters must be at least 14 years old to raft the river, which starts 9 miles (15 km) outside Pucón in the Complejo Turístico & Resort Trancura. For those who choose not to raft, the Complejo offers pools, volleyball courts, football fields, showers, playgrounds, barbeques, a restuarant and bar, as well as a rock climbing wall. 

San Pedro River

The San Pedro River, near Valdivia, offers one of the most complete rafting experiences in Chile, with rapids starting from grade II at the beginning of the route, and building to grade III and IV later on, with locally legendary rapids like La Sirenita (the little mermaid), La Vuelta del Reloj (the turn of the clock) and El Toro (the bull).

Rafters should have plenty of prior experience and physical endurance, since the trip lasts about six hours, starting at the source at Riñihue Lake and ending at Malihue. The day begins with lessons on technique and safety, and ends with a delicious barbeque lunch on the river bank.

Futaleufú River

In the middle of the unparalleled region of Chilean Patagonia is the Futaleufú River, considered to be one of the best white-water rapids in the world, with grade V rapids characterized by their length and difficulty.

The river also has the perfect combination of the two most important elements for rafting: a perfect inclination and good water flow.

Scouting the river beforehand is recommended, although in many cases it is impossible to examine completely due to the topography of the area. Swimming is very dangerous, and rescue is also complicated even for the most experienced rescuers.

Exploration of the area isn’t limited to those in search of danger, however: the spot is a beautiful site for nature lovers who want to experience the mountains, rivers, lakes and forests as hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, or fishing enthusiasts.

Baker River

One of the jewels of the Aysén region and running through one of the most pristine areas on the planet, hidden between the Hielo Norte camp and the Hielo Sur camp near the San Rafael Laguna, the Baker River offers a spectacular opportunity for rafters.

Its rapids are grade II and III, from which you can enjoy the turquoise water and the exuberant nature in your surroundings, with virgin forests home to endangered species like the huemul, the South Andean deer on Chile’s coat of arms.