There is no doubt that Chile is a privileged spot for white water rafting. The reason is its unique geography, which makes the country ideal for plunging down world class rapids. From the Andes Range, the second highest mountain range on Earth, swift-flowing rivers descend to flow into the Pacific Ocean not many miles from where they originated. As a result, the Chilean rivers are short but very intense, ideal for rushing down them on an inflatable raft.
For this reason, year after year, the Chilean rafting centers receive hundreds of local and foreign visitors in search of adrenalin. “Some tourists come to practice rafting in Chile looking for fun, others to do something out of the ordinary. There are also companies that provide their employees rafting holidays in order to give them an opportunity to relax and socialize, in addition to motivating team work”, explains Christian Henríquez, a guide for the firm Rafting Chile.
“The Chilean rivers make it possible for anyone, from beginners to experts, to practice the sport. Chile is preferred due to the array of alternatives it offers, because the rivers have very different characteristics. Some of them are ideal for fishing or family outings while others have class 5 rapids, providing high adventure and adrenalin”, he adds.
The following are some of the best rivers in Chile to practice rafting, including some data as to their location, level of complexity and degree of experience they require, as recommended by Henríquez himself:
The Maipo river is close to Santiago, and its waters go from grade 3 in the fall-winter season to grade 4 in spring and summer.
Once there you will be able to enjoy a spectacular view of the Maipo volcano, from where this river originates. At first it runs calmly, but then becomes a torrent as it descends through the valleys until it eventually forms the imposing and swift-flowing Maipo river.
These conditions ensure an extreme adventure that starts at the Centro de Ecoturismo Cascada de las Ánimas and then runs 16 kilometers downstream to the town of San José de Maipo, amid large rocks that fill the narrow river and create highly complex rapids that pose a difficult challenge to sportsmen.
Beginners are not barred from the adventure, because the Centro Cascada de las Ánimas has top-level professionals who are specially trained to take inexperienced participants down the rapids and allow them to enjoy themselves like the most seasoned of raftsmen.
This is the most important river of the region of O’Higgins, in the central zone of Chile. Its rapids are grade 3 to 4, with a descent surrounded by native flora and fauna in a totally untouched landscape.
The Cumbre Andina club offers special programs for interested parties, which include transport from Santiago and an hour and a half of excitement on rafts descending from the Andean foothills.
The programs also include full equipment, barbecue, assorted salads, wine, soft drinks, home-made bread, desserts and tea or coffee.
It should be noted that people seeking to go on this adventure need to have extensive experience and previously developed skills, otherwise the risk of injury is high. It is also necessary for them to be able to face complex maneuvers under pressure. The team in general needs to be well prepared.
Located in the Reserva Nacional Siete Tazas in the Maule region, it is renowned for its waterfalls and beautiful natural surroundings, trees that are unique in the world and a privileged view of the Andes Range.
It is also possible to view the seven waterfalls and respective basins that give the place its name. Another attraction is a visit to the “Valle de las Catas” (wine-tasting valley), a lovely area in green surroundings located inside the “San José de Frutillar” farm, where you can immerse yourself in 800 hectares of beautiful landscapes, paths, native forests, river, waterfalls and mountain views.
The river is classified as grade 3, i.e., intermediate level. The rapids have moderate and irregular waves that can be difficult to avoid and can even sink an open canoe.
For this reason, it is necessary to be able to make complex maneuvers in rapid currents and also maintain precise control over the craft in narrow passages. The big waves and strainers are easily avoidable. Prior exploration is recommended.
Farther south, in the tourist town of Pucón and for 20,000 Chilean pesos per person, you can enjoy the Liucura river, which is ideal for those who are just starting out rafting or are not very experienced.
The exciting but safe adventure begins in Pucón and the run lasts for around an hour and a half. The river runs through mountains that provide splendid scenery.
Once in the water you will immediately experience the exciting and vibrant thrill of traveling along a river that has grade 2 and 3 rapids, as well as the deafening sounds of the rapids, especially when they crash together forming waves of up to 1 and 2 meters high. At the end of the journey, coffee is served prior to the return to Pucón.
With rapids of grade 4 to 5, the Trancura River, also near Pucón, is capable of challenging the most intrepid and seasoned raftsmen.
The route can only be run by people over 14 years old, and begins 15 kilometers away from Pucón in the Complejo Turístico & Resort Trancura. There, tourists have access to a swimming-pool, volleyball and baby soccer courts, changing rooms, showers, children’s playground, scaling wall, “quincho” (barbecue area, generally covered with a thatched roof), and restaurant and bar services.
When rafting you will encounter waves two to three meters high, requiring a strenuous effort to navigate them while surrounded by the deafening noise of the swift Trancura waters.
The run lasts an hour and a half on average, during which time strong emotions and adrenalin will be a constant. Teamwork is highly valued and is indispensable for good performance during the trip.
The San Pedro river, close to to Valdivia, offers one of the most complex and comprehensive rafting experiences in Chile, with rapids starting off at grade 2 and then presenting more challenging obstacles in the grade 3 and 4 range, such as La Sirenita, La Vuelta del Reloj and El Toro. It is best to have extensive experience.
During the adventure you can follow the routes of the old colonists of Lake Riñihue, who used to descend the river on rafts carrying pieces of raulí, lingue and other noble woods, as well as enjoy the beautiful virgin landscapes surrounding the San Pedro.
It is necessary to be physically very fit because the voyage lasts close to six hours, starting at the outlet of Lake Riñihue and ending at Malihue.
The program includes a lecture on paddling and safety, as well as a lunch consisting of a barbecue on the river bank. This provides a welcome break to recover your energies and comment on the morning’s experiences.
The Futaleufú river is located in the midst of the indomitable Chilean Patagonia, and is considered one of the best torrents in the world to practice the sport, with rapids reaching up to grade 5. It is common for the rapids to be extremely long with waves on the descents and inevitable pitfalls that require fast maneuvers, all under pressure.
The river also offers a perfect combination of the two most important elements for practicing rafting: swift currents and “just right” slopes.
Prior exploration is recommended, although in many parts it is impossible because of the complex nature of the sector. Swimming is very dangerous and rescue is also difficult, even for the most intrepid and expert rescuers.
But it is not only an ideal place for people who seek the thrill of danger, it is also spectacular for nature and adventure lovers. The mountains, rivers, lakes and forests are an ideal scenario for walks, mountain-biking, fishing, horseback riding and exploring.
One of the marvels of the region of Aysén and one of the few rivers on the planet that has not suffered any intervention by man. Hidden between Chile’s Northern and Southern Ice Fields, near Laguna San Rafael, it offers spectacular conditions for practicing rafting.
Its rapids range from grade 2 to 3, and while you go along you can enjoy the turquoise color of the river and the exuberant nature of the surroundings: imposing virgin landscapes where you can spot species such as the huemul (south Andean deer), which is in danger of extinction.
This post is also available in Spanish