Updated: Aug 7, 2019
My girlfriend, Jess, and I traveled to Ecuador for the first time in March 2019. We left home with the expectation of paddling for a week in Baeza, leaving a couple days to sightsee in Quito. This is a trip that I would highly recommend to anyone. It’s one I personally have been looking forward to for quite some time.
Whether you’re looking to paddle class III – V boulder gardens or bask in the beauty that is a mountainous jungle, Ecuador has something for everyone- and for a very reasonable price. Here is a summary of our trip with emphasized information for anyone else who might be interested in paddling Ecuador.
Although we did a lot of research leading up to the trip, we did not go with much of a plan as to how we would spend each day. We booked our airline tickets several months ahead of time through Copa airlines for around $550.00 each. Oddly enough, due to a last-minute passport snafu we ended up cancelling these and rebooking our tickets for a bit cheaper.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT #1: If your passport is due to expire within 6 months of your travel date to Ecuador, they WILL NOT let you board the plane. REPEAT they will not let you board the plane. This resulted in a full-on ugly cry from Jess. This is standard procedure (not the ugly cry) for most foreign countries with some requiring up to a year before passport expiration. We learned this the hard way and had to expedite a passport in Boston, forcing us to travel the next day. This ultimately required us to shell out a few extra $$$ of our spending cash for the trip. We would also continue to feel the ripple effects of our “snafu” for most of our trip.
New passport in hand we were allowed to board our newly scheduled flight to Quito the following morning. A quick layover in Panama City and we landed in Quito just in time for a late supper.
The airport in Quito is about 20 minutes from downtown so we grabbed a taxi and headed into the city. There are several hotels and hostels near the airport which I would recommend if you are leaving the next morning for a paddling destination, it will save you travel time and taxi fare into the city. We headed to Baeza the next morning, via taxi. There are several options for getting from Quito to Baeza, public bus, taxi or private shuttle. We had initially scheduled a private shuttle through Abe, owner/operator, at Boof Sessions. But, you guessed it, because of our newly minted itinerary, we had to cancel and resolved to forgo the public bus and pay the higher taxi fare mostly in hopes we’d find ourselves on the water sooner rather than later. And we did, booking the taxi saved us a whopping 30 minutes.
It is about a 2-hour drive on winding roads over a mountain pass. Needless to say, the view was spectacular and before we knew it, we were in Baeza. The taxi ride cost us $60.00 (little over $1 a mile), we took the public bus on the return trip and that cost $8.00 for both of us, it did take about 2.5 hours though.
After a long couple of days, we finally made it to Baeza, a very small town in the Quijos River valley which eventually drains into the Amazon. We checked into Gina’s, one of the local kayak hostels which also has a bar and restaurant.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT #2: If you are staying at Gina’s remember these 5 sections of river and know them in order, you will be tested.
Bridge to Bridge
Failure to do so will result in a steep penalty. One shot of tequila for each section you get wrong and this comes after the 5 mandatory shots you must take upon arrival. The locals believe their bark infused tequila will not only prevent Malaria but bring you luck on the river. Abstain at own risk.
After checking in we grabbed some lunch, asked the front desk to order us a taxi and headed out back where our rental boats were patiently waiting for us from Abe at www.boofsessions.com/. We had communicated with him prior to arrival. We discussed everything from expected water levels, shuttle options, and most importantly boat rentals. Sure, if you’re wicked attached to your own boat you can ship it down for a cost of up to $150 each way. However, traveling on a budget we opted to pay the $20 a day fee to rent. Depending on the length of time you plan to stay in Ecuador the shipping fees may make financial sense for you. Abe knew what we paddled at home and had a 9R and Zet 5 waiting for us. We outfitted our boats, unpacked the rest of our own gear and loaded everything in the taxi.
Over the next four days we paddled three different sections of the Quijos River, bridge 1 to bridge 2, bridge 2 to bridge 4 and Bombon. We also ran 2 sections of the Cosanga River, upper and middle. We were the only two kayakers on the river most days, so we were cautious, getting out to scout anything we could not see a clear line through. Most of what we paddled was boat scoutable and we managed to get through it all with only 1 minor setback.
On our first day in Baeza we paddled the bridge 1 to bridge 2 section which was hands down the most continuous section we ran our entire trip. This run is mostly boulder garden class III – IV with a few sticky holes one of which Jess casually dropped herself into. After a valiant fight against a violent side surf for a few seconds a swim was inevitable. She was fine saved for one casualty, the loss of one of her brand-new shoes that I gifted to her on Valentine’s Day. She’s still mad about that.
But if you know Jess, this shouldn’t surprise you. Passport problems, shoe problems- she’s my little train wreck. I said this jokingly to her expecting a laugh, but I reignited the ugly cry. If you find a bright green Astral shoe on the shores of the Quijos let us know!
After 4 days of paddling and relaxing we headed back to Quito, spending our last day touring around the city. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to see Quito, do what we did. We booked a day tour through Quito Tour Bus company (quitotourbus.com) for about $15 each. The tour would take us to 11 of the best highlights in the city. Fun fact, Quito is the highest capital city in the world, standing at 9,350’ above sea level, we learned that on the tour. Luckily the sun was out and it nice and warm to ride on the second level of the bus, top down, of course.
I highly recommend this trip for anyone looking for a great winter getaway. There are dozens of rivers to explore all over Ecuador, we will be going back for sure!