A Thrill-Seeker’s Guide to Kayaking and Rafting in Peru

Want an epic plunge through Peru’s deepest canyon? Or would you rather paddle deep into the Amazon? Our insider Will reveals his top adventures.


Photo © iStock/mountainberryphoto

The most important thing to remember before you hit the water is that you need to have faith in your rafting company and guide. It’s crucial that you check online reviews and ensure that the equipment is in good condition before you book – don’t head off onto the water with someone who approached you from the shadows!

Rafting Near Arequipa

The Río Chili is the most popular local river for backpackers. A half-day beginner’s trip leaves daily from March to November, costing around S/. 81 (US $25) per person.

From Arequipa, tours also head to the Río Majes, famed for its gentle Class II and III rapids. You’ll get a chance to visit the petroglyphs of Toro Muerto on the way.

You can also stay in the nearby village of Aplao for a homestay experience and arrange white water tours from there. It’s a tad cheaper – an afternoon on the water will cost around S/. 65 (US $20) a person.

Rafting the Cotahuasi Canyon

If you’re looking for extreme adventure, a couple of companies offer multi-day rafting adventures on impressive Cotahuasi Canyon, the world’s deepest canyon and a marvelous place of twisting rock formations and challenging Class IV and V rapids.

A trip through Cotahuasi Canyon is only for experienced rafters, as you’ll spend 10 days on the water. You can organize this from Arequipa but be warned, it will set you back around S/. 9,700 (US $3,000). You can get this price down if you bring your haggling A-game.

Cotahuasi Canyon. Photo credit: iStock

Rafting Near Cusco

If you’re in Cusco and want to arrange some white water adventures from here, the Río Urubama is very popular for rafting. Day trips run every day starting from around S/. 160 (US $50) per person. The river is relatively tame and is a good bet for beginners. Tours run all year round.

If you choose to do the Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu, one day will feature white-water rafting on the Urubamba.

You could also visit the Río Apurímac, famed for its challenging rapids scaling from Class III all the way up to Class V in places. The river runs through stunning scenery – deep gorges, tropical rainforest, and vibrant valleys – and you should have a good opportunity to spot some wildlife drinking from the river banks.

Tours are usually three or four days and generally only run from May to November.

Rafting in the Amazon

For a wilder trip, head to the Class IV rapids of Río Tambopata.

You need to plan this in advance as tours leave on a few set dates in July and August, or on request from March to November. The route starts in Juliaca, close to Lake Titicaca, and passes through the Tambopata Reserve in the vibrant Amazon, ending in Puerto Maldonado.

On this 10-day tour you can see some incredible wildlife in the reserve, and camp on the banks of the river, with prices starting from around S/. 9,700 (US $3,000) per person.

While this trip is expensive, it’s well worth it for the once- in-a-lifetime experience of drifting through the Amazon and camping out amid the sounds of the forest. I would recommend this multi-day rafting expedition over the Cotahuasi Canyon as you’ll see more variety in flora, fauna, and landscapes on this adventure.

Giant River Otter in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo credit: iStock

Kayaking at Lake Titicaca

If you’re traveling in Peru, you’ll almost certainly visit the legendary Lake Titicaca. It’s possible to explore this incredible place by kayak, departing from Puno or Chucuito. Paddling on the world’s highest navigable lake is a special experience, but remember that the elevation will make any physical activity much harder than usual, so take it easy and do not, I repeat, do not do it hungover!

Rentals start from S/. 39 (US $12) per hour, and tours including a visit to the floating reed islands of Uros vary from S/. 160 to 390 (US $50 to $120).

Lake kayaking in Peru. Photo credit: iStock

Kayaking and Rafting Near Lima

Sea kayak tours are available from Lima for S/. 226 (US $70) per person.

Lunahuaná is off the usual gringo trail, despite its location just three hours’ drive from Lima and is great for kayaking (Class I or II), and rafting (Class II to +IV). Different stretches of the Río Cañete river are used depending on the season, so rafting is usually available all year, although peak season is from December to April. Rafting companies in town offer various tours for beginners and more experienced rafters, with prices ranging from S/. 49 to 97 (US $15 to $30).

White water kayaking. Photo credit: iStock

Want to know more about Peru? Check out our podcast. We chat about alternative treks to Machu Picchu, how Peru is the original home of surfing, and look at what vaccinations do you need when traveling to South America.

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