Barefoot Expeditions: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and Peru Travel Adventures

Upano River. Rafting the Canyon of The Sacred Waterfalls

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UPANO: Morona Santiago Province, Sucua is the nearest town. Clase IV, IV+

The Upano is a dream come true. The river of the Sacred Waterfalls so deep in the Amazon jungle that its sheer solitude makes you be one with nature once again. Class IV and V rapids surrounded by waterfalls, deep green vegetation and jungle citizens that have inhabited the area for centuries.

If you want a vivid and real  description of the river run I recommend you read Rafters in the Mist by Germaine W. Shames, an essay that is part of the The Gift of Rivers by Pamela Michael and Robert Hassbook. It is a rather solemn and vivid description of the Upano. Here is a quote from her essay that stuck with me as it depicts not only this force of nature but the deep and silent connection to ancient tribes, the gatekeepers of the misty Amazon jungle.

It was the sacred waterfalls that drew me to Ecuador’s Rio Upano, the notion that these thundering cascades–so high they seemed to pour forth from the clouds–flowed not with the mere water but with ancestral spirits.

The Upano, tributary of the might Amazon, steals her crown of turbulence from the Andean Cordillera. A temperamental river, an unforgiving river, she has claimed this tangle of rainforest and canyon for her own, turning back would-be conquerors, toppling bridges, tempting prospectors with her gold, only to drown them in the reflection of their own dreams.

Below are three web resources were you can learn more about the Upano and the experience. ROW is the company that together with Peter Grubb did the first Upano commercial run. We know that their trips are of the highest quality and the guides are world class. However, we wish that they were actively seeking a more direct engagement with the local guides. Ecuador has world class rafting guides that can be used for this kind of trips. Sharing the training and knowledge they’ve acquired throughout their history running the Upano could be of great help to the Ecuadorian rafting community. As they say in their website, several of our US-based guide staff travel to Ecuador each winter to help guide Rio Upano rafting trips. I wish they would use more local guides and less of the several US-based guides.

  • ROW was invited to guide in Ecuador by Juan Fernandez Rodriguez, a native Ecuadorian and former ROW guide. Juan wanted to help develop a rafting program in his country, and in 1992 we spent six weeks exploring numerous forests, trails, villages and cities in Ecuador. Our exploration included several first descents on rivers in Ecuador, including the Rio Upano in the province of Morona-Santiago.
  • Flowing from the Andes to the Amazon, Ecuador’s Upano pulses through a breath-taking jungle canyon laced with thrilling rapids, magical tributary waterfalls and wondrous colored birds and iridescent butterflies. Side hikes to rarely explored waterfalls, including one inside a cave, and visits with the native Shuar river community compliment this marvelous Amazonian journey. (source:
  • The Upano River is the longest multi-day rafting trip in Ecuador. It’s located in the rugged, mountain Morona-Santiago province of Ecuador. The Upano River flows through the Namangosa Gorge where the Shuar Indians live. Flowing through a remote and mostly untouched region of Ecuador, the Upano River truly gives rafters a multi-day wilderness rafting experience, including great hiking, spectacular wildlife viewing, and exciting rapids. (source:

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