Raft the Amazon


Few adventures are more Indiana Jones in feel than exploring the back and beyond of the Amazon. Add to that the thrills and spills of white-water rafting, and you’re onto an adventure worthy of the fedora’d man himself.

From Lonely Planet’s thrilling new full-colour hardback, Great Adventures, published this month (November).

Distance: Three to 11 days on the river

Location: Southeastern Peru

Ideal Time Commitment: Three days

Best Time of Year: May to November

Essential Tip: Be sure to factor in some extra acclimatising time for when you first arrive in cusco – the 3300m altitude will slow you down!

Essential Experiences:
Feeling the rush of rafting one of the top 10 rivers in the world.

Taking in the solitude of the river and the canyon – so close to civilisation but true wilderness.

Learning about the fascinating Incan history that surrounds the area: walking the Inca Trail, exploring the Pisac ruins and, of course, visiting Machu Picchu.

Tasting some of the unique and underappreciated Peruvian cuisine available throughout the region: monoya(mint) tea to help with altitude acclimatisation and cuy(guinea pig) if you’re feeling adventurous.

Every river has to start somewhere and the mighty Amazon, the longest waterway on the planet, starts right here on the Río Apurímac, home to some fantastic white-water rafting. While many Peruvian adventures are easily accessible by weekend warriors and armchair adventurers, this one takes the level of commitment several notches higher.

Located deep within the mountains close to the home of Peru’s Incan heritage, the Río Apurímac cuts a deep swathe into the earth, forming a canyon that’s twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. Starting close to Cusco, it starts as a trickle and eventually grows to a torrent. In total, the river stretches over 1000km before it meets the Amazon, which continues for another 6500km before meeting the Atlantic Ocean. Safe to say, you won’t be rafting the whole thing.

The majority of trips are around three days long, taking in the river’s most thrilling sections. The more intrepid can easily spend 11 days or more on the river, however, finding adventure after adventure. The really wild-eyed explorers among you can attempt to travel its full length to where it meets the Amazon – good luck with that, because if you do it, you’ll be the third group ever to have safely completed the trip.

No matter how long you spend on the river, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular scenery and the chance to spot some iconic Peruvian wildlife, perhaps including pumas, which have been glimpsed on the riverbanks. The canyon walls grow to a staggering height of 3000m – claustrophobic, committing and jaw-dropping awesome all at once. Peru is a land of extraordinary experiences and this trip, just steps from one of the planet’s adventure capitals, takes you to an untouched world.

The Inca Trail – Is It Worth It? The Inca Trail is one of those hikes that gets written about in travel lit, adventure magazines and all over the web as the thing to do. Well, in a sea of ‘it’ things to do, is it really worth all the hype? In a word – yes. It’s easy to get to the start of the Inca Trail and feel fairly jaded about the whole production. Sure, it’s busy and there’s a mountain of hype higher than the highest pass on the trail, but that hype is well earned. Stunning vistas, some great history and walking right to Machu Picchu – yep, it’s worth it.

The Adventure Unfolds

Departing from Cusco, it’s a scenic and historic drive upriver to the Apurímac canyon and the start of the rafting. This trip has been named as one of the top 10 rafting experiences in the world and that will come as no surprise once you behold the river. Over a millennia the relentless flow of water has carved a canyon that runs 3000m deep. At its bottom the Río Apurímac snakes its way through the mountains and past historic Incan ruins; the river is a feast for the eyes and the soul.

Once you hit the water, the action is on. In Quechua, the native language of Peru, Apurímac means ‘the Great Speaker’ – Incan priests would consult the river for advice, and it would speak back. It’s fair to say that once the rapids start crashing over your raft, and you are among the river’s froth and fury, you’ll be having a chat with it too. 

With a steady stream of class IV and V rapids to keep things interesting, both new rafters and well-bloodied experts will be entertained. The whitewater isn’t ultra continuous; there are plenty of gaps in the action to collect your thoughts and perhaps your swimming companions. All of the tricky bits are easily scouted before you run them, and despite the sheer steepness and claustrophobic nature of the canyon, rapids that look a bit too much can easily be skipped. 

Whether you choose to make this a short, three-day expedition or really stretch it out, seeing the sun rise above the skyscraper canyon walls is a sight you’ll never forget, and this alone is perhaps worth the trip itself.

Making It Happen

Cusco is home base for much of the action in Peru. While many visitors arrive here as the base of operations for tackling the Inca Trail and onward to Machu Picchu, organising a rafting trip from here is a piece of cake. There are numerous accommodation options in this historic city and plenty of other things to do while you are there. Activities Peru, River Explorers and Eric Adventures all run safe and fun rafting trips.

An Alternative Challenge

So water isn’t your thing? No worries – jump on a bike. The steep hillsides aren’t just good for rafting, they’re also a prime location for mountain biking. There are several riding options available, from introductory to hard-core. Cycling the Sacred Valley is a huge highlight, which will see you leaving from Cusco and gliding through the valley, passing several small villages along the way. Finish in Pisac – one of the best-preserved Incan sites in Peru – and be sure to save some time to explore.


  - The Milk of Sorrow (2009) Critically acclaimed and Academy Award–nominated, the film tells the story of one woman’s journey to raise enough money to bury her recently deceased mother in the village in which she was born.

 - The Conquest of the Incas (John Hemming) Regarded by many as the definitive history of the end of the Incan Empire and the Spanish invasion that created the Peru we know today.

 - Fitzcarraldo (1982) This classic film by Werner Herzog tells the story of an ingenious but insane dreamer who travels upriver in search of rubber trees. The only thing standing in his way is a stretch of land he needs to portage his 300-tonne boat over! Production of the film was so tense that a Peruvian chief cast in the film offered to murder the leading man, Klaus Kinski, as a favour to the director.

This is an extract from Lonely Planet’s Great Adventures © Lonely Planet. 2012 RRP: NZ$59.99.

Photo Credits:

Top, left: 
Lonely Planet’s
 new full-colour hardbackGreat Adventures

Middle, right: 
Machu Picchu was built by Incas in the 15th century.

Bottom, left: 
A village chief of the indigenous Shipibo-Conibo people of the Peruvian Amazon.

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  • Jenny says
    Lived in PNG for 4 years - in the bush. It was like living in the pages of national geographic every day!
  • JohnGx says
    Not sure about the river but keen on the Inca trail :)
  • lr says
    I have seen so many documentaries or tv shows where they have have been out on the amazon river - it looks truly spectacular and a once in a lifetime experience.

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