Category Archives: Beyond North America

Never winter family whitewater adventures (Mexico)

The original article can also be found at http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2018/01/11/never-winter-family-whitewater-adventures-part-three/

It’s winter and for most people the kayaking season has been over for a few months. For those in the northern hemispheres that are still paddling, you are likely wearing a lot of layers to ward off the chill. Time to think about heading SOUTH for warm water and warm weather…

Most people think that they can’t go off on a winter kayaking trip unless they are solid class 4/5 paddlers, and you can’t go with kids! This is absolutely not the case! Over a series of four posts, we are going to lay out our experiences and recommendations for heading south as a kayaking family.

Destination #3 is Mexico, which is located in the southern most part of North America and is a beautiful country. The majority of the kayaking is on the eastern side in the regions of Valles and Vera Cruz, which are north east and south east, respectively, of Mexico City. The peso is the national currency but you can get away with US $$ in some places.

At the time that we went, this region of Mexico was considered fairly safe but that can change so be sure to check with the local tour operators. The only sketchy part was the drive through the northern region near the Reynosa border crossing as we drove from San Marcos, Texas down to Valles on both of our trips. Being in a van for 16 hours is not the most family friendly experience so we would definitely recommend flying into Mexico City (for trips to Vera Cruz) or Tampico (for trips to Valles).

Mexico is not as clean as Costa Rica of Ecuador and the water should not be assumed to be drinkable. The roads are a work in progress in many regions and armed military guards are the norm as you drive through every town. Don’t be surprised when you get stopped – just stay friendly and in most cases, all is fine.

The rivers in the Valles region are the most family friendly however it is a bit harder to mix and match things here. Neither of the outfitters that we worked with had the ability to provide multiple itineraries within a trip. This is a great region to learn how to do drops and slides, with most being between 5-10 feet. We did this trip the first time when Hunter was ten and anything he (or we) weren’t comfortable with him running, we tossed his boat over and then he and Tim would jump off the drop.

Our second trip was when he was 11 and by then he was more comfortable with the idea of slides and drops and we would allow him to do anything up to around 10 feet. There was only one drop bigger than that (20 ft) and Hunter and I took out before it and hiked around it on the road.

Rivers that we have paddled in the Valles Region:

  • Rio El Salto – an amazingly azul blue river full of pool drops and slides over travertine
  • Rio Micos –  Upper and lower sections – more travertine slides and small drops and super warm water
  • Rio Tampaon – big water wave trains and canyons

We have not yet paddled in the Veracruz region but have heard great things about it. Aventuretec is where most paddlers base out of and there is a range from class II to class V runs all within a few hours.

Things to think about when considering Mexico:

  • Most of the water is warm but you can get cooler days as you are up in the mountains – bringing an assortment of gear allows you to have choices to match the weather as well as a better chance of your gear drying if you can alternate sets each day
  • Long pants and tops are important for both the sun and the bugs – don’t forget socks as the sand flies can get pesky
  • Bring both bug spray and sun screen for on and off the river
  • You can use US $$ in some places but be sure to have small bills. You will get a better exchange rate / price if you are using pesos so consider changing some before you travel
  • Assume that the water is NOT drinkable and always ensure that the water you are drinking has come out of a bottle
  • We have invested in break apart paddles so we can bring our own paddles easily with us on the plane. For those that don’t have them, you can rent paddles in most places, which is often easier than checking full paddles as luggage (no matter how well you pack them)
  • The travertine can scratch up hands, which can turn into infections. We learned and brought gloves for that extra layer of protection on our 2nd trip
  • Experiencing the culture of a new country is half the fun – be sure to check out the fun foods that can be found at the corner stores and the small community restaurants
  • Everyone is quite friendly so be sure to stop and say hi and experiment with your spanish

When we travelled we went with Ben Kvanli of Warm Whitewater. He has been travelling to the region for years and takes a group down once a month from October to March each year. It is a more economical way to go as the group drives down in a van from San Marcos, Texas, and shares travel costs. It is a VERY long drive to be in a small space with kids…On our second trip to Valles we met up with Tom McEwan of Calleva’s Liquid Adventure School. He has also been running trips to both Valles and Veracruz for many years and is well respected in the region. He trailers his boats down there in November and then has guests fly in for the week. We would recommend flying in for your first trip – it is safer and will have everyone in a good mood when you get there rather than grumpy from a 16 hour car ride.

The Vincent Family (www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.twitter.com/chasingthesunyt // www.chasingthesun.ca )

More information is available at:

https://calleva.org/kayakmexico/

https://www.facebook.com/WARMWhitewater/

https://www.aventurec.com

Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures (Ecuador)

This post was initially published on the Jackson Kayak blog at: http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2018/01/03/never-winter-family-whitewater-adventures-part-two/

It’s winter and for most people the kayaking season has been over for a few months. For those in the northern hemispheres that are still paddling, you are likely wearing a lot of layers to ward off the chill. Time to think about heading SOUTH for warm water and warm weather…

Most people think that they can’t go off on a winter kayaking trip unless they are solid class 4/5 paddlers, and that you certainly can’t take kids! This is absolutely not the case! Over a series of four posts, we are going to lay out our experiences and recommendations for heading south as a kayaking family.

Destination #2 is Ecuador, which is located in the northwest corner of South America and is an amazing country. There are four distinct zones in Ecuador – the Amazon jungle in the east, the Andes mountains in the middle, the Pacific ocean in the west and then the Galapagos Islands off the western coast.

As a country, Ecuador is going through a number of positive transitions. It is a relatively clean country (daily garbage pick up) with solid roads, education and health care systems. The water and sewer systems are not as strong so you do need to pay attention to where your water is coming from (both drinking water, ice and food cooking water) and remember that you can’t flush toilet paper other than at the airport. It is also a very safe country and we wandered around in the evenings in a number of the towns that we visited without a single concern.

The main airport is in Quito, which is also the capital city. The main kayaking areas are all to the east and south east. In the Andes to the east the main paddling bases are in San Francisco de Borja and Baeza, two small towns near the Quijos river basin. Further to the east is Tena, which sits right on the edge of the Amazon jungle and is one of the key bases for jungle tours. To the south east is Banos, the adventure capital of Ecuador, which offers kayaking, hiking, ziplining and more. The primary currency is US $$ but be sure to bring a lot of small bills as most stores can’t change anything bigger than a $20.

Similar to our Costa Rica trip, we went to Ecuador as part of a guided trip. We chose to go with Ecuador Kayak because they offer to provide as many guides as needed to meet the levels of the group. This meant that Hunter and I could have one itinerary and Tim could have another. It worked out superbly well – Hunter and I had a great week that focused on his progression in creeking while also embedding an extra amount of local culture and information to support his homeschooling activities. Tim was able to spend his week on various class IV rivers and we got to hear all about them when we met up at the end of each day.

Other organizations that we have heard positive things about that run trips to Ecuador are Endless River Adventures (with a summer base on the Nantahalla River) and Small World Adventures (been in Ecuador for over 25 years). All three organizations are based out of San Francisco de Borja on the Quijos river but include rivers in Tena in all their trips.

We have been to Ecuador twice and have loved both trips. It is a great mixture of creeking and big water kayaking, with amazing culture and people mixed in.

We have paddled the following rivers while there:

Quijos River – there are at least five sections of this river and they run through the Quijos valley. They start out as steep creeking and then move into big water. The difficulty correlates directly to the water level.

Borja – a fun creek that runs into the Quijos and is only available when the Quijos is at medium to high levels. It is narrow and shallow but nice and close to the home base in Borja and it runs directly into the Quijos so the take out is a short walk.

Cosanga – a rocky creek style river in the Borja valley with an upper class IV section and a middle class III section

Misahualli – there is an upper, a middle section and a lower section to this beautiful river near Tena. The Upper is good solid class IV creeking with big round boulders and boofs everywhere. The Middle section is great class II/III and perfect for teaching the basics of creeking.

Upper Anzu – a fun class III river in the Tena basin with some holes and surf waves

Jatunyacu – big water, big wave trains class III run in the Tena basin that can be a half day run or a full day adventure. The Upper run starts at a fabulous eco resort with rope swings and is a class IV section. The middle starts a few bridges down and is perfect class III. This river is also known as the Upper Napo river and it is part of the headwaters of the Amazon.

Pastaza – a big water class III/IV run near Banos. Super fun with big wave trains. Beware of the water quality and try not to swallow any water and shower after the run.

Jondachi River – the quintessential class IV creeking river – amazingly scenic jungle section with super big boulders and clean blue water. Fun hike in that involves local porters carrying your boat – with it being the best $5 you have ever spent

Hollin River – a class III/IV river in the Tena basin that has something for everyone – boulders, canyons, side streams, and drops

Things to think about when considering Ecuador:

  • The Andes region is like spring paddling in most of North America – while it is sunny a lot of the days, drytops are needed most of the time and it’s great to have long pants and a fleece or light puffy jacket for evenings
  • The Amazon region is sticky and hot – perfect for rash guards and splash tops
  • Bring both bug spray and sun screen for on and off the river
  • You can use US $$ in all places but be sure to have lots of small bills.
  • Assume that the water is NOT drinkable and always ensure that the water you are drinking has come out of a bottle
  • We have invested in break apart paddles so we can bring our own paddles easily with us on the plane. For those that don’t have them, you can rent paddles in most places, which is often easier than checking full paddles as luggage (no matter how well you pack them)
  • We took full face helmets on our second trip and were really glad we had them based on the number of scratches you could see. The local paddlers just wear regular helmets so it comes down your skill and confidence levels
  • Experiencing the culture of a new country is half the fun – be sure to check out the fun foods that can be found at the corner stores and the small community restaurants
  • Try to spend a day in Quito at the beginning or end of your trip. Even better if you are there for the weekend market, which is full of local vendors. Be sure to check out the buildings and history of old town
  • If you have the time, be sure the extend your visit by even a few days and check out the town of Banos or some of the small villages in the Andes region. An amazing add on is a few days in the Gallapagos, but it can be quite expensive.

The Vincent Family (www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.twitter.com/chasingthesunyt // www.chasingthesun.ca )

More info can be found at:

Kayak Ecuador (www.kayakecuador.com)

Endless River Adventures (https://endlessriveradventures.com/international-trips/ecuador/)

Small World (www.smallworld.com)

Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures (Costa Rica)

Here is part one of our four part series for Jackson Kayak on Warm Whitewater destinations for families – check it out!

Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures: Part one

Costa Rica – a super family friendly kayaking destination

It’s winter and for most people the kayaking season has been over for a few months. For those in the northern hemispheres that are still paddling, you are likely wearing a lot of layers to ward off the chill. Time to think about heading SOUTH for warm water and warm weather…

Most people think that they can’t go off on a winter kayaking trip unless they are solid class 4/5 paddlers, and you definitely can’t go with kids. This is absolutely not the case! Over a series of four posts, we are going to lay out our experiences and recommendations for heading south as a kayaking family.

Costa Rica is located in Central America and is one of the simplest southern destinations to visit. It is safe and clean, with good roads, education and health care systems. In most places, the water is safe to drink which can make life with kids soooo much easier! People are very friendly and you can get away with English in most places. People are also good sports about trying out your “spanglish” and teaching you new words. The colonne is the local currency, however American dollars are taken in most places.

The main airport is San Jose, which is pretty central within the country. Costa Rica is bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The majority of the paddling takes place in the mountains east of San Jose, and just west of the Caribbean Sea. A great place to base yourself out of is the town of Turrialba.

Within a few hours are an amazing assortment of class 2 -5 rivers or river sections. The water and the air temps are generally warm. With this being the jungle/rain forest you also want to plan for the fact that it is possible to see rain at some point every day.

We have been going on winter family kayaking trips for the last four years since Hunter was 10. We have found that picking a good guide company makes all the difference in the world. For our trip to Costa Rica we went with CostaRica Rios, who have been recognized by National Geographic for their experiences. The other two companies that we have heard really positive reviews on are Esprit Rafting (with a summer base on the Ottawa River) and Endless River Adventures (with a summer base on the Nantahalla River).

We started our trip out on the Pejibaye River. The morning was spent on the class I//III lower section to get back in the groove. After a yummy jungle lunch you could step things up by running the upper, a class III/IV steeper creeking section or head back to do the lower section again and hook up with the gang from the upper when they came through.

Day Two and Three were spent on the Sarapiqui, which is about 3.5 hours from Turrialba and is considered the “Jewel of Costa Rica” – it is further into the jungle and has a more tropical feel, with lots of greenery and lushness. There are three distinct sections of the river, ranging from class II to class IV so again there is something to match up with every paddler.

Day Four was spent on the Upper Upper Pacuare – a traditional creeky, boulder section of river. This is a class II/III river that has a road paralleling it for the entire class II section, so those not confident to run the class III can do laps on the class II section. The class III section can be stepped up a bit by finding tricky lines and lots of boofs for the more advanced paddler. After the main takeout, the bottom four rapids of this run are class IV and are a fabulous way to end the day for the more advanced paddler. You meet up with the rest of the group at a picnic lunch with beverages to celebrate a fabulous end to a beautiful section.

Day Five and Six were spent on the Lower Pacuare, which is a 24 km (17m) section of river that is split up with an overnight stay in a jungle lodge. The day five section is a mixture of class II and III with lots of surfing waves and fun little rapids. There is an amazing lunch stop beside a creek with a small waterfall curtain/cave that is a perfect place for exploring.

The lodge is rustic but perfect for families – individual huts have lots of room to spread out and the more adventurous teens can sleep in a hammock in the main building. It’s pretty cool to experience sleeping in a hammock in the jungle and hearing all those noises all night!

The lower section of the Lower Pacuare are a mixture of class III+/IV. Those that are not comfortable with this level get to raft the section, which again means that all of the family members get to experience the river and have a great time together.

During the low water of the “summer season” (mid Jan – mid March) the Upper Pacuare section is also available as an option. It is another fun boulder filled creek run that will keep the class III/IV paddlers on their toes.

Things to think about when considering Costa Rica:

  • It is a very humid country and therefore hard to get gear to dry. Bring multiple sets of swim tops and shorts if you can
  • For those that are really warm blooded, you can get away with just a swim top and a shorty for the cooler days. I would wear a shorty on the warm rivers and a dry top with a swim top underneath for the cooler days
  • Bring both bug spray and sun screen for on and off the river
  • You can use US $$ in most places but be sure to have lots of small bills. It is still handy to have some colonnes for use in the small town stores for snacks and drinks.
  • We have invested in break apart paddles so we can bring our own paddles easily with us on the plane. For those that don’t have them, you can rent paddles in most places, which is often easier than checking full paddles as luggage (no matter how well you pack them)
  • Experiencing the culture of a new country is half the fun – be sure to check out the fun foods that can be found at the corner stores and the small community restaurants
  • If you have the time, consider extending your visit by even a few days and check out the beaches on either the Pacific or the Caribbean side. The week on the river is busy and tiring so beach time is a great way to slow right down truly chill out

Every guide company we have ever travelled with has offered options for non-paddling companions so if someone in the family doesn’t paddle then there are still amazing adventures to be had. They are also always open to finding childcare to help parents still feel like they are on vacation!

Are you starting to see what’s possible? Dreaming of warm water paddling and adventures with your family? Stay tuned for next week to learn more about family kayaking adventures in Ecuador!

The Vincent Family (www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.twitter.com/chasingthesunyt // www.chasingthesun.ca )

More info can be found at:

Costa Rica Rios (www.costaricarios.com)

Esprit Rafting (http://www.riversandrainforest.com/costa-rica)

Endless River Adventures (https://endlessriveradventures.com/international-trips/costa-rica/kayak-costa-rica/)

Dominical surf life – Pura Vida (Costa Rica 2016)

The second week of our time in Costa Rica was spent in the small surf town of Dominical, on the southern pacific coast. Check out our first post here to learn about our super fun week kayaking. According to locals it has changed a lot in the last 5 years as the main coastal road has been developed – more tourism which is good for the economy and the services but it’s also meant more people and a faster pace of life for the former hippy town.

We drove from Turrialba to Cartago and then up to San Jose with the Costa Rica Rios gang and then got a ride from “Johnny” through San Jose to Ortonna and then down the coast to Domnical (yellow highlighted roads show all the places we explored in our 2 weeks).

Cartago is considered by some as the most religious place in Costa Rica. It felt like a moderately large city with traffic and all the other main structures that you find in cities. The main plaza and downtown area is dominated by the Santiago Apostol Parish Ruins, which are beautiful and function very much as a metropolitan green space. The church / parish was under perpetual construction between 1575 and 1910. A series of earthquakes brought down the churches and in 1910 it was decided not to continue with construction. No single church was ever actually completed.

The Festival de la Luz was about to start as we were driving through San Jose so we got to see all the floats as they were preparing for the parade that evening – they are quite elaborate!

Half way through our drive we stopped at a local crocodile sanctuary – it was mind-blowing (and a little scary) to see that many crocodiles sunning themselves on the river bank. Especially when you stopped to think about the amount of time we had just spent in rivers and were about to spend in the ocean. Luckily crocodiles (and piranhas) don’t like fast moving water and we just needed to stay away from estuary areas when on the ocean.

In Dominical we rented a 3 bedroom house for the group and it worked out really well. We were about a block from the beach along a dirt road, easy walking distance to the central part of town and it came with a pool which really helped as it was HOT…

Just beyond our back fence was a large green field that came with various types of lizards and iguanas – big, small and everything in between. We would go in search of them throughout the day to see what they were up to. Hunter is pointing them out to Tim in the photo.

Jeanine from Dominical Waverider was a huge help in getting all of our Dominical fun organized. Tim, Hunter and I took surfing lessons for 3 days and the instruction was great – they even took photos of us! It was a low surf window while we were there which was good as it meant we got to surf right in Dominical (normally only for experts) but it also meant that some days it was tough to find waves. We were pretty worn out from our river adventures so not our best surfing, but we all came away with some improvement and good suggestions. It was also great to have Hunter back out on the water surfing with us (he took a self-imposed hiatus last year).

The main Dominical and Playa Hermosa beaches all have lifeguards, which is great to see and comforting as the rip tides can be quite strong at times.

Jeanine also took us to a local waterfall – some people are adventurous enough to slide down the waterfall or jump off the top. We decided to just enjoy the cool and refreshing pool at the bottom. The ocean temperature was like bathwater – I found it amazing, the boys found it too warm.

We had fun exploring Dominical and stopped in at the CongoMongo restaurant for lunch (much to our surprise it was vegetarian so I was happy, the boys not so much… but they did like the swings) and Tortilla Flats (where you MUST have the passionfruit basil margarita while watching the sunset). There are 5-6 good small restaurants within walking distance of the main area and all are worth checking out.

It was fun to have some “beach time” after all the time on the river. It’s always hard to leave those amazing sunsets and head home but we did… It leaves us excited for our next beach visit. If you are looking for some surf time in Costa Rica, be sure to chat with Jeanine at Dominical Waverider – we strongly recommend them!

Kayak Costa Rica 2016

We spent 2 weeks in sunny Costa Rica in mid December with an amazing group of friends; 8 days under the excellent care of Costa Rica Rios and another 4 days hanging at the beach enjoying the sand and surf in Dominical. This post covers the first 8 days with a second post covering beach life!

Getting anywhere warm from the Yukon is an adventure in itself… and usually takes over 24 hours of travelling. This trip was 30 hours from airport to airport, including 4 airplanes & 5 different airports, 1 lost luggage adventure mid trip, 1 case of cancelled tickets mid trip, and another 6 hours driving in Costa Rica to get to Turrialba thanks to traffic issues. We spent from 1:00 am to 4:00 am attempting to get some sleep in the underground of the Houston Airport in between flights – Hunter’s first exposure to life as a dirt bag kayaker…

Our winter paddling adventures are about more than just finding warm water, they are a great opportunity to experience new cultures, see new animals and amazing scenery, try out new foods and to continue to practice our spanish.

Our main base camp while kayaking was Villa Florencia just outside of Turrialba, which is located in the Central Valley mid way between San Jose and the Caribbean Sea. The hotel was beautiful with lush grounds to walk around, a swimming pool and hot tub and large spacious rooms. The highlight of the amenities was the Foosball table, where even the chef showed up to take on the strongest one of our group. The biggest challenge was trying to dry 3 people’s wet gear in a humid climate in our room.

Our first day of paddling was on the Pejibaye River, a tributary of the Reventazon River in the Turrialba Valley. The morning session was class II and our “check out” paddle where the guides get to determine skills/abilities etc. It also allowed us to get used to the rental boats that we were using. After lunch at an old school house on a dirt road a group of us put in on the upper class III section and others did the lower section again. The upper section was fun with a good assortment of boulders and felt like a nice creek run in the middle of the jungle.

Days two and three were spent on the Sarapiqui River, which was 3 hours NE near Puerto Villejo. It runs from the Central Mountain Range just north of San Jose to the San Marcos River which runs along the shared border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.  It was further into the rain forest and we definitely found the rain that goes with the forest! Our first run down was on the lower section of the river (class II/III) and it ended in pouring rain, with everyone standing delicately in the bus to get to the hotel to avoid getting the bus soggy for our long ride home. Our second day was on the La Virgen upper section (class III+) and came with a fabulous surf wave and some fun revolving whirl pools. Hunter also shifted into an RPM as he had watched our lead guide Arnaldo having so much fun stern squirting with it on the first day.

Days four, five and six were spent on various sections of the Pacuare River, which is one of Costa Rica’s classic rivers running 108 km from the highlands to the Caribbean Sea through primary rain forest and lowland tropical forests. It is a mix of class III, IV and V depending on the section you run. On day four we ran the Upper Upper section (class II/III) and a smaller group of us ran the 5 class IV rapids before you get into the class V Upper section.

Day five and six were an overnight trip on the Lower section, with a stay at the beautiful Pacuare Outdoor Centre in the middle of the jungle. Lunch break on day five was at a fun tributary that turned out to have a small cave hiding behind the rocks, which Hunter loved. If you look hard you can see his face and hands sticking out of the wall of water. Riverside lunches were always yummy, plentiful and held in creative places!

It was quite the hike up and down from the river side to the POC lodge but so worth it for both the view and the amazing amenities. The wide open kitchen/living room common space was so clean and inviting that Hunter ended up sleeping in one of the hammocks overnight while Tim and I enjoyed our small cabin with nothing but screen between the room and the jungle – lots of noises and with a full moon out it never really got dark.

Our last day of paddling was a mix of III+ and IV and so a smaller group paddled and the others had a great day in the raft. Hunter chose to paddle and styled the class IV rapids thanks to some great guiding by Arnaldo Perez, Costa Rica’s top slalom racer.

Overall we were really impressed with the staff at Costa Rica Rios and would definitely recommend them for anyone looking for a kayaking or warm weather winter adventure trip. They are very family friendly and also open to customizing adventures just for you.

More  photos can be found on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ChasingthesunYT.