With 27+ years’ experience running trips and paddling in Latin America – we’ve got some pretty good beta on paddling DIY (Do It Yourself) in a foreign country specifically in Latin America; even more specifically, in Ecuador. The short answer to paddling on your own in Ecuador is “Yes!” And “No.”
The “yes!” is for all of you who have any combination of the following:
- At least a month set aside to travel and paddle
- Enough money to make ends meet for an extended period of unemployment
- At least a minimal grasp of Spanish, or a knack for picking up a foreign language easily and/or comfort in a country that speaks very little English, which is the case in Ecuador.
- A good stomach to deal with lower-end budget restaurants where food prep is not typically scaled to gringos.
- Solid boating skills and comfort running unfamiliar rivers. Don’t come to Ecuador on your own without a solid roll. Period.
- Have someone who is willing to babysit you.
- A sense of adventure for dealing with whatever the day brings you.
That’s a short list of must have’s for having an awesome time on your own traveling/paddling in Ecuador.
The “No” list for paddling on your own is also any combination of the following:
- Having a short, specific time to travel and paddle, with little room for “adventures” that will throw off your schedule
- Having a preference for focusing your time on the paddling and culture expedited by guides that are super experienced on the rivers, know varying water levels, and know the people and the culture.
- A preference for letting someone else deal with the logistics of a foreign country, from the rivers to transportation to hotels and restaurants.
- Not really interested in the dirt bag lifestyle of low rent hotels full of a lot of young bros – many who are as interested in the partying end of things as the paddling and are able to do both with gusto.
- Not jazzed up about the idea of jumping on new rivers, at wildly varying water levels, with people you may or may not know, who have a wide range of paddling styles and idea of responsibility on the river.
- Not interested in public transportation as your day-to-day means of getting to and from wherever you are going.
- Little to no Spanish.
That’s the short list for why joining a commercial paddling trip Ecuador will be your best bet.
Here’s a few extra clarifications about paddling in Ecuador:
Boats. There are no well-stocked outfitters stores in Ecuador full of paddling gear and boats to replace what you may not bring down/break/lose/have stolen. One of the biggest challenges to doing things on your own is the kayak. Airlines continue to be a coin toss as to whether they will check your kayak/surf boat/windsurfer/fishing vessel. During the holidays Ecuador always places an embargo on the airlines, limiting travelers to two bags. The airlines cannot get around that in their computer system. If the person checking you in is happy to check in your kayak, there will be a cost involved – up to $150. Say thank you as you pay the fee and be happy you have your boat. And please DO NOT bring a welded boat to Ecuador with the intent of selling it to some unassuming person once you are done. You are bringing trash into another country that will end up in the landfill after a few weeks of hard boating. Leave your trash at home. If you want to try and sell your boat after you paddle, have the courtesy of selling a boat that at least arrived in good condition. Ecuadorian paddlers do not have the expendable income most Americans do and if you rip them off with a welded boat, you are doing all of us a disservice. A great idea is to work out selling your boat to someone who is coming down after your travel is over. A win win for both of you! There are options for renting boats short term and long term in country. If you rent a boat from someone in country remember that if you break it you buy it. It will not matter if you break it on the first rapid of the first day; you break it you buy it.
Public Transportation. It is great in Ecuador! There is bus service throughout the country. And in local paddling communities, locals have pick up trucks and provide shuttles to boaters. Make sure you always keep an eye on your belongings when using public transportation. You stand out like the gringo you are. And it is obvious that you have money, electronics, cell phones, and passports – all of which have street value for a savvy thief. In using the local shuttles, make sure you have a dry bag for your personal belongings and be prepared to bring them along in your boat since you cannot leave them in the shuttle vehicle. Plan on having your passport with you at all times. And always – have a copy of your passport somewhere safe in case you lose it.
Rivers. It is no exaggeration that the water levels in Ecuador fluctuate drastically. Not just over night after a hard rain, but within mere hours. Ecuador is not the United States. Most rivers are not road access. Most treks off isolated rivers are hard going. And there is no medivacing off a river if you get hurt. In fact, if you do get hurt, you are most likely going to need to go to Quito for any serious injury (including dislocated shoulders).
Food. The food is inexpensive and nutritious. But you will not find vegan, organic, gluten free, non gmo American nonsense on the menus of most of the Ecuadorian restaurants outside the big cities. Eating in the local restaurants – especially once you get out of the main cities, means food not prepared with the gringo in mind. Water might not be treated and food prep is not freakishly sanitized the way it is at home. Your American stomach will find itself in a battle with new bacteria so be prepared for some stomach issues. The saying in Ecuador is “never trust a fart.” Oh – and you’d best like eggs as you will see them served three meals a day.
Female Paddlers. Ecuador is a very female friendly place to travel. With that said there are a few things you just need to be prepared for. The boating scene in Ecuador is a pretty strong bro atmosphere. You will not have a lot of privacy in the hang outs in the main paddling areas. If you like to do yoga, meditate and read a book in your down time, you will have to work to find that space. There are also definitely some rules of thumb for female travelers that will help with enjoying your time.
Finally – a plug for supporting the commercial groups that have been running trips in Ecuador for a very long time (Endless River Adventures being one of them). Yep – you are going to spend more money than if you do it on your own. That goes without saying. The experienced outfitters in Ecuador have spent years investing their time and money in getting to know the rivers up and down, investing in infrastructure, investing in building community relationships, and adding a cultural side to their trips so that you see more than just the paddling. Word to the wise: If you sign up with a legal outfitter in Ecuador, they are running their trips through an agency, they are working with Ecuadorians, their driver is insured and so is the private vehicle they are using. If you choose to go commercial, make sure and do your homework and support one of the reputable commercial outfitters invested in Ecuador. Folks that run commercial trips without the above are running under the radar and would be kicked out of the country if caught. Supporting one of the commercial groups that have run trips in country for many years is a guarantee that you will have as much of a hassle free great experience as possible in a wonderful country. It will also help assure that those companies will be there long after the private boaters have moved on to their next winter destination.
#allyouneedisecuador is no exaggeration. It is a paradise for boating, for exploring, for culture, for new experiences that will wow you. Don’t miss the opportunity. We hope to see you in Ecuador this winter!!
PS – have some time free this winter that could be used for an awesome paddling trip? Check out our trip dates to see if one might work with your schedule. This year the airline tickets are mush lower than usual. Now’s the time!!