What is the Best time to Paddle the Marañón River?

We get asked this question a LOT! And it’s not a particularly easy one to answer, this is because the Marañón is such a long river with sections of varying difficulty and it has such huge variations in water levels between wet and dry seasons.

So. What is the best season to come rafting and kayaking on Rio Marañón – Grand Canyon of South America? When do you get the best water levels on the Marañón?
Well- it all depends what you are after…

Water Levels Measure at the Balsas Station, From SENAMHI website. We generally measure all our levels using the guage at Balsas. 100-200cms is what we’d regard as a ‘normal’ level for rafting the river, though it can be run much higher….

The Short Answer – The Marañón Rafting Season

The best time to come whitewater rafting on Rio Marañón is between late May and early November. This is when levels are predictable and the weather is perfect. This is what we call the Dry Season in the Marañon Valley.

Levels are reliably between 100cms and 200cms (Balsas Gauge), which is regarded as ‘the normal level’ for rafting on this river. Rapids are fun and at their normal difficulty rating (if the map notes a class III or a class IV, you can generally expect a class III or a class IV rapid coming up). Character is drop pool with some rocks and holes as obstacles.

Usually by late June the river is running clear, bringing out her beautiful deep Jade Green colour, this usually continues until October or November when she begins to come up again.

You will have sunny days almost every day and warm temperatures both day and night.
It’s a reliably awesome water level, with dream weather. You cannot go wrong in the dry season.

For info on temperatures on the river in the dry season, see here.

At low water, the Marañón flows Jade Green making for a stunning river journey.

What about the Shoulder Season? What if we want to run the Brown?

We have run some of our most memorable and delightful trips in shoulder seasons.

Mid April and May: Expect higher water levels, with likely fluctuations while you are on the river. The Marañón Will be running brown and probably somewhere between 200-600cms.
Many smaller rapids wash out, and big rapids can get bigger. Character is big water with some huge waves and huge holes. Still pools begin to flow a lot faster, different camps are available compared to low-water season.
It is much more likely you will get some days of rain, as this is still considered the wet season.
We don’t recommend running the Upper sections of the Marañón in this period.

Late October, November and December:
This can either be the end of the low water season, or the beginning of the high water season. It’s a roll of the dice.
You might get her at her lowest – around 100 CMS, or you could find her at what we’d consider some of the highest raftable levels, around 800CMS (more or less bank-full).
It’s possible to get some days of rain, but the climate is still reasonably mild.
We don’t recommend running the Upper sections of the Marañón in this period.

In high-water, you might even decide to wait a day or two until rising waters pass. Don’t worry though, the faster flows mean you can make up time and probably still stay on schedule.

Running at Marañón High Water can be a LOT of fun!

Scheduling for the Upper Sections of the Marañón Canyon

For a full descent of the River (usually 24-28 days), you need to pass through the crux known as Wasson’s Landslide. This is located in the ‘Inner Canyon’, upstream (south) of Chagual. This crux rapid generally involves lining rafts down the right side of the river which can get more difficult with significantly more water.

To pass Wasson’s we recommend a level below 300cms (Balsas gauge).

The earliest we’d recommend scheduling to pass Wasson’s is the beginning of June. This means you could plan to start your full river trip around the 20th of May to arrive there by the end of the month.

The Latest we’d recommend aiming to pass Wasson’s is in November,. However some years the river might not come up until late December or January, meaning you could potentially do a full descent over christmas- if your lucky. This time of year (late October onwards) can be unpredictable and the river can come up quickly meaning you might decide to change plans and put-in lower down, such as at Chagual.

Lining a raft through Wasson’s Landslide.

When Don’t We Run The Marañon?

We don’t generally run any of the classic multi-day sections of the Marañón between January and April; neither as Outfitter or Commercially. The levels are reliably too high, and if you wanted to wait for a peaking level to pass by and drop down again, you might be waiting for days or weeks- which is not acceptable for most people! The chance of losing gear or having an incident is too high for us as a commercial company and outfitter.

It is definitely possible to paddle the river at those highest levels, but that should be left up to people who bring their own equipment and own knowledge of the river.

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