Rafting the Fu´

Trip Start Jul 13, 2009
Trip End Jul 20, 2010

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Flag of Chile  , Lake District,
Friday, December 18, 2009

After Chaiten, we bussed it over to the Chilean border town with Argentina dubbed šThe Fuš.  Named after the river that runs through these parts, Futaleufu is a kayaker and rafter`s dream come true.  No permits are needed to run this beautiful and insane stretch of whitewater that people the world over are coming to check out. 

We settled into El Campesino hospedaje for the night and walked around the small town.   Javier in Chaiten told us to check out Futaleufu Explore if we wanted to go rafting, his son, Marco works there.  When we finally found it we decided to sign up to go rafting the next morning.  Marco is a pro Chilean kayaker and works for a rafting outfitter run by a man named Josh from Utah/Colorado who was the 2nd person to ever kayak this river.  A true river rat, he`s been published in books and magazines around the world and now chooses Futaleufu his home.  He has about 10 guides working for him from New Zealand, England, Canada, the US, Peru, and Chile who all camp in the backyard garden area.  Community meals are prepared each night and eventually the box wine and guitars come out.  I felt like I was back home in the Rockies....or the Appalachia...

We had a great day on the river, Caroline shouting out demands on keeping our paddling in tune with one another, feeling the cold water getting into every crevice, and having a scare and laugh at the same time as the volume of water and size of the rapids was enough to send the boat bucking up and down like riding a bull.  We camped behind the house with everyone else and were able to relax and pass time and have a free place to stay for a couple days before moving onto the border and back into Argentina.
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malijamie on

Enjoy the Futaleufu with Futaleufu Explore

Outstanding, great, fabulous, stupendous, wonderful, sublime, fantastic--I don't think there are enough superlatives to express how much we enjoyed our trip down the Futaleufu with Futaleufu Explore. This is a long review, so I have subdivided it so that you can skip the parts you find boring.

Who we are
Two fiftyish men who are, at best, moderately physically active. When I turned 50 last year, Brian asked me if I wanted to go on a guys golf or ski trip. I replied that what I really wanted to do for the last 20 years was a raft trip down the Futaleufu. He agreed, even though he really did not know what he was getting into.

When we went
Late January, 2010. You need to go during the Patagonian summer. Northern hemisphere winter is always a difficult time for me to be away from work (I am a physician), but this was a unique opportunity that I could not let pass by. Brian had a bunch of United air miles and he was able to get us free international non stop air tickets from Washington Dulles to Buenos Aires.

How we chose a company
It is always difficult to know how to choose a vendor from so far away. I was not able to find a wealth of information from the internet sites such as Tripadvisor, so I essentially started interviewing different companies via e-mail. Most of the companies I contacted had relatively fixed schedules which often included non-whitewater days for things such as horseback riding and local culture. Both Brian and I had little interest in things other than days on the river with as many rapids as we could handle. When I found Josh at Futaleufu Explore, he made it clear that he would try to give us the trip which was good for us and not have us mold our desires to someone else's itinerary. Josh's company had a three day trip which looked perfect for us. Since we started planning six months in advance, Josh was able to give us an itinerary which started out easy and finished with a bang!

Getting there
From the U.S. (and probably from anywhere outside South America), it takes at least two days to get to Futaleufu. We took an overnight flight from Washington to Buenos Aires international airport (EZE) and then took a taxi (115 Argentine pesos--about $30) to get to the Buenos Aires domestic airport (AEP). This took about an hour, but you must allow several hours since B.A. traffic can be horrible at times. Our domestic flights in Argentina were all with Aerolineas Argentinas, which was a real pleasure after enduring all the hassles of domestic U.S. air carriers. The airline even serves a small meal with wine or beer at no charge! Security screening was very easy--far from the colonoscopy we are subjected to at U.S. airports. Of course, security can afford to be a little more lax in South America, at least for now. In any event, we more or less strolled through with no shoe removal and half drunk bottles of liquor without any trouble. We took an afternoon Aerolineas Argentinas flight to Bariloche, where we spent the night. Bariloche is a tourist town on a large lake and we had a great time there even though our stay was brief. We got filet mignon for two with salads and a nice bottle of Malbec for USD $42. The chocolate there is amazing and you should try to save some room for it. We stayed in a small room at the four star Hotel Kenton Palace for $101 through Orbitz. The only down side to this hotel was a lack of air conditioning, but I doubt you would ever need it since it is cool in Bariloche. The next day we caught a 7 AM Via Bariloche bus to Esquel. I would recommend you get bus reservations in advance through an agent called Omnilineas. Omnilineas has a toll free number and English speaking agents. The bus to Esquel was cheap--about US $12 but it took over five hours to cover 240 km. When we got to Esquel, Josh had a driver meet us to take us to the Chilean border. We had to walk about 200 m with our packs in the no man's land between the Argentine and Chilean border stations. Passport control and customs inspection for Chile took about 10 minutes, and we were shepherded through the process by Carina, who handles various logistics for Futaleufu Explore. It was only ten minutes further to the office in the town of Futaleufu, which is an exceedingly small place of about five by five blocks. It was during this initial visit to the office where we were fitted for wet suits and booties supplied by Futaleufu Explore. Brian is big with a size 16 foot and he correctly assumed that no one would have equipment to fit him. He brought his own wet suit and booties, which turned out to be a great idea. We signed some release forms and went over our itinerary before embarking on the 45 minute drive to the lodge. We finally arrived at the riverfront lodge, an attractive wooden building with picture windows and a great beach at about 7 PM.
The Lodge
The lodge is set on the river with soaring, snow capped Andean peaks all around. The river is pristine and a crystal clear emerald color. You can drink right from it and it tastes great. The basic trip through Futaleufu Explore allows you to camp, and it costs US $50 per person per night to stay in the lodge. It was money well spent. By Patagonian standards, the lodge is extremely luxurious with a bed, hot water, electricity and heat, albeit by a wood stove. We had a riverfront room with two beds and a private bath. There is a loft upstairs with single dormitory style beds and a shared bath. I think these are $25 per night. The meals were served in a common room with one woodstove for heat and one for cooking. Bring books, cards and imagination as there is no TV or internet there.
Rafting-Day 1
The first day was split into a morning and afternoon raft trip. In the morning we did the Rio Azul, which is a tributary to the Futaleufu. This was a short trip of only about 90 minutes and class II to III rapids. (n.b. class III rapids here would be class IV on East coast U.S. rivers). It allowed out guide, Santiago, to see what we could do and allowed us to warm up to the raft. Even on this small river, safety was paramount. In our raft were only Santiago, Brian, and me, but we were accompanied by a cataraft (a catamaran-like safety raft) and two safety kayaks. This meant that there were four employees for only two customers! We rafted to a point just short of the confluence with the Futaleufu and took out to return to the lodge for lunch. This was much more than a cold sandwich, but the food will be described in another section. After lunch, we did the famous "bridge to bridge" section which started from the riverbank in front of the lodge. The lodge is only about 500 m above the first bridge which marks the start of the "bridge to bridge" section. This is a very exciting section with about ten class III and IV rapids almost back to back. One rapid, called Magic Carpet has such a strong backstream eddy that you can ride the raft back upstream and run it many times! We had a couple of Chilean guys and a German man with his daughter on this section; they were so called day trippers who came to the office that day to see what section of the river was to be run. The German guy fell out when an unexpected wave hit us in the Magic Carpet. He was immediately pulled back into the raft without injury. The "bridge to bridge" section took about two hours at which point the rafts were again pulled from the water. Fortunately for us, Santiago and the safety guides did all the heavy lifting of rafts and equipment. Santiago also did a great job of making sure that our wet suits and booties were hung up to dry at the end of the day and packed in the van so that we would have them when we needed them. We went back to the lodge for another great dinner followed by a deep sleep.
Rafting--Day 2
Day two was a long day doing Las Escuelas, a series of small rapids which are no more that class II. We were joined by four Israeli day trippers for this section. There was a 20 minute hike down a road and across a field to the put in. The Israeli women began their complaint barrage at this point and never let up. We could clearly understand their whining even though I speak no Hebrew and Brian only a little (despite ten years of Hebrew School!) We started in an inflatable kayak duckie and it was a little harder to maneuver, but we managed to get through the small rapids without capsizing. The rapids got bigger as we went downstream, so we got back into the raft and the duckie was deflated and tied to the cataraft. There was a class III rapid and the Israeli women did not do well--I think they expected more of a passive ride a la Disneyland. Shortly afterwards, we stopped just before a class VI rapid called Zeta because it looks like a large Z with millions of gallons of water blasting through it. It has been successfully kayaked by Josh, among others, but the rafts are taken through it empty while tied to a rope. The passengers had to scramble up some rocks and up a rough path which was the subject of bitter complaint among the Israeli women. At the end of the portage, we were given the option of jumping in the river from a 5 m high rock--that was a lot of fun. We did a few more easy rapids until we got to another class V+ rapid called Throne Room. This required another portage, although one of the kayakers, a guy named Marco, decided to try it. We watched him go through it and he went underwater for about ten seconds right in the middle of it! I was telling myself that we should try to resuscitate him for a long time because he was young and the water was cold, so he might have some tissue preservation even with a prolonged period of low oxygen. Finally, he righted himself about 50 m downstream, but the nose of his kayak was pointed downward because his skirt had come loose and the front of his boat was full of water. He was unhurt and was able to finish the trip. We finished the day with a couple of class III+ rapids on what is called the Wild Mile, but the Israeli women were not listening to Santiago's commands; in fact, they were trying to continue a conversation in the middle of the rapids! Santiago calmly explained to them several times the importance of following the guide's commands because it would not be funny if they were suddenly swimming the rapids. He was clearly getting exasperated, but kept his cool on the whole. We finished the day at another 5 m jumping off rock after which we tied the rafts in a small eddy and left them overnight to return to them the following morning. This is commonly done in this part of Chile; you could imagine what would happen to your raft if you left it overnight in the U.S. or Europe. We had some beers, snacks, and a bottle of wine at the take out before driving back to the lodge. There was plenty of time for a hot shower and a few drinks before another sumptuous dinner.
Rafting-Day 3
The day started at the eddy where we left the rafts the night before. We were joined by Roxanne and Jared, two guides on the Rio Grande in New Mexico. Obviously, we had a good raft for the last day. We did a few class III+ rapids before entering the large class V Terminator rapid. We went down about a third of it before Santiago decided that there were holes he did not like and he had us get out as he guided the raft down the middle third of the rapid. I can't say I wasn't disappointed, but you must accept the judgement of the guide since safety is paramount. We got back in the raft and did some more class III-IV rapids as well as the class IV Khyber Pass/Himalaya rapid before period of flat water followed by a lunchtime takeout at our riverfront lodge. We had a two hour break and were joined for the afternoon by another raft with another safety cataraft and safety kayaker. The personnel in our raft did not change. We started out with the "bridge to bridge" section which we did on day one, though, obviously Brian and I were more relaxed this time since we knew what to expect. The other raft took out at the end of the "bridge to bridge" section, but we pushed on to do two more class IV and two class V rapids--a very exciting end of our trip. Mas a Menos is a monstrous class V rapid with high waves and high volume. Casa de Piedra is a much more technical class V because it requires a lot of maneuvering through narrow rock channels with several house sized boulders in the middle. These rapids were a real blast and served as our final exam in Futaleufu whitewater. Afterwards, we pulled to the bank to get some beer, chocolate, and snacks for the one or two miles of flatwater which finished the trip. Flatwater on the Futaleufu is not the work that it might be elsewhere. Even though there are no actual rapids, the water moves swiftly and the guide only has to steer the boat with his oars. We took out in a farmer's field and drove back to the lodge for another bountiful feast.
Our expectations for food were quite low. These guys were rafters and kayakers after all, so we reckoned on adequate, if minimalistic meals. Fortunately, we were wrong. Umberto and Blanca are a couple who Josh hires to do caretaking and cooking at the lodge. There is no grocery store here and the food we ate was generally prepared by Blanca from fresh ingredients which they grow on their farm. We had fresh veal with mushroom sauce, beet salad, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, and homemade bread on our first night. All breads were made from scratch since there was no store to buy it in. Another night Blanca prepared spinach canellonis with homemade pasta. She made lots of homemade rolls and empanedas. Breakfast was generally prepared by Santiago who made coffee, scrambled eggs or huevos rancheros, oatmeal with honey, milk, granola, biscuits, crepes with dulche du leche, fruit, and juice. On the last night, Umberto slaughtered a lamb and cooked it over an open fire to make the best lamb chops I ever had! There was wine, beer, and Pisco Sours. Desserts were gourmet items such as raspberry mousse in a homemade pastry shell, rice pudding surrounded by a fruit glaze, or fresh berries with real whipped cream (i.e. not out of a can). This type of natural food is becoming quite popular in some chi-chi restaurants in the U.S. for prices in the range of $100 per plate! Blanca made plenty of food and there was no shortage of anything even when she was feeding ten people. On day two when we did the portage around Zeta, we had pasta salad, watermelon, tomatoes, cheese, salami, cookies, chocolate, and bread. Brian and I both thought that we would drop a few pounds with the combination of physical activity and utilitarian diet; in fact, we probably gained weight on this trip!
The satisfaction we felt with this holiday is unparalleled. We really felt that we got to run the best rapids (except for Inferno Canyon which is rarely run by rafts in commercial trips) with creature comforts which were, in some cases like the food, better than home! The price was very reasonable. We paid about $1150 per person for round trip transport from Esquel, Argentina (of course, there is significant cost involved in getting to Esquel) all rafting, food, and four nights accomodations in the lodge. All in all, this is one of the best vacations we ever had.

jacquesl on

Wow! This comment should really have been several entries in your own blog.....It would have been a great blog....

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