Rafting in Chile is perhaps one of the greatest adventures you can embark on while on holiday in this country. Chile is blessed with countless short rivers that surge towards the Pacific from the Andes mountain range, some perfect for beginners and others which provide an intense burst of energy for experienced river runners.
At around an hour and a half from the capital, the Maipo river is one of the most photogenic spots to have a go at rafting. In summer you can expect grade 3 rapids, giving way to grade 4 in winter. This river can also be handled by beginners, as there are very experienced and skilled outfitters in the area (i.e. us!).
The Reserva Nacional Siete Tazas (Seven Pool National Park) is a beautiful spot in its own right, but one of its big draws is its grade 3 river. This river is good for intermediate rafters, those who are able to hold their own against unpredictable waves.
These grade 4 and 5 rapids are located near Pucon, Chile’s ‘adventure capital’ and suits experienced river runners. You should expect huge waves and constant adrenaline.
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The beautiful forests of the O’Higgins region surround this powerful river classified with grade 3 and 4 rapids. To run this river you should have extensive experience with the ability to tackle complex maneuvers and handle considerable pressure.
This beautiful river near Pucon is perfect for newbies, with rapids around grade 2 and 3.
San Pedro River
Not far from Valdivia you will follow in the paddles of former colonists who used to navigate the river in search of wood such as raulí. These rapids are grade 2 to 4, with some areas requiring skill to maneuver.
This river is said to be one of the best in the world, and those in the know will be happy to hear that it boasts ‘just right’ slopes and swift currents that race past up to grade 5. This river is perfect for experienced rafters, those who are able to cope under pressure and who are looking for excitement mixed with a touch of danger. Rescue is hard here, and fast maneuvering technique is required.
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Grade 2 and 3 rapids await the intrepid who are looking for isolation, unspoiled wilderness, and beautiful turquoise waters. This river is located near Laguna San Rafael in the Aysen region.
What to Wear
In summer you want to wear something that dries fast (like polypro) and in winter you should be dressed for the cold, ideally with something waterproof like a splash jacket, wetsuit, and river shoes. For more, see tip 4 and 5 below.
1. Expect to get wet. That includes your shoes. Appropriate footwear is kind of a necessity.
2. Don’t bring anything! It is likely to go overboard or get wet.
3. No-one is judging you! If you are not an experienced rafter, or if you think you will feel scared, it’s perfectly fine to choose an expedition with a low-level rating (the lowest being 1).
4. Slip, Slap, Slop! Did you know that there’s a hole in the ozone layer above Chile? That means the sun’s rays are powerful stuff, and you should prepare accordingly. Think sunblock or light layers that cover your skin in Summer. And skip the hat – your beautiful noggin will be covered by a helmet.
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5. Protect yourself. Always, always wear a lifejacket. If you aren’t given one, sound the alarm and run.
6. Again – protect yourself! You must fit your lifejacket correctly, ideally, your guide should do this.
7. Look for experience. You want to make sure you book a licensed operator – and one with experience. Look at us, for example. Cascada has been leading rafting tours since 1991, and that experience means we’ve seen it all before.
8. Hold your paddle right. One hand needs to go at the shaft base and the other over the T grip. Where is the T Grip? Ask your guide! That is what they are there for.
9. Learn the lingo. ¨Bump!¨ If you hear this, drop your paddle to the floor of the boat (but don’t let go!) and lean in. Then get ready to jump straight back into position and keep paddling.
10. Don’t panic! If you fall in: STAY CALM! Reach out and hold on to the boat if it is beside you so you don’t get separated. If it isn’t close and you can’t swim to it, then you should swim to the nearest bank. Before your trip begins this should be covered in detail by your guide.
11. Listen first, do later. ¨High Side¨ is a command your guide will (likely) holler out when they think the boat might capsize. This preventative measure should hopefully keep that from happening. Listen carefully while your guide is explaining this technique to you before your trip begins.
Ready to try rafting for yourself? Take a look at our rafting trip in the Cajon del Maipo for an epic one-day adventure. You will crash and splash before the steep sides of the canyon before going for a small hike with excellent views across the Andes mountains.