Mexico, a place famed for its white sunny beaches, ancient Mayan ruins and steep creeks. This guide will, I hope might make planning your trip a little easier …
When to come: we arrived on the 10th of October and left on the 13th of November (2012), before this is the rainy season and following this is a drier period. It seems like October/November is a popular time of year, as there were plenty of other kayakers. Over the time we were their we saw fairly low water levels, it only really rained twice, but their was still plenty to paddle.
How to get here: after much research on flights it was decided we would fly with Virgin as they take kayaks for free. The downside was that they only fly into Cancun, which is a three day drive up to Tlapacoyan (where the bulk of kayaking is). It must be said that Virgin were great to fly with and very helpful with the kayaks. It cost us roughly £700 for direct flights from the UK. If you fly into Mexico City its only a five hour drive to Tlapacoyan.
Currency: the Mexican peso (MXN). In 2012 it was 20 MXN to £1. This definitely made the British pound feel like a strong currency.
Language: everyone speaks Spanish, and only a few speak English. Speaking fluent Spanish is not essential, as we proved! It always seems to work out somehow or another.
Living expenses: we traveled around a lot, and found that living expenses varied quite a bit. In general if you are in a city it will be more expensive than in a smaller town. On average I probably spent about £7 a day on food and £4 on accommodation.
Accommodation: in big cites such as Cancun you can expect to pay about £20 – £30 for a three person room, however when you get into smaller towns prices drop to more like £10 – £15 for a three person room.
In Tlapacoyan we stayed with Aventurec, who are a family run raft company with accommodation set amongst their beautiful site. They have three different options: camping, a bunk style hostel and several different size cabanas. We hired one of their larger cabanas which slept nine of us (£3 per night per person, amazing value). They can provide awesome breakfasts and dinners for a reasonable price. They are able to provide transport from and too the river, as well a hiring out a modern fleet of boats – this makes it possible to fly into Mexico city without boats or having to hire a car and Aventurec can provide the rest. www.aventurec.com
Food: tacos, tacos and more tacos! Possibly not as you imagine. In reality when you order Tacos you usually get five small taco wraps, usually fried, often with a kebab type meat on top, finished with some chopped vegetables and chili sauce. These definitely became our staple, some of us loved them, others, myself included were not so fussed. One of my favorites was the BBQ chicken experience – you see a few of these about and its all about finding the right one! When by the sea, make sure you try some fresh fish, you will often see the fishermen brining in a healthy haul each morning.
Beer: of course this is an important substance on any kayaking holiday, expect to pay 10–15 pesos (50p–80p) per bottle.
Getting around: we hired two cars to get about in, which worked out as £1,350 per car for five weeks. The cars we had were Dodge Journeys, a very comfortable two wheel drive SUV. These did the job very well, they were capable of taking five people, with all our kit and kayaks. A 4×4 is not really necessary but some of the put in and take out roads can be interesting!
Before leaving people had told me that driving around Mexico was dangerous, we did not really find this to be the case. There is a well developed road system across Mexico. For the longer drives I would recommend using the toll roads, these tend to be in good condition and allow you to comfortably drive at 70 mph. They do charge, but I think they are worth while and are definitely safer to drive on. The free roads (libre) do the job around towns, and for getting to places which do not have a toll road. Beware of the speed bumps, they jump out of nowhere and will send you and your mates through the roof!
Police: it’s worth knowing a little about the ‘long arm of the law’. In five weeks we were stopped countless times by different road blocks (set up to stop drug trafficking) Have your passport, drivers license, rental documents and passenger passports to hand. They may ask to check around the car, this usually did not take long. Some are serviced by army personnel and others by police, the army tended to be less corrupt and more friendly, but have bigger guns! We ended up paying three bribes; one because the Police were being naughty, one because I was being naughty (I ran a red) and the other because we were in Mexico City with the wrong type of number plate.
Hospitals: no trip seems to be complete without a visit to the hospital, on this trip we had to deal with a broken back. The hospital care seemed OK, but nothing to advanced. We also had a trip to the dentist with a broken tooth, he did he a good job fixing it for a tenth of the UK price – Any fillings get them done out here!
Night Life: the classic tourist nightlife is in Cancun, as for the rest of Mexico, its how you find it and what you make of it. Locals always seemed friendly towards us, even when walking about some of the dingier parts of town.
Rivers: the following is not intended to be a river guide, just some helpful information on the rivers that we paddled. Many of the following rivers are quite steep and technical, and as such are filled with horizon lines. Mexico has its fair share of clean drops and slides, but also its fair share of the bad and ugly, so don’t be lazy, get out and scout!
Filobobos ruins section (class 2–3+): a good off the plane warm up run. This section takes you down cliff lined jungle on fun boulder garden rapids. It is used as one of the local raft runs. For added perks there is a Mayan temple hidden within this section, although I must confess we never found it
Rio Alseseca Is one of the main rivers in Tlapacoyan, here are a few different sections:
Alseseca roadside section (class 4–4+): a classic creek. Bed rock fun that just keeps giving in a pool drop style. This is a great run for most abilities, everything here can be scouted with ease, and portaged if necessary. The first third of the run is filled with fun drops and slides which will bring you down to S-Bend, the main event. S-bend is an impressively long, steep slide (portage left if you don’t fancy it) Some ways after this you will go under a small concrete bridge, which is a possible take out. Other wise carry on down to the main road bridge and take out on the left.
– photo Jeff Colgrove
Big Banana section (Class 4–5): wow. This run is a definite step up from roadside and it holds some amazing white water. This is a run not to be taken lightly, the put in is hard to find and it can take quite some time to paddle your way down the river on your first time (it took us six hours) so best to find someone to show you the way. In this section you will find some classic drops such as Silencio (40 foot boof) and Meat Locker (a double drop affair) and many other fun drops. Towards the end of the run you find your self in the Pesma section, and then take out at the road bridge before Tomata one.
– photo Jeff Colgrove
Alseseca Pesma section (class 3–4): A shorter but fun section. From Tomata falls carry on driving up the hill for roughly 2km, on a tight left hand bend you will see a turn off for a camp ground. Drive down here and put on for a shorter section back to the main road bridge. The main event in here is a fun double drop.
Alseseca, Tomata 1 (20m waterfall): it’s big, and scary, but its flat above and flat bellow! There are two lines one on river left, and one that is right of centre. When we were there I opted for the right of center line, which has a harder lip, but bigger boil. The important thing to realize is that Tomata 2 lurks just bellow! Once you have run it, paddle the next small drop, and take out immediately in the small pool on river right. From here traverse along the river bank for 30 meters or so (in a downstream direction), then climb out, and pull the boats up with throw bags afterwards.
– photo Jeff Colgrove
Upper Jalacingo (class 4–5): another jungle filled event. It has a few magical drops such as Bukaki, which is a steep, twisting slide straight into a 20 footer it looks like nothing else! The rest of the run is a mix with the good, bad and ugly, so don’t be to surprised when you are walking yet another rapid! Again this is the kind of run which would be sped up massively with someone knowing the lines, and showing you where to portage. There is a longer portage near the beginning of the river around a nasty 50 footer. Its also worth noting that the put-in and take-out tracks are quite steep and bumpy.
North of Tlapacoyan
Cascada Micos (grade fun in lower water): the Rio Micos is a playground for kayaks. Located a few miles west of Ciudad Valles is the rafting company called ‘Aldea Huasteca’. They have several beautiful cabanas located at the get off for the Micos. Accommodation worked out at about £6 per person per night. Its a brilliant clean camp, surrounded by mountains with nice facilities.
The Rio Micos has an intriguing geography to it, Its formed by episodic deposition of Calcite which comes from the high mineral content in the water. The accumulation of these minerals over the steep gradient of the river bed forms dams, which form water falls for us to paddle on. The Calcite in the water is also responsible for the funky blue colour of the water.
To find the put-in, drive from the camp ground on river right for approximately 3–4 km. You will come to a lay by with locked metal gates. Walk down from here to find a large bore water pipe, follow the steps down to a big pool below a 70 foot water fall.
The Micos is a completely different kayaking experience and is the very definition of ‘pool drop’. Each pool is separated by a river wide horizon line, simply pull up to a shallower part of the lip, peer over the edge, and spot your line, brilliant! The main event is a very clean 30 foot fall on the right, or a slide into a 20 foot drop on the left. We lapped this one ten times in one run.
– photo Tim Hunt
Salta (class 3–4): the Salta is the upper section to the Micos. Put in on the small road bridge over the dam canal, be careful of the first small drop – a fast shoot with a cave on the right. Following this is a fun 15 footer. The rest of the river is filled with shallow ledge drops, which reminded me of a garden water feature. Take out river left above the very large cascade, you can get a beer in the bar that over looks it.
Río Santa María: we paddled the section above the Cascada de Tamul. I would not recommend it to anyone, there are many long flat sections which link the gorges and they are filled with horrendous sieves – Don’t do it!
South of Tlapacoyan
Agua Azul: we had seen some amazing photos published in Kayak Session showing off vivid blue water dropping over waterfalls. As it was on our way back to Cancun we thought we might stop in. The Agua Azul, is located in the state of Chiapas, 60 km from Palenque. When we arrived we were not particularly inspired by what we found – heaps of low volume falls and slides, most of which were a no go. Instead we spent our time swimming in the pools. Perhaps with more time and energy you might find the goods?
The Oro: the Rio Oro is a rare beast, crystal blue water carves it’s way down through glorious dark basalt gorges, pool drop rapids await at each corner until she finally gives way to the much warmer Gulf Of Mexico.
You need to drive to the small village of Punta Roca Partida, ask for a man named El Flaco. This sounds mad, but its what we did and it worked! On arrival we found El Flaco, who hooked us up with accommodation, food and showed us the put on to the river! To put in you have to walk for about an hour across various farmers fields, so you will need his help. Once on the river you will paddle a few fun class 3s that lead you down into a couple of meaty pour overs. Its worth setting up safety here as they can hold boats.
Follow the river down to a big horizon, here you will find a sweet looking 30 footer – we had an epic here, one of our group broke his back, which resulted in a six hour rescue. The lesson learned, don’t boof this one! If you decided to run this first fall you will be locked into the gorge, the only easy way out of here is to run the next 30 footer, which has a delicious rolling lip. If you don’t fancy these you can portage river right, and walk down to the bottom of the second drop.
From here follow the river down through easier water to where it meets the sea, enjoy surf, beer and food!
In summary, Mexico as a kayaking location lends itself more to the advance paddler, with plenty of harder runs, and relatively few easy sections. So if your looking for a place to kayak countless waterfalls and steep slides in an exotic setting, this is a definite contender. Hope this helps – Jake