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Río Cahabón, main, Guatemala (area: Cahabón-Polochic; click here for the Guatemala table of rivers)

river photo

Class: IV; Ave. Gradient: 3 m/km; Portages: 1 or 2; Length: up to 62 km; Time: up to 15 hours/3 days

Season: June to February for rafts, kayaks year-round; rafts? yes; Highlights: remote jungle scenery, hot springs, nice multi-day, big volume; Crux moves: Rock-n-Roll rapid and Chulac Falls portage

Water Quality: decent; Water Temperature: cool

PI: Chichún bridge (aka Yutbal, on the Río Lanquín, elev: 212m) or below; TO: Cahaboncito bridge (elev: 16 m) or above

Description: (click here for general notes about my descriptions) (thanks to Maarten Bleijerveld for his contributions)

The Río Cahabón is Mayan Whitewater-land’s premier accessible, multi-day river trip. Even the 1-day trip is one of the more scenic rafting trips around. In fact, it was listed in Paddler Magazine’s top 12 jungle river trips in the world in 1998. Nowadays there is ever-increasing evidence of human habitation and farming, but it is still a gorgeous valley. The river can be split up different ways depending on your taste. The most commonly run stretch is the upper section from Chichún (lower Río Lanquín) to Tamax. The most popular 2-day “expedition” is from a lower PI above or below Tres Hermanas rapid all the way down to Cahaboncito, stopping at the Taquincó portage. Three days gives ample time for rafters to complete the whole river. In-shape kayakers can do the whole thing in one long day when the water is up, but two days is definitely more enjoyable. Car access at key points means that it is not necessary to self-support, or even to portage on foot.
*Warning* The 3-day raft trip will be lost forever if the Oxec II project goes ahead with its evil plan to dam and flood the Oxec gorge. Read more on the MWW website.

A full description is in the Mayan Whitewater Guatemala guidebook.

Descent History: The first descent I am aware of was by a group of 7 led by Ralph Griffin back in 1977 (story in the guidebook). They used 3 small vinyl/rubberized canvas rafts and made it down as far as the Oxec bridge in 3 days, portaging several times and surviving a capsize and runaway raft. Ralph tells me he heard a rumor that a group of "Israeli commandos" had run the river even earlier. I've heard 3rd-hand accounts of another pair of gringos descending the river in the 70's also.

The first descent of the entire (lower) Cahabon river (and Lanquín river) was done in November 1986 by Guatemalan Kayak and Spelunking Club members Roberto Arimany, Gabriel Dengo, Guayo Portocarrero, Alejandro Alguilar, Edgar Nanny, Santiago Selle, Jens Possardt, along with Max Wilson and Tammy Ridenour (all apparently unfazed by civil war uncertainties at the time). It has been rafted regularly for many years by Maya Expeditions and more recently by Adetes.

Flow Notes: There is no online gauge, but the meter stick at Los Encuentros is a reference for rafters. The river has been run at a wide range of flows--the 1st day at least as high as 295cm (portaging Rock-n-Roll), the "expedition" at least as high as 340cm. The river has kayakable flows year-round. Raft season starts sometime in June and goes until around February. If the river is high (stick gauge more than 165cm), rafts usually portage Rock-n-Roll rapid, and if it is low (gauge lower than 125), they might portage Entonces rapid. Very low flows also means the Chichún PI is out so you need to put-in on the Cahabón itself at Los Encuentros.

Nearby Tourist Attractions: Lanquín caves, Semuc Champey pools.

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