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Río Esclavos, Upper, Guatemala (area: Southeast; click here for the Guatemala table of rivers)

river photo

Class: IV; Ave. Gradient: 8 m/km; Portages: sometimes; Length: 22 to 28km; Time: 4-6 hours

Season: June to October; rafts? yes; Highlights: Canyon of the Lost Souls; Crux move: Camila and Ratón Loco rapids

Water Quality: poor; Water Temperature: cool

PI: Nueva Santa Rosa (elev: 934m); TO: above dam reservoir

Description: (click here for general notes about my descriptions)

The Río Esclavos (“Slaves River”) is one of Guatemala’s classic runs and a favorite of us locals, for its scenery, its moderate dose of challenging rapids, and its proximity to the capital. The big rapids are rocky and technical, and can get juicy at high water. Up to six rapids are commonly scouted, with a few of them sometimes portaged. Raft portages are most common at low flows when there are more rocks than water.

A full description is in the Mayan Whitewater Guatemala guidebook.

Descent History: 1st descent by Paul Heesaker, Max Young, Roberto Rodas, and Manolo Rodas, in a raft, in 1995. This was an exciting discovery for them as they deemed it the "world class trip" that Paul's fledgling business, Area Verde Expeditions, needed. It has been kayaked and rafted many times since, sometimes commercially.

Flow Notes: There is a convenient online gauge about 20 km below the TO (graph below). The Esclavos has one of the biggest drainage areas of the Pacific coast rivers, though the region sees less rain than in the west. The run has fairly reliable water in the rainy season, though during drier spells it can be a bit bony for rafts. You will want to see some water flowing over the dam (the one you can see from the El Salvador highway). In 2013, a gauge reading of 1.2 gave 1000 cfs at the PI; in 2012, 0.5 on the gauge gave a 750 cfs fl ow.

cfs graph

Nearby Tourist Attractions: There are some small lakes in the area mostly popular with locals. The exact geographical center between North America and South America is found in the nearby town of Cuilapa on the El Salvador highway. A monument in the center of town marks the spot.

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