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Río Grande de Camotán & Jocotán, Guatemala (area: Low Motagua; click here for the Guatemala table of rivers)

river photo

(photo courtesy of Alejandro Villegas Salinas)

Class: III+ / V; Ave. Gradient: 8 m/km; Portages: usually several; Length: 11 & 16 & 9 km; Time: 2 & 5 & 1 hours

Season: May to February; rafts? upper part; Highlights: scenery, challenging rapids in canyon; Crux move: class V canyon

Water Quality: poor; Water Temperature: warm

PI: Jupilingo bridge (upper run, elev: 490m) or Jocotán bridge (lower run, elev: 408m) or San José confluence (lower run, elev: 274m); TO: Jocotán, or Agua Blanca dam

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

The Río Grande changes names along the way as it passes larger towns; by the end it is known as the Río Grande de zacapa. Above, the Jocotán Canyon section presents some fun challenges and “goes” at low water too, while above that, the Camotán section is mostly easier and shallower. The water comes from a scenic hill area of the Guatemalan-Honduras border with pine trees rooted in colorful soils which makes the river run brown during the rainy season, or even red if certain creeks are up.

A full description is in the Mayan Whitewater Guatemala guidebook.

Descent History: The upper part was first run by a Maya Expeditions crew in 1987. I (Greg Schwendinger) made it through the upper and lower parts in July 2003.

Flow Notes: There is an online gauge at Camotán which is very useful when it is working. Otherwise there are online gauges downstream on the Río Motagua at Gualán and Morales. The Río Zacapa has a longer season than average, with good kayak flows june through November and reduced ones before and after. Historical data from that gauge are shown in Figure G-2, which shows higher average flows that what I have seen. My impressions are from three canyon descents where I have seen 1,000 cfs (0.92 on the gauge),
1,600 cfs (1.3 on the gauge), and 250 cfs at Jocotán (gauge not working). Above Jocotán the riverbed is wider and is not too fun at lower flows.

cfs graph

Nearby Tourist Attractions: Copán Mayan ruins across the Honduran border; Esquipulas cathedral pilgrimage site an hour away.

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