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Río Sauce, Guatemala (area: Río Dulce; click here for the Guatemala table of rivers)

river photo

Class: IV; Ave. Gradient: 8 m/km; Portages: Boquerón entrance and/or wood; Length: 30 or 8 km; Time: 6 or 2 hours

Season: June to February; rafts? no; Highlights: spectacular scenery; Crux move: catching the water and obtaining permission

Water Quality: good; Water Temperature: El Boquerón balneario

PI: El Sauce (260 m), or Xalibenque (77 m); TO: Zacapa

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

The Río Sauce (“willow”) holds an almost mythical place in Guatemalan river-running lore. The river exits a deep trench near Lake Izabal, one of the more breathtaking natural tourist sites in Guatemala, called El Boquerón. It was explored early-on by a raft ing group in 1988, but they decided to hike out above the last box canyon. The river is small and shallow, rarely having enough water to paddle the upper stretches. The lower canyon is tricky and committing and needs to be scouted carefully. Add to this that the PI road passes through a controversial mining concession with a history of bloody conflicts, and you have the ultimate Guatemalan adventure. In 2013, Paul Heesaker identified the lower Río Sauce as a site for a development project and the Boqueron Canyon Project (see the article on page 329) currently funds a junior high school in Seacacar.

A full description is in the Mayan Whitewater Guatemala guidebook.

Descent History: Tammy Ridenour, Max Wilson, David Koon, and Bruce “el General” were the first, in a raft, in 1988 (two-day trip). They made it as far as the last canyon and decided to walk out from there (no road yet, just a trail). “Mad Max” Mark Young and unknown partners made the first complete descent in the 1990s.

Flow Notes: The Río Sauce needs a lot of rain to come up, most common June to December. Unfortunately there is no online gauge. The lower part can almost always be scraped down June to February. Note that looks can be deceiving at the road bridge: what appears impossibly low there may not be.

Nearby Tourist Attractions: Finca Paraíso hot springs.

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