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Río Otoro, Honduras (area: mid-north; click here for the Honduras table of rivers)

river photo

Class: IV; Ave. Gradient: 5 m/km; Portages: probably one or two; Length: 59+ km; Time: 9:00

Season: July to December; rafts? adventurous; Highlights: remote canyon; Crux move: some big rapids

Water Quality: ok; Water Temperature: warm

PI: San Jesus de Otoro (elev: 600m); TO: Agua Caliente bridge

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

The big rivers of the Ulua drainage--the Higuito/Jicatuyo western branch and the Otoro eastern branch--offer Honduras' best long whitewater trips. Of these, the Otoro hosts the largest number and variety of advanced rapids even while staying mostly in the III/IV range and offering easy portages of its bigger rapids. The Otoro is best enjoyed as an overnighter and you could easily add another night or two by including some or all of the Ulua run downstream (and/or starting higher up on the upper Otoro Zasagua/Puringla). In addition this remote valley boasts beautiful scenery and interesting hot springs. Note that my estimated running time does not include any long breaks or photo set-ups which would be normal on a run this long.

The basic 59 km run starts on the highway near San Jesus de Otoro. The rapids build up slowly. The beginning is class II/III- in a wide valley. Within 2 hours limestone cliffs start to appear up high along with volcanic rock down below creating nice III boulder garden rapids. 15 minutes after the first solid III you will see the first of a handful of IVs spread out over the next 40 minutes or so. These IVs tend to be long and technical, probably requiring some scouts. On our descent one rapid in particular would be somewhat awkward for rafts as it was spread out over a wide manky rock fence.

These IV's lead down to a small canyon. Then the rapids ease to II/III for 30 minutes or so passing through a series of secluded canyons, some with beaches. The rapids bump back up to III+ for another hour or so after that. The Río Sicaguara comes in river-left in this stretch. The end of this stretch is signalled by a class V rapid, the most powerful of the trip, definitely deserving a scout if not a portage.

Shortly downstream you will find a nice IV leading into a narrow gorge with a cool suspension bridge spanning it way up high. This gateway marks the entrance to the Otoro's best section with more than two hours of bouldery III/IV rapids in pretty canyons. Right in the middle of this section, after an hour or so, you will find one technical V- rapid leading into an especially narrow limestone gorge with a super-hot hot springs on river-left. 5 minutes below this gorge the Río Uluita comes in on river-right.

When the class IV finally peters out, you are left with about an hour of class III down to the Río Jaitique on river-right, and another half hour of easier rapids down to the Agua Caliente bridge.

Expect (i.e., hope for) brown water when the river is up. The Ulua run continues downstream.

Flash Flood Danger: medium-high. Overnighting means unpredictable 2nd-day flows, plus there are a few constricted sections.

Descent History: The only descent I am aware of was done by Rocky Contos and myself in July 2010.

Flow Notes: There is a convenient online gauge about 15 km downstream of the TO at San Francisco de Ojueras, shown below. The 2nd graph is a compilation of historical data from the past few years, the weekly averages being the solid bars. My impressions are from a run with 550 cfs at the start, which I consider almost the minimum. The gauge showed 1.2 that day (2010). In general I think the more water the better on this run. Obviously flows will affect the run time quite a bit.

cfs graph

cfs graph

click here for other Honduras gauges,

or go to the maps

Shuttle Notes: The PI is on the highway leading from Siguatepeque to La Esperanza.

The Agua Caliente bridge is off the Santa Barbara highway via San Pedro Zacapa.

There is regular bus transportation to the PI but very little traffic crossing the TO bridge.

Accommodations: There are hotels in Siguatepeque (near the PI, on the shuttle route).

Nearby Tourist Attractions: Parque Nacional Santa Barbara (with Honduras' 2nd highest peak) and Lago de Yojoa.

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