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Río Lempa, lower, El Salvador (region: North-West; click here for the El Salvador table of rivers)

river photo

Class: II; Ave. Gradient: 3 m/km; Portages: none; Length: 54 km; Time: 2 days

Season: year-round; rafts? yes; Highlights: easy expedition; Crux Move: bringing enough drinking water

Water Quality: poor; Water Temperature: warm

PI: 5 de Noviembre dam (elev.: 135m); TO: Nuevo Eden de San Juan

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

The Río Lempa dominates Salvadorean geography. Hydro engineers have taken note and installed a series of 3 dams creating huge reservoirs. The lower Lempa run lies between the 2 lower dams, named "5 de noviembre" and "15 de septiembre". I have not run this section but local rafting companies do on occasion.

The major attraction here is the scenery and the escape from civilization. Here the river flows through a remote area of the mountainous Honduran border. There are several pretty bedrock gorge sections. The only people you are likely to see are border Hondurans crossing the river in boats on their way to and from Salvadorean market towns.

The rapids are classified only class II though you will encounter some big-water eddy lines in the more constricted sections. The average release from the dam is 6,000 cfs but this varies on the time of day and somewhat on the season.

There are three good-sized rivers that join the Lempa in this section that can serve as progress markers. All come in on river-left. The first is the Río Mocal, which comes in about 3/10 of the way. The Río Negro (aka Guarajambala) enters at about 6/10 of the way, then the Río Torola at 9/10 of the way. The other marker is the new "Puente Integración" at the 4/10 point which seems to be the only bridge spanning the river in the whole run, and one of the few places that vehicles can approach the river.

The TO is at the Nuevo Eden de San Juan car ferry crossing. (The town of Nuevo Eden de San Juan lies up the hill on river-left.)

(As a curiosity, note that the middle part of this run can be accessed from the Honduras side, from the Puente Integración to San Gregorio (aka Puerto Lempa, see the Honduras/Negro write-up). This is about a 20 km run. However the access roads are long and demanding.)

Flash Flood Danger: low.

Descent History: unknown.

Flow Notes: There is no gage on the lower Lempa except below the San Marcos gage below 15 de Septiembre dam. Since the flow is almost completely dependent on release from the 5 de Noviembre dam, it would be prudent to call ahead to the Comisión Ejecutiva del Río Lempa (CEL) at 2211-6000 to confirm the release schedule.

Shuttle Notes: I have not driven these roads so I can't comment on their condition. The 5 de Noviembre dam can be reached from the south via Ilobasco and from the north via Chalatenango; from the capital it is faster via Ilobasco. The TO is normally reached from the west via Dolores (near Sensuntepeque).

For those without a car, I would expect that bus/hitching connections to be slow in these areas.

Accommodations: unknown.

Nearby Tourist Attractions: If you are a gringo, you are the attraction in these parts.

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