Raising Awareness for Ecuador’s Next Crown Jewel: The Rio Magdalena

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The Magadalena, Ecuador's next Class V crown jewel?

Ecuadorian kayaker Joaquin Meneses is on a mission. It’s to protect his beloved Rio Magdalena, which he calls “one of the best creeks in Ecuador.”

Discovered by boaters just last year, and run by only a handful of kayakers since, the Magdalena is born from a protected reserve called Bosque Protector Los Cedros, and flows through a wilderness of Andean “choco” jungle

“In my experience, it’s one of the best creeks in Ecuador for its water quality, whitewater and wilderness,” says Meneses, one of Ecuador’s top kayakers. “It’s super continuous and steep, and has great water volume. Plus, the jungle the reserve provides no longer exists on the western slopes of the Andes because of costal development. There’s very few places like this left in the country.”

Meneses did the second descent of the river and has been a part of each mission to the Magdalena since. The lower portion, he adds, is rated Class V, and the middle section, which he ran earlier this year, serves up great Class IV.

Meneses running meat of Ecuador’s Rio Magadalena.

“There is still much of the upper section to be explored,” says the expedition kayaker, who recently spent days hiking through the jungle to scout the run. “I am directing a mission in January 2020 with two of Ecuador’s best kayakers to run the first decent of the upper — a canyon filled with waterfalls, slides and cascades.”

As far as protecting it goes, he hopes to preserve the river from hydroelectric and mining plans that have surfaced in the region recently by promoting its potential for tourism. The mining companies involved, he adds, are Cornerstone and Enami, which he maintains are currently operating illegally in the region. The hydro dam proposed, to be built by a company called Hydroequinoccio, has been suspended for technical difficulties, he adds, but is still a huge threat.

“I want more people to become familiar with the area so it becomes a ‘must do’ river for every Class IV-V kayaker who comes to Ecuador,” he says. “By doing this, hopefully the small towns nearby will also become interested in protecting it.”

Many locals, he says, are in favor of pending dams for the economic growth its developers say will follow. But Meneses sees another path, one built on protecting it.

“I’ve had conservation talks with locals and community leaders and once I’ve made them aware of the potential of the natural resources that this area provides and how they can benefit economically from tourism, they became interested,” he says. “But they want to see results.”

Meneses is working alongside fellow paddler Abe Herrera to start bringing kayakers to the area. He is also laying the groundwork to organize a race there next year.