The Chagres Challenge ain’t for the faint of heart! Chagres River is a class II and II rafting river. Parts of the river have alternating currents with backwaters which are considered class II, while some of its rapids are class III. This river pretty much goes unseen to the outer world since it passes through the Chagres National Park which does not have accessible roads.
This tour starts early, at 5 a.m. you will be picked up from your hotel in Panama City on a 4×4 vehicle. You will head east, passing the mountain town of Cerro Azul, to reach a remote village called San Cristobal. Participants will eat breakfast and start their hike at 8 a.m. The walk is done on a narrow trail that goes deeper and deeper into the jungle for about an hour and a half until reaching Piedras River, which is an affluent of the Chagres River. Rafting may start here if the water levels permit or it may require to continue hiking if not, since this river is very shallow. Be prepared to pass the raft on several spots if you start here.
The Chagres Challenge starts its exciting five hour rafting tour around 11 a.m. You will pass several Embera tribes that live in this rainforest. Few have the opportunity to view this virgin jungle. It is possible to see animals such as sloths, monkeys, river otters, iguana, plenty of fish and birds including toucans.
There will be a lunch stop along the river. Madden Lake will be reached around 4:30 p.m. when you will board an outboard motorboat indigenous wooden canoe for half an hour until you reach the nearest road. Arrive back to the city around 7 pm.
- Transportation to and from Panama City
- Rafts or kayaks
Available: Sunday from June through February.
Time: 14 hours.
What to bring? Swimsuit, light or dry fit clothes that can get wet, hiking boots / sneakers, hat, sunscreen, towel, jacket or windbreaker, rain jacket or dry bag in the rainy season, change of clothes and passport or ID.
Important information: The Chagres Challenge is offered every Sunday with a minimum of 4 passengers. ONLY book this tour for Sunday. Additional dates will be added with a minimum of 6 passengers, please consult if you want to do this tour on an alternative date. There is a maximum of 24 people from July through December and a maximum of 12 people in January and February.
Chagres River has water to do white water rafting all year. It reaches its peak water level in November at the end of the rainy season. May is the driest month. However, the tour can only be done when it is possible to go through Rio Piedras which is June through February. If there is enough water it is possible to start in the San Cristobal River into Rio Piedras River into Chagres River, 3 rivers in one day!
It is possible to paddle in rafts from June through December. January can only permit smaller rafters. From mid February to the season closing only advanced paddlers who are in good shape can do this river.
The area where this rafting trip is done is very remote. In case something goes wrong (major injury, raft puncture, or people not paddling) there may be a chance of having to stay overnight in the jungle without camping gear or communication. It has only happened once in 20 years, but there is a chance it may happen, and you will be taken out the next day.
Participants must be in good health and physical conditions. Any person between the ages of 12 to 70 can participate in The Chagres Challenge. Minors must have a responsible adult. There is a maximum weight limit of 210 for people under 6 feet and 240 for people under 6’5 feet.
Those that don’t want to do the starting hike and drive can be flown in a helicopter from Albrook Airport to the start of the river. It is also possible to spend the night with local Embera tribes and campesinos to have a richer experience. Please contact us for quotes on both options.
Other Panama River Rafting Tours: