Futaleuf River Rafting, Patagonia, Chile
March, 2016
By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett


Thundering out of the Andes and across Patagonia is one the world’s last great white-water wilderness rivers: Chile’s Futaleufú, or Fu. The Fu’s clear turquoise-to-teal waters rumble more than 120 miles through Chile. Each bend in the river seems to reveal a new awe-inspiring vista—steep canyon walls, giant granite boulders, Andean glaciers, snowcapped mountains, and primeval forests. The 47 rapids on the Fu range from easy Class II to extremely challenging Class V. Early spring marks the close of rafting season (December to mid-April), making now one of the last opportunities to experience the Futaleufú in 2016. “March is actually an excellent time to do the Futaleufú [pronounced Foo-tah-lay-oo-FOO], with stable weather and excellent water levels,” says Earth River Expeditions founder and owner Eric Hertz, who pioneered conservation awareness and commercial rafting trips on the river in the early 1990s. “Our most popular month is December with the holidays, but actually the weather's typically better in March than in December.”

WHERE: The Futaleufú River is located in northern Patagonia, originating in Argentina’s Amutui Quimey Lake and flowing west through Chile to the Pacific. The gateway to Futaleufú rafting is Puerto Montt, commercial and transportation hub of Chilean Patagonia. The closest international airport is in Santiago. From there, the flight takes an hour and 45 minutes to get to Puerto Montt.

HOW: Call Earth River to book a private (minimum six people, March - April) multisport river trip. Itineraries are customized to accommodate different fitness levels, rafting experience, and ages (six and older). All the rapids and activities such as mountain biking, rappelling, and horseback riding are optional. The ten-day lodge-to-lodge expedition begins in Puerto Varas (about ten miles north of Puerto Montt) and continues down the river. Day four (the first day on the water) begins with raft-safety training. Two safety catarafts (twin-hulled rafts) escort groups during all river portions of the trip.

STAY: Rates include lodging, which begins at the Hotel Cumbres Puerto Varas, where every guest room has a view of Lago Llanquihue and the snowcapped, Mount Fuji-like volcano Osorno. Remaining nights are spent at intimate wilderness properties, including the lakeshore cabins at Yelcho en la Patagonia; Tineo Patagonia ecolodge; and Uman Lodge, a remote cliff-top retreat perched 500 feet above the upper Futaleufú Valley.

EAT: Earth River expeditions include daily lunches at a local restaurant or remote picnic site, such as on the banks of a stunning waterfall swimming hole. Also included are daily chef-prepared breakfasts and dinners served at the lodges. One of the most popular dishes prepared on trips is Chilean asado, spit-barbecued lamb roasted slowly over an open fire.

FUN FACT: Near its source in Argentina, the Futaleufú River is dammed to produce hydroelectric power. Once the water clears the dam, it is free-flowing through Chile to the Pacific. To prevent similar construction and other unsustainable development on the Chilean portion of the Fu, Earth River Expeditions created a trust to purchase large chunks of land along the river. 

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