Trip Report (and Guide and Photo Gallery) to Paddling Veracruz, Mexico
It’s 25 degrees and windy, with a fresh dusting of snow on the ground. My numb fingers fumble with car keys as I attempt to unlock the shuttle vehicle at the take out of Gore Canyon. This is pretty good weather for early November in Colorado, but it makes for some pretty miserable late-season boating. On the drive home, I pass ski areas that are already spinning their lifts. Watching people slide down snow has me thinking that maybe I am partaking in the wrong sport for the season.
During October and November in the Rocky Mountains, kayakers are faced with two options:
Option 1: Hang up the boat and paddle, wait for spring, and spend several months watching kayaking videos roll through your Facebook news feed.
Option 2: Buy a plane ticket and join the annual southern migration of kayakers seeking warmer weather and flowing rivers.
Sometime in late October, I took the leap and bought a plane ticket to Mexico City.
The plan was to meet up with my partner in crime, Quinn Connell, rent a cheap car, and head to Tlapacoyan in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
Veracruz, Mexico, is known as a mecca for extremely steep, low-volume creeking, accented with numerous, huge, runnable waterfalls. There are many other destinations for paddlers in Mexico, but Veracruz is one of the most prominent. I’ll let the photo gallery below from our many awesome days of paddling tell the story.
But before we get to the photos, here are a few useful tips on how to have a successful trip to Veracruz.
To rent or not to rent a car, that is the question. Although searching via websites like KAYAK will yield insanely cheap quotes for reserving a car ahead of time in the states, beware that you will have to pay a huge hidden cost for protecciones (insurance). Quinn and I learned this the hard way when we rented our tiny silver sedan in Mexico City. Instead of paying the advertised $8/day, we ended up paying around $40. Luckily we were able to split the cost between four people for most of the trip.
Still, overall, renting a car was worthwhile because it provided a lot of extra flexibility and we were able to split the cost among a bunch of people. If you are heading down solo, you probably will just want to head to Veracruz and see who you can catch a ride with on a day-to-day basis.
Another thing: Do not bring your boats to the rental car agency. Two Austrian paddlers we met had been forced to rent a very expensive van because the rental car agency was not stoked to learn that kayaks were about to be tied to the roof of a tiny sedan. Quinn and I left our boats at a hostel down the street and tied our things to the roof out of view of the rental lot.
If you elect not to rent a car, it isn’t too hard figure out bus logistics from Mexico City to Tlapacoyan. It is a bit more difficult if you are bringing a kayak with you, but not impossible. Once in Veracruz, you can either hire shuttles or ride along with paddlers who did rent cars.
Building a Rack
Obviously, in fashioning your own kayak rack, you don’t want to scratch and dent the top of your vehicle and end up paying huge damage fees in addition to your rental rate. Quinn and I came prepared to construct a makeshift rack out of of 6-foot long dowels, beach towels, numerous cam straps, and a bed sheet. Get creative! Our system kept us from getting charged for damages, despite the fact that we regularly loaded down our tiny vehicle with five kayaks and five passengers on rough roads.
Where to Stay
In Veracruz, the answer is easy. Aventurec is a one-stop shop for lodging, food, shuttles, and meeting other paddlers. Everyone who kayaks stays here. You can choose to sleep in a Cabaña, crash in the hostel, or camp on the lawn. (But beware, it rains constantly in Tlapacoyan, so camping could become miserable if you are there for an extended period of time.) Quinn and I chose to sleep in the hostel, which was a great value for our 3 week stay.
One of the best things about staying at Aventurec is their knowledge of the shuttle roads. For a small fee, their driver, David, will drop you off at the put-in and pick you up at the takeout in your rental car. In turn, this will save hours of driving shuttle and getting lost. For an additional cost, they’ll drive you in one of their own vehicles, which are typically better suited to 4-wheel drive roads than rental cars. Trying to find many of these put-ins on your own would be nearly impossible.
Aventurec also rents a wide variety of creek boats fairly cheaply. Due to a lot of hard use, however, many of their boats are patched and/or about to crack. Make sure to nail down precise terms beforehand about how much you will have to pay if your boat breaks on you. Examine prices carefully to determine if you are really better off bringing your own boat (which you can usually sell to Aventurec at the end of your trip to avoid flying home with it).
Meeting a Group
If you’re traveling alone, you’ll be able to find people to paddle with and show you the lines. Quinn and I quickly hooked up with several other boaters and, before we knew it, we were rolling to the put-in 8-deep every day.
Another awesome bonus of staying on Aventurec’s property is getting to meet all of the other paddlers who come here from around the world. In just three weeks, we paddled with Canadian (and french Canadian), German, British, Welsh, Norwegian, and Mexican kayakers. It’s really inspiring to see how the the absurd activity of floating down a river in a glorified plastic barrel has attracted so many amazingly cool folks from all corners of the earth.
Finding people to paddle with will be especially easy if you show up near the end of the December or beginning of January because the annual Alseseca Race is typically around January 11th. If you show up in late November or early December, be prepared for fewer boaters and higher water levels.
What to Eat
Definitely eat the breakfast buffet at Aventurec every day. It is the biggest and best breakfast you’ll find in the area. It is relatively cheap, and is served hot and ready at 8:30am. And did I mention it is a buffet? Many boaters choose to eat a HUGE breakfast, then have an energy bar for lunch, which cuts down on costs and logistics.
Dinner is a bit trickier. Dinner at Aventurec is also HUGE and delicious, but there are much cheaper options in town (though not without a significant caveat, as I’ll mention in the next section.) It seems like a lot of folks opt to eat all of their breakfasts at Aventurec and do dinners on a case-by-case basis depending on what is convenient that evening. There are plenty of delicious taco stands and panederies in town that will give you a taste of Tlapacoyan culture. On average, you can get ample dinner fare for $4 or less in town. Aventurec dinner, on the other hand, will run you about $9.50.
How Sick Will I Get?
You are going to get sick. Everyone gets sick. They don’t usually show it in the epic paddling videos, but everyone who visits this area gets sick. Maybe you ate a bad taco or some undercooked pork al pastor. Bottom line: you will almost certainly spend at least a day doing heinous things to one of Aventurec’s toilets.
I can’t stress enough how sickness often ruins some folks’ paddling trips to Veracruz, or at least a few days of it. Here are a few steps that you can take in trying to avoid getting sick.
1) Eat all your meals at Aventurec. Sure it is more expensive and you won’t get to experience quite as much of the town, but you will be less likely to get sick if that is something you are really worried about (which you’d have good reason to be). They wash all their veggies with drinkable water and have a clean kitchen. I would recommend this option especially for people who are on a shorter trip. If you are there for 3+ weeks, taking 1-2 days off is not a huge deal. If you are only there for 7 days, 1-2 days is a huge portion of your trip, and in that case, I wouldn’t take any chances.
Under no circumstances should you drink any tap water, anywhere.
2) Even if you’re as careful as can be about the food you eat and the cleanliness of the water you drink, you can still swallow some extremely filthy river water while getting chundered in a hole. The river water is the opposite of clean. I would recommend wearing nose plugs to keep that water out of your sinuses.
3) Bring “swimmers ear” drops and use them after every session to dry out your ear canals and avoid nasty ear infections.
4) This one is kind of obvious but really important: wash your hands constantly. Use hand sanitizer all the time.
5) Resist the urge to “#bender.” We all like getting down and drinking some Tequila (te-kill-you?) with our boating brethren, but drinking heavily doesn’t exactly boost your immune system. In an environment where 9/10 boaters get seriously ill during their stay, it’s a risky move. #bender at your own risk, but I’d save it for Chile.
6) Avoid bootie beers after swimming. Unsurprisingly, given the water quality in the area, I would let this tradition slide. I can’t imagine drinking any fluids out of my river shoe after it has been dipped in the Rio Alseseca.
How Hard is the Whitewater?
When Quinn and I were down there, the area was experiencing unseasonably high December flows. This meant that even the usual class IV “Roadside” section of the Alseseca packed more of a class V punch in certain rapids. If you are dreaming of hitting up the sections of the Alseseca and the Jalacingo that you’ve seen in videos, be prepared to run some challenging and committing whitewater. If you are ready to step up to it, you’ll be rewarded with world-class scenery, countless slides, and as many waterfalls as your spine can handle. In the immediate vicinity, there isn’t really a ton of paddling besides steep, steep creeking.
If you are hoping to visit this area to explore more moderate whitewater, there are options on the Filobobos and other nearby rivers that still take you through some awesome jungle scenery. The folks at Aventurec will be able to help you plan your days for those mellower rivers.
But by and large, the classic paddling in Veracruz is geared more toward boaters with class V experience and rubber spines.
The whitewater in Veracruz is beyond awesome, and the plane ticket is far cheaper than going to Chile. But be prepared for some logistical challenges like expensive rental cars and digestive issues. There are many other areas of Mexico to visit for paddling, but Veracruz has become one of the most well known.
If you have questions about your own plans, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.
(Click on images to enlarge.)