Join Rocky December 2012 for a trip on the Lacanjá! click here
Class: III; Ave. Gradient: 2 m/km; Portages: at least one; Length: up to 85 km; Time: 1 to 6 days
Season: year-round; rafts? yes; Highlights: rainforest, ruins; Crux Move: bringing mosquito repellent
Water Quality: good; Water Temperature: medium
PI: Lacanjá Cansayab bridge (elev.: 300m); TO: Quiringüicharo
Description: (click here for general notes about my descriptions)
The Lacanjá is a gem of a journey through the heart of the Montes Azules (Blue Mountains) Biosphere Reserve. This is about as deep into a pristine rainforest as you can get. You will hear and probably see howler monkeys and spider monkeys along the way. The river itself has very few actual rapids, mostly it is pretty travertine ledges and falls, and long pools in between. The entire length the river stays narrow with the jungle leaning over you. There is history and culture to be experienced also, with the impressive Bonampak ruins and indigenous Lacandón villages near the PI. Note a local guide is "necessary."*
I have not run the Lacanjá myself; this description has been garnered from Explora's website and its owner, Ernesto Lopéz. Explora does 1/2-day (local/hike shuttle), 2-day, and 6-day raft trips. You can start at the bridge, or at Explora's camp 2 km downstream. Starting at the camp, the first few km's has a good number of small travertine ledges up to 8 feet high. After about 5 km there is a 15 minute trail to the undeveloped Lacanjá Mayan ruins (the end of their 1-day trip), and 7 km further is a 40 minute trail into the Bonampak ruins (the end of their 2-day trip). If you go with Explora they will show you the trails.
The next 3 to 5 hours of paddling is quite flat and leads to an area with unnamed ruins hidden in the jungle on both sides of the river. Shortly afterwards you reach an extended section of ledge drops that you need to navigate. Then it's another 3-6 hours of paddling to the point where you enter the highlight of the trip, river-feature-wise: a canyon section with narrow gorges and more ledge drops. 2 to 3 hours into it you come to the largest drop, about 50 feet high. Portage as best you can through the dense jungly ravine; rafts usually unload all their gear and deflate for the portage.
From there it's only 2 to 4 hours until you reach the confluence of the Río Lacantún. Quiringüicharo lies 23 km downstream, so 3 to 5 hours of paddling should do it depending on the current and your motivation. Explora usually hires a boat from the town to pick up the group. Quiringüicharo is on river-right, at the end of a large left horseshoe bend, and recognized by the houses on shore set back behind a drive-on earthern bar (low water).
Ernesto at Explora says the best time for the trip is the dry season, for comfort reasons rather than flow reasons: there's a lot of bugs, not to mention rain (sometimes days on end), during the rainy season. From December to February cold fronts may cause temperatures to dip a bit low for comfort too.
*Note* This run is marked politically sensitive because the Lacandons do ask that tourist groups take along a Lacandon guide on all jungle excursions, including river trips. Kayak groups would have difficulty with this of course; usually the locals are accomodating, but be prepared to negotiate terms.
Flash Flood Danger: normal.
Descent History: Dimitar Krustev chronicled his 1960's journey from Lacanjá to the Usumacinta in a Folboat in his book River of the Sacred Monkey. Explora has done the run commercially for many years now.
Flow Notes: The only gage downstream is on the lower Usumacinta, too far away to provide significant correlation. Below I show historical INEGI data from a point downstream of the lower TO, though note that the Lacanjá's contribution will be maybe 5% of this amount. With its healthy watershed you can count on some water year-round.
Shuttle Notes: Lacanjá Cansayab is reached via the Fronterizo del Sur highway, about 2.5 hours from Palenque. Take the well-marked Bonampak turn at the tourist palapa roundabout, then another right turn in 3.5 km. You reach the bridge in about 2 km; the village and camp are past this bridge. To reach the TO at Quiringüicharo, get back on the border highway and continue south about 8 km past Benemérito de Las Americas (about 75 km total). Take a right turn at the intersection there, follow the paved road 10 km, then take a right turn onto a dirt road which leads into the middle of Quiringüicharo in 7 km.
For those without a car, there are morning minibuses from Palenque to Frontera Corozal and Benemérito (with perhaps a change of vehicle at Chancalá) that will get you to the Bonampak turn and Benemérito, but transportation all the way to the PI and TO is infrequent.
Accommodations: Besides Explora's Campamento Río Lacanjá cabins at the PI, there is little in the way of formal accommodations in this area.
Nearby Tourist Attractions: Bonampak Mayan ruins.