Class: III; Ave. Gradient: < 1 m/km; Portages: none; Length: up to 63 km, or more; Time: 1 hour to several days
Season: year-round; rafts? yes; Highlights: scenery; Crux Move: Cañon Colorado
Water Quality: good; Water Temperature: warm
PI: Amatitlán/La Democracia (elev.: 185m); TO: Chajul
Description: (click here for general notes about my descriptions)
The Lacantún connects the Ríos Jataté and Santo Domingo (and further downstream, the Lacanjá) to the Río Usumacinta. It is off the beaten path, and being flat except for the narrows at Cañon Colorado, is of little interest to most paddlers. But for the endurance masochistics out there who have in mind to link up a long trip, or for those of you who otherwise are exploring the area and want to get in some extra float time not afforded by the Santo Domingo and its crazy canyons, this page is for you.
For the most part--16 km at the beginning and then 44 km before Chajul and beyond--the Lacantún is a lazy winding river flowing on the edges of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, a large and mostly untouched rainforest. The 3 km-long Cañon Colorado in between, where there is some gradient, is a jungle corridor of unique beauty. The river has cut a narrow and deep trench in the limestone, which is pocked and worn to a cheese-grater finish, uncomfortable and risky to clambor about on. The rapids through this gorge are flushy and straight-down-the middle, but the current is fast and there are many reflection waves and eddy lines caused by rock outcroppings both above and below the water line. Count on two class III rapids.
There are other access points available for those wanting to shorten the trip. E.g., the village of San Vicente lies at the top of the canyon, and the village of Nuevo San Andrés lies shortly below (500m south of the river). Two good-sized rivers enter downstream on river-right, Río Ixcán and Río Xaclbal. In between (17 km after Ixcán and 5 km before Xaclbal) there is another village on river-right but I don't know the name. Going all the way to Chajul makes an easy 2-day trip, and lets you stop at the Estación Chajul research station, on river-left 3 km after Río Xaclbal and 5 km before Chajul. The station welcomes visitors with trails into the jungle and good opportunities for spotting wildlife. During the dry season there are many beaches in this stretch.
There's plenty more flat and winding river below Chajul. It's about 100 km to the confluence of the Río Lacanjá, and another 63 km to the confluence of the Usumacinta. You can also add a more moderate 5.5 km at the beginning if you start on the Río Santo Domingo at Loma Bonita.
Flash Flood Danger: none.
Descent History: The Cañon Colorado, the main obstacle to navegation in this stretch, has seen very few descents, and mostly by kayakers. To my knowledge no raft passage has been attempted. In 1997 Christopher Shaw piloted a closed canoe through on his way from the Jataté to the Usumacinta, and eloquently documented the trip in his book Sacred Monkey River.
Flow Notes: There is a handy gage at Estación Chajul (linked to below), below the confluences of the Ixcán and Xaclbal. I have not verified its accuracy. There is always enough water to float here, though there are some shallow spots in the dry season. I would suspect that the Cañon Colorado can get more than a bit squirrelly at high water. Here I also show historical data from INEGI also (at a point further downstream):
click here for the height graph
Shuttle Notes: The turn to Amatitlán/La Democracia is at km 348.4 on the border highway; it's 10 km from there to the bridge linking the two towns (passing Loma Bonita, the first contact with the Río Santo Domingo, at 6.5 km). The turn to Chajul is at km 314, leading 6 km to the community. Other next-to-river access: unnamed village (at km 320, 1.5km road), Nuevo San Andrés (km mark unknown, 6 km road), San Vicente (at km 341.1, 12 km road). (note there is some incongruity with the km markers in this area.)
For those without a car, know that the public transportation in this area is irregular.
Accommodations: Hotels are few and far between in this area. There are informal hospedajes in La Democracia.
Nearby Tourist Attractions: Estación Chajul Biological Research Station.