Huatulco Area Rivers
the highway to ocean section of the Copalita There are three river drainages in the region. The Copalita is far and away the largest and the only river with consistent flow, though even it diminishes away to virtually unraftable in the dry season. Trips still run in December and January, but the river is a distant shadow of its rainy season self. Prime season is July-October, though in 2008 it came up quickly in June thanks to a glut of tropical rain events. Copalita raft/kayak trips are divided up into three sections. From the highway bridge to the ocean is a leisurely Class I-II trip of about four miles that takes you through some fun rapids and some great bird watching opportunities. Though too gentle for most rafters in search of adrenaline thrills, the rapids are big enough to be fairly exciting to a novice whitewater kayaker. It's a short and beautiful trip for those more interested in enjoying the scenery than stimulating their heart rate. The most commonly done whitewater trip is the 12 mile section called Las Hamacas, mostly Class II-III with a couple of Class IV rapids. This runs from the Las Hamacas bridge in the mountains to the highway. For those looking for more stout Class III-IV whitewater, the section called Alemania farther upstream offer a lot more thrills. You can do a rafting trip from Alemania to the start of the Hamacas run for about $70. At low water Alemania isn't much fun, but in high water it's a wild ride through lots of tight roaring slots that require the active participation of the people on board to squeeze the raft through some of them. There are a few different companies that raft the Copalita, but my favorite is a new one that my friend Diego works for, which prides itself on safety and has guides equally adept at kayaking and rafting. The Alemania section is so named because it starts at the Alemania coffee plantation, a formerly German-owned plantation that dates back more than half a century. Going anywhere in the mountains requires fortitude and a strong stomach, and the rides up to the put-ins Zimatan slot canyon take at least an hour and a half and will take a bit out of you. There is a pretty tributary of the Copalita between Alemania and Las Hamacas called Rio Yuviaga, but access to it higher up requires a tortuous drive much farther into the mountains.

The main dirt road loop into the mountains from west to east takes you from the coastal highway near the Huatulco airport, up past Piedra de Los Moros, across the Las Hamacas bridge over the Copalita River, past the Copalitilla waterfalls, through Santa Maria Xadani, and back out to the highway along the Rio Zimatan. Very little of the Zimatan can be seen from the road, and there are few access points. Not many people in Huatulco know much about the Zimatan, and most are shocked to find out that it is considered quite possibly the best whitewater kayak run in all of Mexico. About ten miles above the highway, the broad shallow river enters a slot canyon and roars dramatically to life. Stone walls hem the rapids in tightly, and it is too narrow for rafts. Only expert kayakers with a knowledgeable guide should even consider running the river. For those who just want to enjoy the majesty of the river from a safe vantage point, Huatulco Adventure offers guided tours along the upper and lower ends of the slot canyon. On the upper end, it is easy to hike through the forest to where the canyon begins, and walk along the rocks that form the canyon for at least a mile. Above the canyon you might find locals diving in the river for chacales, the local freshwater shrimp, and there is nothing more delicious than a dinner of those drenched in garlic butter. At the lower end, there is access from near Zimatan village, and you can hike up the river to a beautiful canyon section where the wild rapids go through one last burst of madness before the river flattens out.

tributary stream of the Zimatanthe upper Zimatan above the slot canyon


At the west end of the Fonatur zone is the Rio Huatulco, which becomes the Rio Coyula as it flows down to the ocean. This rarely has enough water to attempt kayaking or rafting, except during the rainiest times of the summer months. There appears to be a challenging ten mile Class II-IV run from Santa Maria Huatulco to the bridge at Hwy 200 through a beautiful canyon, but the water rarely ever is high enough to allow it. Hiking around here has a lot of potential, but there is limited access between Santa Maria Huatulco and the highway. Above Santa Maria on the road to Pluma Hidalgo is a tributary called the Rio Grande. There are some access points and this river would be quite exciting creek boat kayaking when the water was up. In addition, the scenery is spectacular as you climb the highway toward Pluma and is lush even in dry season. The picturesque mountain community of Pluma Hidalgo is the most easily accessible place from Huatulco to experience a dramatic change in climate, sitting at 4400' with amazing views.

Rio Grande in the winter without flow