- Class: III / IV
- Distance: (10 k) 6 miles
- Average Gradient: (50 ft/mile)
- Maximum Gradient:
- Temperature: 4-10C (40-50 F)
- Water Quality: Clear, Glacial Silt Blue
- Character: Constriction Canyons, Ledges, Boulders, Continuous Noise
- Nearby Rivers: Futaleufu River, Espolon River, Michimahuida River, Palena River, Tigre River
The headwaters of the Rio Azul lie deep in a glacial river valley to the west of the Futaleufu River. The Rio Azul empties into the Futaleufu about midway into the whitewater section, effectively dividing the Futaleufu into the Upper and Middle Futaleufu. The Rio Azul is one of the colder rivers in the region because it is glacial fed, rather than lake fed which tends to increase the temperature of other rivers in the valley. Because the Azul River has no lake at its source it is also prone to wild fluctuations in water level and is often the quickest river to respond to changes in precipitation in the Futaleufu River Valley. When the Azul is running it offers whitewater paddlers some of the best play features and scenery in the valley.
The Rio Azul is cold, shallow and continuous at high water levels. The most dangerous rapid on the river is "Cheese Grater" which occurs where the Rio Azul cuts through a layer of sharp volcanic rocks. Although Cheese Grater has been run, it is very shallow with a few holes that can easily back-ender a kayak, consider it a mandatory portage as a trip to the local hospital for stitches will spoil your paddling vacation. Also, be aware of the risks of high water. The Azul is prone to flooding throughout the season and can bring trees and other debris into the river bed. Be very cautious of this river after prolonged rain storms. At high water the Azul also goes up a class in difficulty.
River Flows / Gauge Information / Season
The Rio Azul is completely unpredictable and can rise rapidly after the briefest of storms. It is not uncommon for the Azul to change from completely unpaddleable at the beginning of the week to an awesome whitewater run by week's end. To make the river worth paddling you will need about 1000 cfs in the river bed. Scout the Azul from the valley road as it goes through the Azul Outpost and keep an eye on the weather. If it rains for more than twelve hours chances are the Azul will be running.
There is one primary section on the Rio Azul, from the Azul Swinging Bridge to just before the confluence with the Rio Futaleufu. This run can be shortened or even lengthened anywhere along the river.
- 1. Cheese Grater (Class IV) Cheese Grater is the first rapid of any significance that you will come to after leaving the swinging bridge put-in. It is about a half mile (1 k) downstream and is marked by a horizon line. Here the Rio Azul cuts through some very sharp volcanic rock and curves to the left. At the very bottom of the rapid there is a sizable stopper which is capable of back-endering a kayak. Cheese Grater is a deceiving rapid because it looks rather easy, but don't be fooled. Below the shallow waters lie some extremely sharp rocks that are capable of lacerating an exposed face or cutting a dry-top to ribbons. Portage this rapid on river-right and take some time to examine the surrounding rock. You will quickly discover why this rapid is called the "Cheese Grater".
- 2. Puente Azul Canyon (Class IV) After another mile and half you will come to the Puente Azul Canyon (Azul Bridge Canyon) whose entrance is marked by the Futaleufu Valley Road crossing the Rio Azul. Stay on a center line here and be prepared to do some maneuvering to dodge a number of shallows and ledges. What you find here will depend on the water level.
- 3. Marble Canyon (Class III+) After Puente Azul Canyon the next set of significant rapids is the Marble Canyon. Here the river narrows and picks up speed and tumbles over three distinct rapids. At normal flows the first and the third rapids can be run down the middle, except the second which is best run on the river-left side to avoid some holes and junk on river right. The Marble Canyon is the most visually spectacular canyon in the Futaleufu River Valley. Here the canyon narrows and the Tres Monjas Peak perfectly aligns with the walls of the canyon for an incredible photo-opportunity.
- 4. Tres Monjas Play Wave Below the Marble Canyon and practically under the shadow of the Tres Monjas Peaks lies the Rio Azul Play Wave. This wave offers a great afternoon of playboating fun a short distance from the Rio Futaleufu confluence. There is an excellent service eddy on river-left. Bring you camera as the photo opportunities are amazing.
Kayaking on the Rio Azul. Video
Put-Ins and Take-Outs
- Put in: Put in at the Pasarela Azul (Azul Swinging Bridge) located about six miles upstream of the confluence. To get to the Pasarela Azul there is a neighborhood access road about one mile south of the Azul Outpost (Puente Azul, highway bridge) heading west (upstream of the Azul). Continue on the access road until you get to the bridge. You will need to open and close a number of gates to get there. It is imperative that you securely close any gates that you have opened.
- Take out: Take-out river-left just as you come out of the mini-gorge. You will see the neighborhood road near the river at the take-out point. The land along the river is privately owned so be courteous and offer a take-out fee if requested.
Getting to the Futaleufu River Valley
The Futaleufu River Valley can be accessed from either Chile or Argentina.
Chile Option: Flying in through Santiago de Chile, one must take a bus or plane to Puerto Montt, Chile then take another flight (or ferry boat) to Chaiten, Chile. From Chaiten there is a three hour drive over a dirt road to the village of Futaleufu.
Argentina Option: Flying in through Buenos Aires, one must take another flight to Esquel, Argentina or to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. Esquel is the closest but flights only arrive and depart on certain days of the week. For either of these two points a bus, taxi or private shuttle will get you to the Futaleufu Valley. From Esquel the Futaleufu Valley is 2.5 hours away and from San Carlos de Bariloche it is 6.5 hours away.
You can consult the Expediciones Chile Patagonia Maps page to get detailed information on navigating the region. The Expediciones Chile Travel Information Page goes over the travel details and the pros and cons of each route.
Places to Stay / Campgrounds
There are numerous places to lodge and camp in the Futaleufu River Valley. However, many of these places change ownership, email addresses and telephone numbers frequently. We recommend that you check the Futaleufu municipality website for the most up to date and complete information: www.futaleufu.cl Check under the "Servicios" section. Frommers Guidebooks also does a good job of keeping their information accurate and current. See: Frommers Futaleufu.
Maps & Outside Links
Copyrights: (Copyright © 2006, Expediciones Chile) All photos, maps, diagrams, text and computer code is the copyrighted property of Expediciones Chile with all rights reserved.
Disclaimer: Under no circumstances should paddlers substitute the information and diagrams in this guidebook for their own sound judgment on the river and their collective experience running rivers. The diagrams, maps and descriptions found here are only approximations of what paddlers will find on the river once they get to Chile or Argentina. They are not to scale and nor are they completely accurate. Water levels change, rocks move around, landslide debris can enter the river at any time making the diagrams obsolete. Expediciones Chile also reserves the right to update these diagrams and descriptions at any time as we find better ways to illustrate and discuss the rapids. Use this guidebook at your own risk.Read More: Disclaimer