Lunahuana is only a few hours south of Lima, but it’s so green and gorgeous, it’s like you’re in a completely different part of the country. The clean air hits you as soon as you step off the bus. It’s a small town, the main street is full of bars, restaurants, places to stay and lots and lots of tour agencies. As the main tourist activity in Lunahuana is white water rafting down the river, massive rubber dinghies line the streets, some with people lounging in them as they wait for a tasty looking tourist to tempt into a dinghy.
We took several buses to get to Lunahuana, and stepped off the last one feeling pretty tired. The driver unstrapped our backpack off the top of the bus, and we walked to the main square to find somewhere to camp, receiving lots of invitations to go rafting along the way.
A woman on the edge of the square handed us a flyer and told us that there were a few campsites. One was at the end of the road, by the river, but she warned us that it was very basic. We went there, made our way down the steep steps to the campsite and set up camp in the field by the river. It was dark (being night, and all…), so we couldn’t see much, we could just hear the river right next to us, so it was only when we woke up the morning after that we saw how spectacular the view was.
Our field was small, and the campsite was definitely basic – two toilets, only one with a working flush (not good if you’re suffering from a bout of ‘Peru belly’) and no showers, as far as we could tell. If you spent more than a night or two there, you’d get pretty grimy (but that’s one of the joys of camping, right?). But the view was gorgeous. And the campsite was almost empty, just a few small tents scattered around. On the other side of the wide, fast flowing river (the very same that all the tours raft down throughout the day) was a big, brown mountain reaching up into the clear, blue sky.
After spending most of the weekend lounging on the grass, eating shrimp and other delicious local food, and sampling the local pisco, we decided that we really ought to have a go at the rafting. Besides, our campsite was right at the end of the rafting run, so we’d seen lots of groups of excitable rafters stumble out of the boats and up the hill towards town. It was time to go see what all the fuss was about.
We went rafting with ‘Sol y Rio,’ mainly because they were the same company who owned the campsite and all the companies seemed to be the same price and have the same route and equipment. They were all priced similarly, too: S/. 35 per person, all willing to go down to S/. 30 pp. We were all loaded into the van (there ended up being six of us plus the guide), along with all the equipment and set off upriver. The river was fast flowing and filled with sudden rocks leering out of thewater – it’s certainly not something you’d try without an experienced rafter.
Our guy was amazing. He kept instructions simple: Go, stop, and back, and told us that as long as we all paddled together and did what he said, we’d be fine. The whole trip lasted 40 minutes, but felt like less. It was so much fun! The water was rough and wild enough to be actually frightening, but our guy was calm and in control, navigating us round all the rocks and into the biggest dips and mountains. It was like a rollercoaster, but we were in control of the ride. I mean, the guide was doing all the actual navigating, using his paddle as a rudder at the back to direct our route, but it gave us the illusion of being in control, what with all our fevered paddling. We ended up wet through, filled with adrenaline, and ready for another go down the river.
If you’re ever in Lunahuana (please, go to Lunahuana), or anywhere else that has a river nearby and white water rafting companies, go for it! You don’t have to be mightily in shape or have any experience around water- just paddle when you’re told to, and stop paddling when you’re told to. But, we ended the trip feeling like we’d battled our way to Mordor or discovered the lost treasures of Atahualpa. An amazing experience.
Hannah Vickers has lived in Lima, Peru for a year and a half and is the editor of Peru this Week. You can read more of her work on her blog http://hanwyn.blogspot.com/ or on the Peru this Week website. She wrote this article on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned lodge in the Peruvian Amazon, the perfect place for an outdoor adventure in Peru.