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Navigating Spain’s rivers is an irresistible way to explore the most beautiful, breathtaking spots in Spain—a country overflowing with nature’s bounty. A look at the map is enough to see that rivers, reservoirs and estuaries are plentiful where you can canoe or kayak. Spain’s rivers are an exceptional destination suitable for all levels, whether you’re an expert or simply want to combine tourism with a bit of adventure.

Canoeing and kayaking, in all their forms, find their best setting in Spain’s network of rivers. Not in vain has the Sella River in Asturias become the world’s most famous course due to the sports and leisure activities held there, such as the International Descent of the Sella. In this annual event, the most famous national and international canoers come together on the first Saturday in August. The popularity of this competition has turned it into a Festival of International Tourist Interest.

Outside of competitive circles, Spain has seen a spectacular rise in river tourism over the last few years. The possibility of making a low-risk river descent, plying the waters of a calm lake, enjoying a snack on the riverbank during a nature walk, or braving fierce rapids are all gratifying experiences that easily attract travelers.

Everything is in place for you to discover Spain from a different angle: the water. The important thing is not to finish first, but to relax and enjoy a trip down the river with friends with whom you’ll later talk about the sites you have seen during the trip.

Tourism and Sport in Calm Waters

In Spain, every river is different, each course has its hallmark and enticing elements. There are many ways to participate in canoeing, at all ages and technical levels, that share a common interest: to travel the watery trails while admiring landscapes, enjoying good company, taking photographs or simply feeling the freedom and calm that running the river produces.

To help bring this group of sensations to the visitor, there are specialized boating centers that provide the equipment necessary for each type of trip. Generally, the Canadian-style open canoe is used. They are highly stable vessels that are easy to maneuver and can be ridden right away. No previous canoeing experience is necessary. These centers also suggest routes led by qualified guides whose expertise will guarantee a successful day of canoeing.

Nor does running some of Spain’s most interesting rivers require much physical effort. Just let the current guide you; there’s no hurry since each canoe will descend at its own pace. The main thing is to enjoy nature’s unparalleled scenery.

Among these descents, the Sella River in Asturias attracts numerous aficionados throughout the year due to its international reputation. As much for the beauty of the landscape—always green and lush—as for the diversity of its fauna and the traditional Asturian villages nearby, it has become one of the rivers preferred by paddlers throughout the world.

River descents can also be made in the north of Spain, where you can travel the upper Ebro River, the Deva, Navía or the Eo.

In central Spain, canoe trips can be made on the calm waters of the Burguillo reservoir, the Adaja River, or the Alberche in Avila. There is also the Tormes River in Salamanca, the upper Tajo in Guadalajara or routes through the Duratón river canyon. The latter is a nature park with one of the highest concentrations of griffon vultures in Spain.

There are many other rivers and reservoirs throughout Spain, where travelers can use these small vessels to reach those beautiful spots hidden just beyond the bend.

Rapids

Running river rapids is a more complex endeavor than a relaxing canoe trip. To add to the excitement, if that’s possible, rivers abound in Spain that demand experience and a certain mastery of technique to be run.

The world of rapids is exciting and accessible to everyone, but it requires some learning. Little by little, Spain’s more dramatic valleys will become an important feature in the traveler’s journal.

It will be necessary to take a short course to learn the basic techniques of this sport and to feel at ease with it. Expert mountain kayak instructors will be in charge of introducing the novice to this exhilarating activity, as well as for taking all necessary precautions so that the runs are made safely, with no risk to the passengers.

Spain’s wide river network offers countless runnable areas and stretches of rivers, something for all tastes and levels of experience—from the calm Class I river for beginners, to the unpredictable Class VI river, exclusively for highly experienced paddlers. More specifically, the Pyrenees has some of the most famous and challenging rapids in Europe due to their high level of difficulty.

Other rivers in the Catalonian Pyrenees have stretches designed for tourists of low and medium difficulty, such as those along the Noguera Pallaresa and Garona Rivers. On the Aragon side of the Pyrenees we find the Gallego River, which has the most stable flow on the peninsula. This means you can enjoy a trip down its waters at virtually any time of year. The Ara, Cinca, Cinqueta and Esera rivers are other runnable rivers.

The Ulla River in Galicia is part of the Cantabrian Coast, and also has runnable areas of both calm waters and rapids.

In the central part of the peninsula, the impressive descent of the upper stretch of the Tajo River stands out, in addition to the easier currents of the Júcar, Escabas and Gabriel rivers.

The possibilities are endless, with many of Spain’s rivers suitable for canoeing and kayaking in any of its forms. Before beginning your adventure however, it is advisable to gather detailed information on the rivers from the appropriate organizations and companies specialized in these types of activities.