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To climbers, there is the challenge and allure of Everest or K2.   Surfers dream about Cloudbreak, Jaws, and Maverick.  For river runners, there's the Zambezi in Africa, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, several Nepalese gems - and of course, there's "The Fu." 

At GOALS - this is the top of the mountain - the pivotal experience. Fed by pristine glacial lakes in the high Andes of Patagonian Chile, the stunning blue-green waters of the Futaleufu River offer world-class challenges for river runners as it flows through mind-boggling landscapes and past a culture which feels timeless and exudes kindness and acceptance.  The only problem with a GOALS expedition on the Futaleufu is that it’s never quite long enough. Prepare to leave a piece of your heart and soul here - then prepare to start planning your return in an attempt to recover it. Again, and again, and again.

GOALS Futaleufu expeditions are different from every other program we offer - not only for the obvious cultural and geographic factors - but also for the structure of the expedition itself. We pick our way slowly to southern Chile - exploring coastal villages, local markets, and new national parks developed by environmental crusaders on our way. Upon arriving on the banks of the Futaleufu, we base camp in safari-style tents rather than traveling downstream and camping each night. This allows for an array of activities beyond rafting several sections of the Futaleufu - including paddling inflatable kayaks on the Rio Azul or learning to paddle a hard shell kayak on calmer stretches of the Futaleufu, exploring the surrounding valleys on horseback with Chilean gauchos, and even visiting local schools to learn about what it means to be a child in the region. A home base also allows our group to enjoy morning yoga classes, afternoon discussions with our guides about the home countries in wood-fired hot tubs, incredible meals served in the open-air communal dining area, and group campfires under the southern cross and other constellations we never get to see in the Northern hemisphere.

There’s nothing like the Futaleufu. This expeditions is by invitation only - for kids we know and feel are ready to travel internationally and take on the whitewater challenges that the Futaleufu serves up. If you receive one of these coveted invites, please do whatever you must to join us on this journey to a region of South America that magically combines a reputation for sitting solidly atop every river runner's bucket list with a sense of somehow remaining untouched and undiscovered.  Take advantage of the chance to experience the Fu as it is meant to be explored - before the damming threat re-emerges; before pavement reaches the region; before you look back and wish you had.

GOALS 14-day Rio Futaleufu Detailed itinerary


Day 1 and 2 Travel Days. The group will meet at Denver International Airport 2.5 hours before our established flight departure. It generally takes about 18-22 hours of travel to reach Puerto Montt, Chile - with one domestic stop and one stop in Santiago, Chile. Therefore, a mid-afternoon flight from Denver will generally put us in Puerto Montt around lunch time the following day. Upon arrival in Puerto Montt, we will be transported to our overnight accommodations in nearby Puerto Varas at the Hotel Cabana del Lago overlooking Llanquihue Lake and the beauty of the neighboring volcanoes - where we can drop bags and relax. If we’re wiped out from traveling, we may enjoy a nap or a swim at the hotel - but if we’re running on adrenaline we’ll likely hop a town bus back to Puerto Montt - watching fisherman return from the ocean with their days catch as the lobos del mar (sea wolves - a very large sea lion in the region) beg for scraps, and strolling through the local markets where artisans sell their crafts. It’s back to Puerto Varas for a welcome dinner, then some well deserved sleep before continuing to head south tomorrow!


Day 3. Puerto Varas to Pumalin. Today, we board small planes (6-8 seaters) for a flight from Puerto Varas to Chaiten. This scenic flight takes us along the Patagonia coast - where the Andes mountains terminate right at the sea, and countless islands dot the rocky shoreline. Upon arrival in Chaiten, we will be transported to Parque Pumalin Parque Pumalin - one of the largest and most diverse conservation efforts in South America that was established through the combined efforts of the Tompkins foundation and the Chilean government. A series of small cabanas on the coast at Caleta Gonzala will be our home for two nights as we explore the park and learn about their ongoing environmental initiatives.

Day 4. Exploring Pumalin. Today, we will take what we have learned about Pumalin to decide which area of the park we are most motivated to further explore - choosing between hiking trails that wind through pristine Valdivian temperate rainforest, paddling sea kayaks along the fjords that make up its’ coastal region, or touring the organic farms and apiaries they are using to increase sustainability in the region.


Day 5. Pumalin to Futaleufu. After breakfast today, we will take one more hike in the park, then continue our journey south - driving approximately 2 hours past the beautiful Lago Yelcho, multiple hanging glaciers and jagged peaks to base camp on the banks of the Futaleufu. Upon arrival, we’ll meet our extraordinary guide team, “move in” to our safari-style canvas tents complete with comfortable beds and room to unpack our bags on platforms overlooking the river. If there’s time and the weather allows, we may take a quick swim off the rope swing, soak for a bit in the wood-fired hot tub, or just enjoy a hot outdoor shower. We’ll end today on the deck, getting to know some of the world’s best river guides who will care for us throughout the expedition and go over the week’s agenda before an amazing dinner served by local chefs. After all of the traveling that has lead us to this point, we’ll get a better night’s sleep than we’ve had so far - listening to the Futaleufu flow by and dreaming of the adventure that tomorrow holds!


Day 6. River day #1 - the Puente Futaleufu section. Your “tent captain” will wake you this morning with a gentle knock on the tent and a cup of coffee left on the deck, reminding you that yoga begins in about 30 minutes. At that point, you may pinch yourself and wonder if it’s all a dream. It’s not - and it’s about to get better. Pre-breakfast yoga on a platform overlooking the mighty Futaleufu will prepare your body for an exciting day on the river. After a breakfast featuring fresh fruits, smoothies, huevos, and baked goods, we’ll launch rafts directly from camp and take on the Puente Futaleufú (the Futaleufú Bridge to Bridge) section. While only about 6 miles in length, this stretch of the Futaleufu offers more rapids per mile than anywhere else on the river. This is bigger water than any GOALS participant has seen in the western US, so we utilize safety techniques that include safety kayaks and catarafts who await us at the bottom of each major rapid. After completing today’s stretch, we’ll bus back to camp - where it’s officially “choose your own afternoon adventure time - we can fly-fish, learn some kayak skills, nap in a hammock, or soak in the hot tub. The group will re-convene in the open air kitchen/dining area before dinner to dive into the GOALS international curriculum developed specifically for the Futaleufu- then enjoy another candlelight sit-down dinner featuring fresh locally grown produce and fresh-baked breads as we reflect on our first day on “the Fu.”  The sound of the river will lull us off to sleep, dreaming of tomorrow’s adventures here in Patagonia as you continue to wonder if it’s all just a dream.

Day 7. River day #2 - Mas o Menos, Casa de Piedra, and an island BBQ. After the same yoga and breakfast routine as yesterday, we will launch rafts one again from camp. This time, however, there is a chance for those feeling adventurous to continue a bit further than we went yesterday. Just beyond the second bridge - which ended yesterday’s adventure - await two big rapids - “Mas o Menos” (“More or Less”), and then the first true class V technical rapid - “Casa de Piedra” (“House of Rock”). After “Casa”, a series of class III rapids will begin to seem easy, and we’ll relax as we get through them and into a long calm section of the Futaleufu as it flows toward Lago Yelcho. As we float this section toward an “island style BBQ lunch”, anyone who learned some kayak skills yesterday afternoon can paddle their kayak with a few of our guides while others may choose to fish from the rafts. After lunch, we’ll float a few more miles to the take out just above Lago Yelcho, then return to camp - where the hot tub is hot, dinner is being prepared, and there might even be some available time slots at the in-house spa for a $1/minute massage. Did we mention that this wasn’t like most other GOALS expeditions?


Day 8. Ducky day! Today, we take a break from the big rafts and the Rio Futaleufu. Instead, we’ll paddle “duckies” (solo or tandem inflatable kayaks) on the beautiful Rio Azul, one of the Futaleufu’s main tributaries that flows through one of the most scenic canyons in Patagonia. We’ll all paddle the class II and III rapids that make up most of this river - then depending on your comfort level and our guide’s recommendation, you can paddle or walk around the class IV “Cheese Grater” rapid. We’ll eat lunch right on the banks of the Azul after our paddling is done - staring up at the Tres Monjas peaks in the distance. Another afternoon of hiking, mountain biking, fishing, or just relaxing with your journal, sketchpad, or a good book await us at camp.


Day 9. Patagonia by horseback. After yoga and breakfast today, we’ll pack saddlebags with all we need and drive a short distance to a local stable. After a safety briefing, we’ll meet our horses, admire the contrast between their intricately carved wooden stirrups and their simple saddles under sheepskins, then saddle up alongside a team of local expert equestrians and our river guides who will lead us up the Rio Azul valley - crossing the crystal clear river several times - to a beautiful 300 foot cascada (waterfall). Near the falls, our horsemen will prepare an authentic Patagonian Asado picnic lunch. We’ll enjoy this meal and a chance to chat with more of the valley’s locals, then load back up on our horses and trot back through tall grasses under jagged peaks toward the stables where our adventure began. Heading back to camp with the sweet smell of horses on the hand-woven ponchos we may have borrowed from camp, we’ll get ready for tonight’s dinner while starting to look toward tomorrow - Inferno day.

Day 10. Inferno Canyon. If water levels are right, and our guides have assessed the group as being competent enough for the challenge, today will undoubtedly be the most exciting river day of your life - in Inferno Canyon. We’ll awake to an earlier breakfast today, the travel about up 15 miles from camp to launch our rafts on the Rio Espolon - another tributary of the Futaleufu. Shortly after the Rio Espolon confluences with the Futaleufu, it gets squeezed into a very narrow canyon that contains five challenging rapids and two portages. The challenge of the whitewater is matched only by the beauty of this canyon, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from successfully navigating its’ torrents. The last of the upper rapids (“Salida” - or Exit) leads us into a long calm stretch before arriving at the fierce “Zeta” rapid. We’ll hike around Zeta, and watch the guides “ghost boat” the rafts through - tying down gear and pushing them through without anyone in them. Further downstream, we encounter one more ghost boat rapid - “Throne Room” - then get to enjoy a long stretch of continuous class IV rapids framed by the glaciated peaks that make this area famous - knowing that not many groups ever make it up to Inferno Canyon to ever lay eyes on what we’re experiencing. Shortly after completing this stretch, we arrive at the Rio Azul confluence - where out boats get tied up for the night and a bus takes us back to camp.


Day 11. “Summit Day.” Today is our last day of paddling on the Futaleufu - and is arguably one of the - if not the - best day of white water in the world. After yoga and breakfast in camp, we’ll drive to the spot where we left our boats yesterday. A 4-mile stretch of warm-up rapids takes us directly into the longest and most challenging rapid for our guides - “The Terminator.” We’ll scout the rapid and identify our line, then paddle into the current and work as a team to navigate this fascinating rapid. After Terminator, we’ll splash our way through the enormous haystack wave train known as the “Himalayas” - and before we know it, we’ll be floating directly into base camp for lunch. At this point, we can take great pride in rafting every notable stretch of the Futaleufu - from its’ confluence with the Rio Espolon to its’ flat waters flowing into Lago Yelcho. If that’s good enough, you can remove your wetsuit and plan the afternoon - but if you’re still thirsty for as much whitewater as possible, then complete your final day on the river with one more run through the Bridge to Bridge section, Mas o Menos, and Casa de Piedra - enjoying celebratory hugs with the entire team at the takeout for completing another incredible Futalefu expedition! Back in camp tonight, we’ll enjoy a reflective conversation about our time in Patagonia in the hot tub, then enjoy the unique dining and cultural experience of a traditional Chilean Asado — lamb roasted over a bed of coals, ensalada, potatoes and farm fresh bread prepared by our neighbors in the valley.

Day 12. Chaiten to Puerto Varas. We’ll rise early today and head back to the small airfield in Chaiten, where we embark on another small plane flight from Chaiten back to Puerto Varas. Arriving mid-day in Puerto Varas affords us the chance to re-visit the artisan markets and pick up any souvenirs we might have been eyeing the first time around, but didn’t purchase. We’ll stay once more in the Hotel Cabana del Lago, enjoy a wonderful dinner on the shores of Llanquihue Lake, and get ready for a big day of travel back to the states tomorrow.

Day 13 and 14. Travel time from Puerto Montt back to Denver generally takes between 16-20 hours. With this and an awareness of time zone differences in mind, leaving mid-afternoon on day 13 gets us back to Denver on the morning of day 14 - tired yet rejuvenated; home yet yearning for a continuation of the life we just discovered in Patagonia.


Costs and Inclusions

2019 cost per participant: $4880

GOALS all-inclusive rates go beyond the unrivaled on-river experience. They also include all transportation (ground and air), lodging/campsites before and after the river expedition, and all meals both on the river and on the road during our travel to/from the canyon. Additional inclusions (gear, government fees, supplies, etc.) are detailed below.  


  • R/T international airfare and group travel planning from Denver to Puerto Montt, Chile.

  • Ground transportation from the airport in Puerto Montt to lodging in Puerto Varas.

  • Lodging at in Puerto Varas on nights 2 and 12 at the Hotel Cabana del Lago.

  • R/T small plane flight from Puerto Varas to Chaiten.

  • 2 nights of lodging and all meals in Parque Pumalin - days 3, 4, and 5.

  • Ground transportation from Parque Pumalin to base camp on the Rio Futaleufu.

  • Lodging at basecamp in comfortable but rustic safari-style tent bungalows with comfortable beds, soft linens, and fluffy comforters - as well as robes and towels. This is admittedly a bit more "glamping" than the traditional GOALS experience.

  • All meals at basecamp - from lunch on day 5 to breakfast on day 12 - featuring incredible hearty breakfasts and lunches, gourmet appetizers served in the wood-fired, riverside hot tub and culturally or geographically inspired dinners (we'll enjoy "Chilean night, Argentinian night, Indian night, Italian night", etc. - and even a traditional Chilean asado BBQ).

  • All activities at camp - including yoga, fishing, paddling kayaks and duckies, horseback riding, biking, and hiking.
    (Note: Massage is not included, but can be purchased for $1/minute).

  • Inspiring afternoon discussions and activities guided by the GOALS international curriculum aimed at strengthening connections to one other, to the planet, and to self using a more global lens than our curriculum delivered on rivers in the western US.

  • Guidance from local and international experts, whose knowledge of the area, relationships with locals, and river navigating skills are truly world-class. The caliber of care you are under is absolutely second to none.

  • An entirely new understanding of the Patagonia clothing tagline- “Live simply.”  

Financial assistance from GOALS

We work hard throughout the year to raise money for financial assistance, and believe that cost should never prevent an interested and determined child from experiencing a GOALS expedition. Abundant financial assistance is available for those who qualify (see considerations below). In addition to the financial support we provide, GOALS also sponsors events to help students raise funds themselves, and provides a stand-alone electronic format for those who are not interested or available to participate in these events. Throughout our first 9 years of programming, GOALS has never been unable to provide enough support so that every interested child / family could be involved. This is a record we intend to keep intact in year 10, and every year in the future.

If you require financial assistance to participate in a GOALS expedition, please complete the general application form. On the last page of your application, respond appropriately in the box that asks about financial assistance from GOALS. If accepted to participate in the program for which you are applying, GOALS will then send you an electronic financial aid application. After it is completed and returned, our financial assistance committee will provide the most generous offer possible - based on a variety of factors including financial aid availability, parent and student contribution, household income, and additional financial commitments to programs and activities that advance your child’s personal growth. You may then choose to accept or decline our offer. If our offer is accepted, you can choose to make monthly payments leading up to the expedition launch or can pay a lump-sum balance for whatever funds have not been raised 30 days prior to the expedition. If our offer is declined, your deposit will be returned and your child’s spot will be offered to another applicant. Please contact GOALS if you have any questions.