Rio Nuble

1 May

Four hours northeast of Chile’s second largest city Concepcion, near the small town of San Fabian de Alico lies the River Ñuble. The Ñuble is a beautiful turquoise blue river offering class 3 and 4 action with long pauses of flatwater in between. The Río Ñuble drains Cordilleras Los Tabanos and La Ventana, as well as the north side of Nevados de Chillán (3212 m). Somewhat reminiscent of the Bío-Bío’s Cien Saltos Canyon, the Ñuble is a favorite among rafters. Its boisterous, whitewater and great camping make it a delightful overnight raft trip less than a day’s drive from Santiago.

nuble river
The crux rapid on the river Nuble

A typical run on the Ñuble could be divided into an upper, a middle, and a lower section. An upper Ñuble run would be 14 km section of class 3 and 4 with long stretches of flatwater taking about an average of 4 hours. A middle Ñuble section would be another 15.3 km with more class 3 and 4 sections interspersed with more flatwater. A lower principally class 3 “town run” is roughly 9 km long.

Roger Pyle spring time fun at Caracol rapid

A typical upper Ñuble run would actually start on the colder and creekier Rio de Los Sauces. To reach this put in follow the road from San Fabian along the river Ñuble until it comes to Los Sauces. Continue upstream several km then put in on Los Sauces (elevation 715 meters) and boat a few km into the Ñuble.

end of the road river nuble
river de los sauces – end of the road – starting point for the Ñuble

The takeout of upper stretch is at El Caracol which is 18.9 km upstream of San Fabian at elevation 600 meters. The average gradient in this stretch is 8.2 mpk or 42 FPM. Best run in peak spring runoff with flows of 10,000 CFS but also runnable without the push in the summer months with flows under 1000 CFS.

ben may being gay
Ben May playboating below the Crux rapid of the Upper

The middle stretch is from Caracol 18.9 KM upstream from San Fabian to the takeout at Camping San Ignacio 3.6 km upstream of San Fabian at elevation 435 meters. This stretch has more continual whitewater than the Upper with plenty of challenging rapids such as one named “rapid without a line”. The average gradient in this stretch is 11 mpk or 55 FPM and best run a high water spring flows.

Nice day on the Ñuble

The takeout for the lower stretch is about 5 km below town where an obvious turnoff reaches the river. The put in is any access point upstream with a good option being camping San Ignacio 3.6 km upstream of town making for a 8.6 km, fun 2 hour run.

To get to the Ñuble one takes I-5 or the panamerican highway north of Chillan for 30 km until the town of San Carlos. From San Carlos keep going straight through San Fabian then pick your section.

A good place to stay and or eat in San Fabian is Brisas del Malalcura on main street at 550 Avenida Andes phone (42) 419014 or e-mail

Unfortunately, this remote and sleepy town of San Fabian and the river Ñuble is under the threat of another Hydro Electric diversion project. We met with CGE ( Chile Gas and Electric) when we were paddling and they pointed out that the proposed diversion was to begin after the first 15km so theoretically the river and tourism would not be destroyed. The town of San Fabian seems opposed to the idea of another hydroelectric project in Chile. Note: this is not always the case. Often promises of short term employment get people interested in a damn project

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