Hopefully someone has made this trip so I can craft a realistic scenario for a novel I’m writing.

Assuming you had a crew of one experienced paddler and two inexperienced paddlers, about how long would it take to traverse the entire length of the Belize River upstream in July/August from Belize City to Branch Mouth Park (where the river starts)?

Are there places requiring portaging? Apparently there are 78 runs or rapids, but I believe they are only Class I and II. Possible some are Class III.

How many hours a day could they paddle, assuming all are reasonable fit?

Approximately how many miles a day would they progress?

EDIT: This would be in the mid-19th century, so the canoes would be birch-on-frame or wood-and-canvas construction. Maybe 17’ long?

It appears during the wet season the flow rate is 15 cubic meters per second.

  • I can't answer the question - but based on the river form, it is a lowland river - there are unlikely to be places to portage. How far you could go depends on fitness and how much you are carrying - 1 canoe, >1 canoe? kayaks - what sort?. River flow rates at that time of year?
    – bob1
    Apr 1, 2020 at 20:05
  • @bob1 One canoe, three paddlers. Above-average fitness. Not sure what kind of canoe. This would be mid-19th century, so I’m assuming birch-on-frame or wood-and-canvas. Maybe 15–17’ long? Apr 1, 2020 at 20:45
  • 1
    hmm, discharge rates I found are average of 155 cumec - low of 10-20: p16 here. I can't find any data on velocity or average width to estimate this. Looks like ~50 m at mouth, ~20 m further up so 155 cumec will be fairly fast flow. Sticking to sides of river it's possible, but would be hard work
    – bob1
    Apr 1, 2020 at 22:01
  • I'm guessing that's the dry season flow rate because the link you've given shows that wet season floods can top 100x that.
    – Separatrix
    Apr 2, 2020 at 11:03
  • It is very likely faster to walk than paddle up-stream. I have canoed down many rivers and the couple time we wanted to to back upstream it was very difficult ; unless the river is more like a lake than a river. Apr 4, 2020 at 21:18

1 Answer 1


I canoe a bit, almost exclusively down stream I tend to paddle at a steady speed, with almost no drifting. I average about 2 miles per hour (3KPH). As the river is 290 kilometres (180 mi) long that gives a down stream time of about 90 river hours. If you did 10 hours a day on the river, you could do the whole thing in 9 days.

BUT going up river, and with no knowledge about water speed, portages, etc It would be really difficult to estimate. There are a lot of variables. Some portages can take a day or more.

More people do not make the canoe significantly faster over the course of a long journey. A canoe can only go so fast, plus the more you put in it, the harder it will be to paddle.

Lewis and Clark have a well documented journey that made good use of canoes. Some of their work is available on Project Gutenberg it might provide background.

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