Are you looking for adventure in Costa Rica? Do you want a thrill with a little bit of relaxation on your vacation?
Let’s talk about the amazing white water rafting you can experience in Costa Rica, whether you are a level I rafter (beginner) or a level 6 (Expert).
In this article, we want to allow you to learn how to flow down the stream that will touch your heart and soul.
What Is The Best Place to White water Raft in Costa Rica?
Rafting the Mighty Rio Pacuare
“Rio Pacuare!” members of the Costa Rica Escapes team will collectively and enthusiastically answer! Travelers that want to take full advantage of their limited time in this country must experience white water rafting on the Pacuare (Pah-KWAH-ree) River. Overall, this paddle-sport adventure leaves people in awe and provides an unforgettable white water experience.
Pacuare River rafting is one-of-a-kind and offers visitors an incredible and genuine look into the primary rainforest of Costa Rica. So naturally, and as Mother Nature intended, is the way that paddlers will experience this world-renowned river.
Kayaking or rafting Costa Rica’s Rio Pacuare is ideally spent as an overnight trip to enhance visitors’ adventure. The overnight trip breaks the rafting into two portions and allows paddlers to sleep at one of the river’s eco-lodges and riverside campsites. With this experience, travelers get a million-star experience as they truly feel it is like to sleep in the rainforest.
Hands down, the best place to white water raft in Costa Rica is the Pacuare River. This excellent river basin starts at over 9,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level in the Talamanca Mountain Range and travels for over 400 feet (130 Km ) until it reaches the Caribbean Sea. Since 1985, the land alongside the river has been protected as a forestry reserve, making this river one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
As you travel the river waters, you can enjoy impressive small waterfalls, canyons, and a dense rainforest home to a lot of wildlife. Travelers have seen jaguars and tapirs on the side of the river, but those sights are very rare. Instead, it is common to see toucans, raccoons, monkeys, sloths, anteaters, peccaries, iguanas, hummingbirds, and many butterflies like the blue morpho.
It is common to see indigenous people using and enjoying the river since a considerable population of the Cabecar Indigenous Community lives in the area.
The first white water adventurers to enjoy this river only did it in 1980, but multiple experts and companies have rafted down its waters since then. Today there are over 20 companies that offer white water rafting tours in the Pacuare.
The Pacuare River has three main sections that offer different rafting experiences:
- Lower Section
- Upper Section
- Upper Upper section
The most commonly rafted section is the Lower Section, a 230-mile (37 Km) stretch of river with multiple class III and IV rapids. The Upper Upper Section and the Upper Section are much more technical, and only the Upper Upper Section can be rafted. In addition, there are level IV and V rapids in the Upper Section that kayaks can only run.
Where Else in Costa Rica Can You Go White Water Rafting?
Suppose you are looking at the map of Costa Rica. In that case, you will notice many white water rafting adventures in the provinces of San Jose, Cartago, Alajuela, and Heredia. In addition, there are some in Puenteras province, closer to Manual Antonio and Limon province, closer to Panama, but those are not as popular.
Let’s talk about a couple of rivers located in Costa Rica that may spark your interest, but we have some incredible rivers that we will break down even further.
La Fortuna Rapids
La Fortuna is a famous town in Costa Rica, as you will hear people say, “The Gateway to Arenal Volcano.” The volcano has two active volcanos in Arenal but let’s talk about La Fortuna Rapids. From this town, many white water rafting companies will take you out on the many entrances of La Fortuna. You will have to travel to get to these spots for La Fortuna.
Another incredible place to go white water rafting in Costa Rica is close to La Fortuna, about 45 minutes, called Rio Balsa, which is perfect for the whole family.
If you are brand new to rafting, this is a great river to go. You will have some great movements of pure joy on the rapids, but then you will be able to experience and see the landscapes, possibly see the monkeys and many birds.
Penas Blancas River
Are you looking for a river that you can take the family down? Well, Penas Blancas River is it. The Penas Blancas River is in Puenteras Province, under 2 hours from the San Jose Airport.
You can enjoy the river’s flow without worrying about trying to paddle your way out. If you and the family are lucky enough, you will be able to enjoy the wildlife, such as monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, and many birds, to name a few. Don’t forget to grab that camera!
The Rio Toro, which means “Bull River,” is not for the gentlest of heart, as the name says it all. Instead, this river is for experienced rafters who experienced white water rafting rapids, such as class III and IV. So, taking the kids would not be ideal, but if you want the blood pumping, then we highly recommend it.
The Rio Toro is in the Alajuela Province and about 3 hours from the San Jose Airport.
If you want to head north of the San Jose Airport for only 2 hours, you can experience the Sarapiqui River, as many white water rafters will head here. Why? They have many multi-day adventures.
The beauty of this river is that you can experience class III and class IV rapids, especially during the rainy season, which is June to October. Still, you can also experience some safari tours for the family.
How Much Is Rafting In Costa Rica
Long story short, it will depend on how long you will be rafting. Are you looking to do a day trip or a multi-day trip? Are you adding other adventures to it, such as zip-lining, lunch, or rappelling?
If you are looking at a one-day trip, we have seen prices starting at $65/person up to $130, including zip-lining or lunch or hanging bridge hikes.
If you are looking for a multi-day trip for whitewater rafting, you will have to contact the tours as the tours will be based on how many people will be joining the journey to fuel the heart and soul on the white water rapids in Costa Rica.
How Dangerous Is White River Rafting in Costa Rica?
We wouldn’t suggest white water rafting in Costa Rica if it weren’t safe for us, Costa Rica Escapes, so we want you to feel at ease that it is one of the safest activities for visitors to Costa Rica.
We also want you to make sure you feel comfortable on the rafting tours, so if you are looking for a specific tour, tell us how comfortable you are, and we will do the rest.
How Far Is Pacuare River White Water Rafting From San Jose Costa Rica Airport
If you fly into San Jose (SJO) International airport, the Pacuare River takes approximately 2.5 hours to get to the Pacuare River.
The Pacuare River (or Rio Pacuare), a class III & IV river, runs from West to East through the Talamanca Mountains and ultimately ends in the Caribbean Ocean. This river is most easily accessed from the Costa Rican adventure capital of the East – Turrialba. Turrialba has numerous commercial outfitters that have been running this river for years.
The Pacuare River has numerous put-in points. While the river is accessible from the capital city of San Jose and other population and tourism hubs around the country, the easiest way to take a guided trip on this river is out of Turrialba.
The most often used put-in is located in a town just outside of Turrialba, called Tres Equis. In addition, commercial outfitters use numerous put-in spots further upriver from Tres Equis, but these are generally reserved for special paddling trips or kayak tours.
Where Is The Best Whitewater Rafting For Children In Costa Rica?
Let’s talk about the basics of kids and whitewater rafting. It is suggested that kids should not be under five years old when rafting and starting at a level I (see below). Still, some of the whitewater rafting that we see in Costa Rica for the family are Penas Blancas River and Rio Balsa, to name a couple.
When looking for rapids for the kids, look for Levels I and II, but many white water rafting companies will have restrictions, so make sure you check into that before you book.
What Level/Class Is White Water River Rafting In Costa Rica?
There are levels/classes to white water river rafting in Costa Rica and around the world, and Costa Rica has all the levels.
Let’s discuss what the levels are all about:
- Level I: You want to go tubing? Here is your class.
- Level II: This level is for the novice, and you may have to deal with some obstructions, such as rocks, trees, etc.
- Level III: Expect to get wet on this one, as you are dealing with some rapids, obstructions, and working on your boat control.
- Level IV: This is an advanced level, as you may have to make quick moves so you don’t flip the raft.
- Level V: This level is for expert rafters.
- Level VI: OOFF, how good are you with white water rafting? These are unpredictable and very dangerous.
For the most part, here at Costa Rica Escapes, we see many levels III and IV but then, of course, the ones for the family, at the levels I and II.
What To Wear White Water Rafting In Costa Rica
Expecting for the best and preparing for the worse would be our mantra for white water rafting in Costa Rica, but it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out what you need, whether you are hitting the Level I rapids or the IV.
Let’s break it down for you:
- Clothes: Shoes, such as Tevas or tennis shoes, that you don’t care about will get wet. A swimsuit. Maybe a long sleeve wicking t-shirt to help block the sun or an SPF top. Don’t forget to grab some dry clothes for the car ride home when you are leaving. If you are rafting as the sun goes down, sometimes it can get chilly, so maybe have a light jacket.
- Essentials: Waterproof sunscreen, 50 SPF or higher, insect repellent, if you are someone who gets bit, and any medications that you need personally. Sunglasses with a strap to make sure you don’t lose them! A water bottle, preferably not plastic, as we don’t want to pollute our rivers.
- Additional: Of course, a camera, and it could be your phone. Binoculars to look for those cute sloths, potentially a flashlight, AND if you are overnighting it, maybe an additional charger to charge your phone for more photos the next day.
Summary: White Water Rafting in Costa Rica: Where to Go & What to Know
Are you ready to experience those streams and Leonard di Vinci’s river beautifully described in Costa Rica? We think you are.
Many rivers in Costa Rica will do white water rafting, and while we couldn’t name them all, we wanted to share our top ones for you to plan out your trip.
If you are looking to experience more than whitewater rafting, reach out to us, so we can help you plan the trip of a lifetime!
John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.