Photo by A Cruising Couple
It doesn’t take long to see why National Geographic has dubbed Costa Rica’s Pacuare River one of the top five spots for white water rafting in the world. Navigate the thrilling Class III-V rapids while enjoying stunning jungle vistas, spectacular gorges and abundant wildlife. It’s the ideal combination of pristine nature and adrenaline-pumping adventure—and the perfect activity for experienced white water rafters and adventurous beginners alike.
There are numerous tour agencies that will take you down the Rio Pacuare, but for a unique experience, we recommend the two-day white water rafting adventure with Rios Tropicales. While you cover the same rapids and distance as the one-day trip, breaking up the adventure allows for more time to swim in river’s calm pools. You’ll also get the chance to escape to a unique river lodge, only accessible via white water rafting, and therefore completely removed from all civilization, including WiFi and cell reception.
White Water Rafting The Pacuare River
Start the adventure with a filling breakfast at the Rios Tropicales operation center, around two hours from San Jose. You’ll want to fill up—it doesn’t take long to work up an appetite while paddling away at the swirling rapids!
This is your chance to meet your guides. Try to ask for Chino and Bernie. These were my guides, and while I’m sure all of the employees are five-star, Chino and Bernie went above and beyond to ensure that I, a nervous white water rafter, had a ton of fun while always feeling safe.
Day One: An Introduction To Rafting
When it’s time to hit the river, your guide will start with a quick lesson on paddling, the necessary commands, and safety guidelines. Then it’s time to get started with your first rapids. Don’t worry—day one is mostly Class II rapids with only a handful of Class IIIs thrown in the mix. This allows for plenty of opportunity to get comfortable on the river and practice your skills with your raft mates.
After an hour or so of paddling, it’s time to go for a swim in one of the numerous cool and tranquil ponds. While you’re floating around, keep your eyes peeled for monkeys, toucans, and other wildlife that call the jungle home. You’ll also have an opportunity to enjoy the serene surroundings during a picnic lunch on the banks of the river.
The River Lodge
Make it through one of the more exciting rapids of Day One and you’ll arrive at the Rios Tropicales lodge, your home base for the night. Expect stylish rooms with surprisingly gorgeous bathrooms, private balconies with hammocks, and a fantastic view of the Pacuare River.
While most opt to relax with a book or go for a dip in the natural swimming hole, it’s always possible to keep the adventure going at the lodge. We opted for a quick early evening zip lining excursion which took us soaring above the river, offering a different vantage point from our day on the water. We also tested our skills rappelling down a waterfall; though surprisingly slippery and difficult, it was a thrilling and satisfying experience.
For being such a secluded lodge, the meals are surprisingly delicious, featuring fresh local ingredients. During our stay, we had an appetiser of patroness and pina coladas, followed by freshly caught fish, mashed potatoes, salad and steamed vegetables. A fully stocked bar ensures you can wind down the day with your beverage of choice.
Day Two: The Serious Rapids Begin
After a leisurely breakfast, it was time to head back to the river for the serious rapids. Day two is all about Class III and IV rapids. Most have crazy names, and experienced rafters are quick to share which have sent them pummelling into the water on past trips.
Luckily, no one from our raft would find themselves in the water. Our guide navigated us with supreme skill as we swirled, jumped and turned down the river, all the while paddling ferociously and occasionally “leaning in” to the centre of the raft. There was much laughter and a few squeals, and despite the sore arms and grumbling bellies, we all agreed that the experience ended far too soon.