Costa Rica Whitewater Rafting
In Costa Rica whitewater rafting is one of the most exciting adventure vacation activities you can find. It’s also a great way to see pristine rainforests, stunning countryside, and the diverse wildlife that calls this place home. The rapid elevations changes result in whitewater rafting trips that pass through a variety of different landscapes. You will spend much of the trip hearing nothing but running water, birdsong, and monkey calls.
Costa Rica whitewater rafting trips are mostly one-day affairs, but you can also participate in multi-day trips — some outfitters even have lodges on the river. One-day trips can easily be arranged from San Jose and they most often include roundtrip transportation and lunch. It usually takes 2-4 hours to get to the river. For lunch you’ll pull out of the river and flip over the raft and use it as a makeshift table.
Many of the Costa Rica whitewater rafting outfitters also offer kayaks for rent, and provided you have the necessary experience they may allow you to accompany a rafting trip.
Unfortunately, not all the outfitters are created equally and some of the cheapest companies may not take sufficient safety precautions. The signs of a quality whitewater rafting company are as follows: life-vests and helmets provided, approx. 5:1 rafter-to-guide ratio (10:1 is not safe), CPR certified guides with strong English skills and rescue training, and safety kayak escorts in case of emergency. Some of the cheaper companies will not have these measures in place. Don’t be afraid to ask for safety records either. Just be aware that almost all long-standing companies have had at least one death, it’s just the nature of whitewater rafting. Don’t let this turn you off though — injuries while whitewater rafting Costa Rica are rare and actually most deaths are a result of heart attacks, so make sure your heart is up for all the excitement.
Minimum ages for children vary from one company to the next, but there is something for everyone. Rivers vary in level from Class I, basically a tranquil float trip, to Class V, which are quite extreme and for very experienced rafters and are guaranteed to provide an unforgettable Costa Rica whitewater rafting experience. Most trips are between Class II-IV though, and are always dependant on river water levels.
Before leaving on your Costa Rica whitewater rafting trip, be sure to bring a change of clothes, river sandals or tennis shoes you can get wet, sunscreen (glare off the water can be quite strong), and perhaps a sweater or light jacket to keep you warm when you are wet if a wind kicks up. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get wet, so don’t have any illusions. Also, while some outfitters provide special waterproof bags for your cameras, it’s not a bad idea to buy one yourself to be on the safe side.
In general the Costa Rica whitewater rafting season is from May to October, though specific rivers’ seasons vary and are always dependant on rainfall and water levels.
Costa Rica Whitewater Rafting Rivers
The Rio Pacuare (Class II-IV) offers an amazing immersion into breathtaking, untouched rainforest while it also carves its way through dramatic gorges before mellowing out in the Caribbean plains around the town of Siquirres. The quantity of exotic wildlife is incredible and you’ll be able to check off toucans, monkeys, and many other animals from you list of critters to see. Lined by cliffs and precipices showering the river with cascades from smaller tributaries and with hardened flows of lava sticking out into the river, there are plenty of technical rapids to keep you busy. The steep drop of the river also provides for some large waves. All the above makes for an amazing Costa Rica whitewater rafting trip and you can run this river all year long, though June and October are the best months.
For some serious excitement you should check out the Rio Reventazon (Class II-V). From its source at Lake Angostura, the river charges down towards the Caribbean producing some thrilling rapids along the way. With sections of smooth, peaceful waters, between rapids there is a nice mix between sweet and spicy. The middle section of the river is ideal for beginners with rapids in the Class II-III range, making for one of the most popular one-day trips. Those looking for something extreme to add to their Costa Rica whitewater rafting trip will not be disappointed by the Guayabo section of the river, which features hair-raising Class V rapids. Former experience is required for this trip.
The Rio Sarapiqui (Class III), which lies to the north of San Jose, is a narrow and technical river that has beautiful, clear water and exciting, intricate rapids. The river runs along a variety of different landscapes to the lowlands of the Caribbean coast. It’s a one-day run river that is run from May to November or December, depending on water levels.
If you want your Costa Rica whitewater rafting trip to last a little longer, you might want to check out the Rio Chirripo (Class III-IV) where most trips are two to four days long. Springing from its source atop Costa Rica’s tallest mountain, Mt. Chirripo, this river rushes down the Pacific side with massive volumes of water. This produces over 100 class III-IV rapids in the first 65km alone! Rio Chirripo feeds into another high-volume river, Rio General, which is another Costa Rica whitewater rafting treasure. This river is noted for its difficult rapids and large waves, which are perfect for surfing. Rio General is also noted for its surreal scenery including narrow, strikingly beautiful gorges and waterfalls, producing a nonstop array of technical rapids.
Rio Naranjo is originates in the mountains overlooking Manuel Antonio National Park and flows towards the Pacific Ocean. Normally a Class III-IV river, in high water Class V rapids can be found as it passes through lush rainforest, before calming down and wandering through palm plantations. This river is fickle though, and can be very inconsistent with significant changes in water levels, making it a great Costa Rica whitewater rafting trip when its running strong, but not something to base your plans around. Remember to always check with outfitters before your trip to Costa Rica to get an idea about water levels.
If the thought of heavy whitewater sounds more like a nightmare than a dream come true, the Rio Corobici (Class II) is probably more your speed. Calm waters make for more of a float trip than a true whitewater rafting experience, but the pace allows for some tremendous chances at seeing wildlife like monkeys, exotic birds, and lizards. It’s a great half day trip for the entire family, from young to old, and the river is runnable yearlong.
Whatever you choose, your Costa Rica whitewater rafting trip will leave you with the kind of unforgettable memories that only a significant dose of adrenalin can provide. Have fun and don’t try to stay dry!