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Costa Rica Rafting: A Guide to the Best Rivers

If you're looking for an adventure in Costa Rica, whitewater rafting is a great option. With a range of rivers to choose from, there's something for everyone, from calm class I and II rapids to intense class V rapids. Here's a guide to the best rivers for rafting in Costa Rica.

Central Pacific: Ríos Naranjo & Savegre

If you're in the Manuel Antonio area, you can try out up to three different river sections. The class III on the Savegre packs several hidden waterfalls, and on the Naranjo sections, you can advance from class III/IV to IV/V. After a couple of days on the water, you can top up with Amigos del Rio’s sister company ADR Adventure, an adventure combo park.

Green season: June – October

Northern Lowlands: Río Sarapiquí

Rafting Sarapiquí is a good excuse to explore an area of Costa Rica that sometimes is bypassed by typical travel itineraries. The class III and IV trips begin in the kayaker’s town of La Virgin. With the guidance of the Ríos Pura Vida guides, the class II and III sections are ideal for trying out a duckie if you’re looking for a more challenging river experience.

Dry season: Feb-April

Central Valley: Río Pacuare

The big granddaddy of all rivers is Río Pacuare, accessed from the Turrialba area a couple of hours south of San Jose. The Pacuare River ranks as one of the top five best rafting rivers in the world, not just for its incredible class IV/V rapids but its sheer beauty and expansiveness. Highlights of the full day trip include a break at the Huacas waterfall and river gorge.

Green season: June – October

Guanacaste: Río Tenorio

When RCR Rafting began scouting rivers for commercial rafting in Guanacaste, they received a few scoffs from the local community. As the driest province in Guanacaste, having the water flow for river paddling was thought to be a challenge. Today, going down the Tenorio River is another alternative to the beach for those staying on the Costa Rica’s Pacific Gold Coast. This narrow river passes through picturesque canyons using smaller four-person rafts.

Green season: June – Nov

Straight through till January, the water levels rise to give thrilling rides.

Choosing the Right River

Costa Rica offers a spectrum of river experiences, from the chilled out class I and II rapids to the rollercoaster inspiring river runs of classes III, IV and V. Most tour companies suggest starting on a class III and IV trip to get the best of both worlds – the intensity of paddling furiously through rapids with the reprieves of still water swims. For some, the ability to go from crouching down into a raft to getting back up and paddling again may be a bit much on the knees and unsafe for little kids. River floats along class I and II sections are then great alternatives. Spotting caimans, sloths, and tropical birds become a bit of a sport with easy winners.

If the adrenaline fix still hasn’t been met after a class III and IV, then there are few ways to up the intensity. Multi-day rafting packages offer class V rapid sections which require alertness and readiness to paddle hard during more challenging rapids. Alternatively, with prior kayaking experience, you can select an inflatable two-person kayak called a ducky for class II and III rapids. With a guide either at the back of the kayak or on a separate safety kayak, this is a sure way of feeling more in tune with the river.

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