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Fast Facts

Home > Adventures > Adventures and Xtremegames > Rafting


Costa Rica's mountainous topography and copious rainfall are together responsible for one of the best white water river selections in the world. About half a dozen rambunctious rivers are regularly run by experienced rafting outfitters, and those river trips not only provide plenty of excitement, they also pass some gorgeous scenery. Not only do white water enthusiasts flock Costa Rica, including several Olympic kayaking teams, but every year tens of thousands of visitors experience the thrill of rafting for the first time there.

Costa Rica is the perfect place for a first white water rafting experience, since it has several rivers that offer a combination of reasonable rapids and beautiful floats. There are even rivers that are great for family excursions and bird watching, since they lack big rapids and flow through forests full of birds and other animals. In fact almost all river trips offer chances to see a bit of the country's wildlife, such as iguanas, blue morpho butterflies, parrots, otters, king fishers and herons.

The river routes available to rafters range from the turbulent waters of the lower Reventazon, where you hardly have enough time to catch your breath between rapids, to the meandering curves of the Corobici, where you spend more time watching wildlife than paddling. The most popular rafting trips offer a good combination of challenging rapids and calmer stretches where you can sit back and enjoy the passing scenery.

If you've done a bit of rafting up north, you'll find the comfortably cool water of Costa Rica's rivers a nice switch from the chilly water of the northern rivers. All rafting trips can also be done in kayaks, but kayakers must be experienced.

A wide selection of outfitters run trips down the country's most accessible rivers using trained river guides and modern equipment -- life vests and helmets are provided for all rafters -- ensuring safe but exciting excursions. One-day river trips include transportation to and from the river, breakfast and a picnic lunch on the riverbank. Overnight trips often include lodging in riverside cabins and all meals.

Many proposals have been made for adjusting, or entirely replacing the old standard scale, the American Whitewater Afiliation's International Scale of River Difficulty. While some of these proposals have considerable merit, no consensuc has been reached within the whitewater community about adopting a new scale or standard for reference.Therefore, we will begin with the AWA scale:

Class I
 Moving water with a few riffles and small waves. Few or no obstructions.

Class II
 Easy rapids with waves up to three feet, and wide, clear channels that are obvious without scouting. Some maneuvering is required.

Class III
 Rapids with high irregular waves often capable of swamping an open canoe. Narrow passages that often require complex maneuvering. May require scouting from shore.

Class IV
 Long, difficult rapids with constricted passages that often require precise maneuvering in very turbulent waters. Scouting from shore is often necessary, and conditions make rescue difficult. Generally not possible for open canoes. Boaters in covered canoes and kayaks should be able to Eskimo roll.

Class V
 Extremely difficult, long, and very violent rapids with highly congested routes that nearly always must be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are difficult and there is significant hazard to life in event of mishap. Ability to Eskimo roll is essential for kayaks and canoes.

Class VI
 Difficulties of Class V carried to the extreme of navigability. Nearly impossible and very dangerous. For teams or experts only, after close study and with all precautions taken.

The following is an overview of rafting rivers:

The name means "Bursting waves" and the Río Reventazón certainly lives up to its moniker. Whether you are a Class II neophyte, an expirienced Class V daredevil or something in between, the Reventazón delivers. And beacuse the flow of the water is controlled by the Cahí Dam, it delivers during wet season or dry. There are four sections of various degrees of difficulty. Single section day trips are the most pupular option, but some outfitters also offer two-day Reventazón tours to let you run the Class II and IV sections on consecutive days.

Powerhouse to Tucurrique(Class II-IV):The three-mile run begins with a relentless 115-feet-per-mile drop creating a series of big waves that could be a borderline Class IV water, except that you'll be too busy to notice. Further along, the gradient flattens out a bit but the whitewater remains consistent and exciting.
Tucurrique to Angostura(Class III): This 12 miles section is themost popular rafting trip in Cost Rica and its big, wet action from the put in is ideal for first time rafters. Several exciting rapids, and the highlight of the trip is the El Gordo, the biggest rapid in the Class III section, which you hit about a mile before the end of the run.
Peralta Section - Angostura to Peralta(Class V):With lots of water and steep drops, this section contains some of the heaviest white water in Central America and has been compared to the classic big-wave run Upper Gauley in West Virginia. This nine mile run is for experts only during the low water season. Decembre through May.
Pascua Section - Peralta to Siquirres(Class IV):If you've done Class III and want to step up a notch, there;s no where better to do it. This 16-mile run is one of non-stop Class IV whitewater you'll find anywhere. The river drops from 1,148 to 262 feet, propelling rafters through rapids with names like North Sea and the famous Six Frankenstein. El Horrendito(the Little Horror), Mente Sucia(Dirty Mind), and Aleta de Tiburón(Shark's Fin).

The country's longest and most spectacular river trip, can be run from mid May to mid March. Two day trip recommended. Pacuare is Costa Ricas's white-water jewel. Its is a fixture on lists of the world's top ten rafting and kayaking rivers, a heady combination of beauty and excitement which makes running Pacuare an expirience that will never be forgotten. The Pacuare isn't called "the quintessential tropical river" for nothing. It's norrow course winds through a series of densely forested gorges, punctuated by about 20 waterfalls. The 150 foot cascade called Huacas Falls is one of the natural wonders of Costa Rica.

Bajo Pacuare - San Martín(Class V-VI):Only the brave and skillful attempt this 15 miles of classic boiling white water and even they are forced to walk around at least one of this section's more treacherous Class VI rapids. Some of the local outfitters run the trip for groups of expert paddlers from all over the world that come to Costa Rica to challenge this section, but youo won't find it on any of the lists of tours offered by the major rafting outfitters.
San Martín - Siquirres(Class III-IV):This is the trip your friends back home will get sick of hearing about. In this magical place, you are surrounded by sheer gorges, magnificent waterfalls and all the incredible beauty of the tropical forest as you plunge through some of the best white water in Central America. There are stomach-churning drops, tricky boulder gardens and then there;s the Lower Huacas, a 150 yard stretch of ledges and rocks that produce the toughest rapid on the river's lower section. The Pacuare's final spectacle is the famous float between the sheer rock walls of Dos Montañas canyon before the gentler Class II and III paddle to takeout point at the Limón highway.

Beautiful river (Class II-III), good trip for beginners. Can be run out of San José or Arenal area, from mid May to mid March. This Atlantic slope river has something for everyone. with wild times at the top, a gentle float at the bottom and fine section of intermediate white water in between. This picturesque river is ideal for nature lovers, particularly bird watchers.

San Miguel - La Virgen(Class IV-V):Narrow channels and lots of boulders mean that you're unlikely to see a raft attempting this congested section of the Sarapiquí. Experienced kayakers, however, relish the challenge of its rocks and big drops.
La Virgen - Chilamate:This is a great run for first timers, especially those who like a bit of ecotourism with white eater excitement. The seven miles section features flashes of difficulty among mostly moderate rapids in beautiful clean water where river otters play. The river runs through lowland wet forest with truly spectacular bird watching.
Chilamate - Puerto Viejo(ClassI-III):This section is pretty much flat water all the way, wich might not do much for your adrenaline level but which will afford you an opportunity to have a memorable wildlife experience as you float along. If you are lucky you maight spot an otter playing in the water, and you'll almost certainly see monkeys and lots of birds, including toucans, parrots, herons, hawks and big kingfishers.

Another beautiful river (Class II-III) perfect for first-time rafting experience. River trips leave from Manuel Antonio and Quepos, May to January.
A wild river (Class III-IV) near Quepos that requires some rafting experience. Run from June to November.
El General:
A popular three-day kayaking or rafting trip (class III-IV) best during the height of the rainy season, September to November.

San Isidro - El Brujo(Class III-IV):Although there are more than 1000 miles of fine rapids in this huge river system, this is the section that gets the most commercial attenction. The General is not only long, but also carries a massive volume of water during the paddling months from June to November. This produces a different kind of white water experience from most other Costa Rica rivers. Kayakers, in particular, love surfing the General's huge waves and tackling the big holes and rapids. Acces, however, is not the General's strong point. This 40 miles run takes you through some of the country's most remote areas and is generally undertaken as four day trip, camping out along the way.

near the town of Canas, in Guanacaste, an easy river good for beginners and families (Class I-II); great animal and bird watching.

Cañas - Bebedero(Class I-II):The country's most popular "float" is a scenic gem, and must for nature lovers, particularly bird watchers. This gentle trip is for an unforgettable wildlife experience that can be enjoyed by every one, from the very young to the very old. More than 300 hundred species of birds have been identified in Palo Verde and you will see lots of them along the Corobicí.

The warm, rushing rivers which sweep through Costa Rica's lush countryside offer world class rafting and kayaking opportunities. From the Reventezon and the Pacuare to the level 5 rapids of Rio Chirripó, rafting enthusiasts from around the world pit their skills against these wild and turbulent rivers. Know not only for their exciting rides, these rivers offer scenic beauty unparalleled anywhere in the world.

Rio Reventezon flows from the damn of the same name in the Orossi Valley down the Atlantic slope to the Caribbean Sea. With multiple sections of the river available for rafting, there is something for beginners and experienced rafters alike. The most popular section is the Tucarrici, with level two and three rapids throughout. For those looking for a little more excitement, the Powerhouse section is a more demanding category four. Starting at the base of the damn and plunging its way through the descending gorge carved out of the side of the mountain, this ride is fast, strong and exciting.

The Río Pacuare is generally considered to be Costa Rica's premier, and most accessible river. Lined with stunning natural beauty, this river is quite literally overwhelming. With year-round accessibility and genuine level four rapids, the Río Pacuare is perfect for both experienced rafters and experts. This river is an experience not to be missed, especially since the Costa Rican government plans to install a hydra-electric damn by the end of the century.

For those experts looking for the most difficult and challenging rapids in the country, Río Chirripó is it. Flowing down from the second highest mountain in all of Central American, Río Chirripó is a difficult class five. Only available from late August through early November, at the height of the rainy season, Chirripó is fast, exciting and big.

Yearly, the greatest kayakers in the world converge on this river to test their abilities against the best that Costa Rica has to offer.

On the west coast, the Río Sevegre and Río Naranjo begin their descents from the mountains which stand tall behind Manuel Antonio National Park. Accessible both during the dry and rainy seasons, these challenging rivers plunge towards the pacific coast before emptying into the cool, blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Always susceptible to the local weather conditions, the Sevegre and Naranjo rivers can at one moment be a tranquil experience, and within minutes, a wild ride.

These and other great rivers are available through a number of different tour operators. Prices for the different rivers vary and multiplyday trips are available for many of them. If youhave only a limited time to see the wonders of this beautiful country, river rafting is not only one of the most enjoyable way to see Costa Rica, it is also one of the most exciting.

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