Whitewater rafting is one of Costa Rica’s most popular adventure activities. We highly recommend for you to include a rafting trip during your vacation in Costa Rica, because regardless of your level of experience, there would be a tour suitable for you (even floating trips for those who are physically challenged). The country has the advantage of having many mountain ranges, from which several rivers flow down, creating lots of opportunities for practicing the sport. Another advantage is that Costa Rica is located in the tropics, therefore the water is always warm and the views are amazing on some of the trips, with views of lush rainforests, canyons and even wildlife.
In my personal opinion, the best rivers for white water rafting are located on the Caribbean side of the country, being the the best for class II-III and the for class III-IV. I consider Sarapiqui as the perfect trip for beginners or for families who are looking for a fun adventure but not too rough, because even though you get some action during many of the rapids, this is a tour where people normally have fun and don’t fall out the raft (I take my kids to do this trip all the time and they have been doing it since they are 7!). This is also a good adventure for families because we normally see wild animals on the side of the river, like monkeys, toucans, iguanas, sloths, several species of tropical birds and others. One of the reasons we see all these animals is because the tour goes next to the Tirimbina Biological Reserve, a great place for observation of wildlife.
As to the other river I mentioned, the Pacuare River, this one is considered as the absolutely best and most unique rafting trip of the whole country (is being also rated as one of the best in the world!), because the views of it are like no other tour in Costa Rica, where you get to cross huge canyons, there are many waterfalls on the side of the river and of course, a very lush rainforest, due to the fact that this tour is done in a place one can easily call “the middle of nowhere”. Although the Pacuare River is the most fun and all, I would only recommend this trip for those people who have done whitewater rafting class II-III at least a couple times before, because the rapids are way more challenging and intense. I would also recommend this trip for those who are in good physical shape only, because is a VERY long rafting trip, where you would have to paddle for about 4 hours, going down the river for about 30 kilometers, which is way more than any other rafting trip in Costa Rica (most rafting tours are 10-16 kilometers long, with a paddleling time of 2 hours more or less). Besides Pacuare and Sarapiqui, there are other good options on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, but those 2 are consider as the best. The other trips are good in intensity, but the views and the experience is not as good, because they mainly go through farms and pasture lands.
The country also offers opportunities for rafting on the Pacific side, but the tours are not as great as in the Caribbean because the Pacific side is drier, therefore, the level of the rivers is low at many times of the year. The ones I consider as best tours on the Central Pacific Region, including the area, Jaco Beach and Dominical Beach, would be Savegre River for class II-III and the one called “El Chorro section” at the for class IV (this trip runs only from January to April).
In regards to the ones in the Guanacaste Region, the best option would be the , because it’s pretty much the only river that carries a consistent amount of water all year long, the rest of the rivers in this area get really dry during most of the year, because the Guanacaste Region is the driest part of the country (Guanacaste is a great place for a beach vacation because is very dry, but going there you miss other things that Costa Rica is famous for, like the rainforests, wildlife, good rafting through jungles, rainforest zip lining, etc.).
I hope that this review for whitewater rafting trips would be helpful, feel free to contact us if you have other questions related to rafting or any other subject about Costa Rica, or if you need help in the planning of your trip, we would be more than happy to give you the most accurate scope from our perspective as local tour guides.