Whitewater rafting the rivers of Costa Rica is an incredibly popular attraction for tourists and locals alike, but tourists can often miss some of the best stretches. One of my main goals while in Costa Rica has been to explore these rivers as much as possible and help others find the stretch that’s right for them. I am an avid kayaker and in the states I work as a raft guide for Whitewater Voyages, a California based company. I love whitewater anywhere, but these are the 5 Costa Rican rivers that I enjoy the most.
1. Lower Pacuare: This section of water will likely be at the top of anybody’s review of whitewater in Costa Rica. It is the perfect combination of stunning jungle canyons and great whitewater (class III-IV). Add in the fact that you can run it as a multiday trip where you stay at a rustic and beautiful jungle lodge and go zip lining or hiking to a waterfall on a layover day and you have the perfect river trip.
2. Reventazon (Pascua Section): The only reason that this is not number one on my list is because the water is quite dirty (it flows through the large city of Cartago) and because Costa Rica is in the process of building a damn on this section, which means that much of the scenery has been and will continue to be destroyed. The Pascua section of the Reventazon is full on big water class IV-IV+ whitewater. Waves are big and holes are even bigger. If you are an adrenaline junkie and whitewater fanatic, this is the river for you! I suggest you hurry up too; in a few years, when the damn is complete, the lake that the damn creates will swallow up this powerful section.
3. Upper Sarapiqui (San Miguel Section): The run starts off with a bang with multiple back-to-back class IV rapids. From there the river slows to a less feverish pace containing a mix of class III-IV rapids. By the end of the run you will still find yourself crashing through fun wave trains and paddling hard to make your moves. The kicker for this run is the incredible wildlife and scenery – a plethora of birds make this area their home and there is even a chance that you could catch a glimpse of the occasional sloth if you are on top of your game.
4. Upper Naranjo (Chorro Section): Vertical is the name of the game here. The Upper Naranjo flows through a tight gorge with sheer canyon walls and numerous steep rapids. If you run it at high water it will be fast, pushy, and continuous while running it at low
er water will offer up the opportunity to paddle some exhilarating vertical drops. The only drawback with the Upper Naranjo is that it will feel like it went by too quickly. To remedy this situation, you can run the easier section (Lower Naranjo) just below it to lengthen your day.
5. Upper Toro: Like the Sarapiqui and other rivers in the area, this sections starts off fast and slows throughout the day. The Upper Toro begins in a beautiful gorge and tumbles downstream attempting to slam rafters against the tight walls. The mix of class III and class IV whitewater at the top is sure to get your heart going as you make your way out from the canyon. If you run this river, it would be a shame to not to stop by the Arenal Volcano either the day before or the day after your rafting adventure.
Honorable mention: Great pieces of whitewater that didn’t quite make my list for several possible reasons (inaccessibility, unreliable water levels, or a lack of companies that run it commercially). If you are able to put in the time, energy, and money to find an outfitter and figure out logistics to get to these sections while they are running, I highly recommend them.
Pacuare (Upper, Class IV-V+), Reventazon (Super Pascua, IV-V)
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