River Rafting and Kayaking in Costa Rica
As the epicenter of Central America’s adventure, Costa Rica is home to incredible whitewater rafting and kayaking rivers. Tumbling from the mountains to the coast, these wild rivers gush through tropical forests, offering countless opportunities to spot wild monkeys, colorful birds and stunning plant life.
Flowing year round, the rivers are popular with skilled rafters and are most active from June to October. There are however, rapids for all levels of paddlers ranging of from the comfortable, mellow waters of Class II to the bumpy and untamed rivers of Class V.
Most river rafting tour packages start at $75 and include equipment, tour guides, bus transportation to/from San Jose and lunch. Enquire about rescue or emergency training, as most Costa Rican tour operators are not regulated by law. Some of the more reputable river-running companies include Rios Tropicales, Aventuras Naturales, Horizontes, and Costa Rica Expeditions.
Two of Costa Rica’s most famous rivers are Pacuare and Reventazón. Cascading down the Caribbean slopes, these rivers plunge from the Talamanca mountain range toward the Atlantic Ocean. Envision yourself flowing down a warm river with the surrounding jungle as your backdrop.
You will need sunscreen, a change of clothes, river sandals and a sense of adventure! Below is a list of Costa Rica’s best rivers awaiting your arrival.
East of the Reventazon, the Pacuare is the most scenic and exciting river in Costa Rica. Considered by National Geographic to be, “One of the top two rafting rivers in the world,” the Pacuare plunges through a series of canyons and into virgin tropical rainforest. Emerald vines dangle overhead, creating natural tunnels of tranquility between the periodic Class V rapids.
Sourcing its waters from the Cordillera de Talamanca, the Reventazon flows from the northeast end of Laguna Cachi. Sections range from Class III to IV, with a few calmer areas that allow for relaxation. The river itself is at an elevation of 4,800 feet with four sections of rapids flowing all the way down to Siquirres (elevation 150 feet).
As the cleanest river in Central America, the Savegre flows from Costa Rica’s highest mountain, Cerro Chirripo located at 12,532 feet (3,820 meters). Unlike many of the rivers that run in rapid-sections, the Savegre offers continuous whitewater for III and IV Class paddlers.
Located near Manual Antonio Park, the Naranjo River’s two sections are for intermediate to expert paddlers only. The more difficult of the two, known as “Labyrinth” falls under Class V while the more popular “Villa Nueva” is considered Class III whitewater rapids.
With the best rapids flowing from May to November, the Sarapiqui is popular with families and those who prefer Class II and III rapids like the “La Virgen” section. Beginners will feel comfortable in the “Chilamate” stretch where rapids remain between Class I and Class II.
Although considered one of the calmer rivers in Costa Rica, the three runs offer a selection of easy, medium and difficult challenges. The lower section increases to Class III and IV combines wild rapids with wonderful views. The 7-mile upper Sarapiqui boasts Class IV and V rapids and should only be attempted by experienced paddlers.
Ideal for beginners and intermediates, the small Pejivalle river is a perfect blend of scenery and adventure. The Class II rapids wind through a tropical rainforest, making it a family favorite for those wanting to experience Costa Rican wildlife. Manageable for all ages, the lower section runs 10 miles long and offers a brief Class III rapid.