Costa Rica is home to some of the best whitewater rafting rivers in Central America. This is due to the lay of the land which is comprised of towering mountains that have been carved by streams and rivers from the natural rains of the rainforest for thousands of years. Some rivers are gently rolling and are best for wildlife observation, while others are classic whitewater rivers that are sure to satisfy any adrenaline junkie.
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The Best Whitewater Rafting in Costa Rica
Sarapiqui and Arenal Whitewater Rafting
The northern zone of Costa Rica is home to several great whitewater rafting rivers. The Rio Toro is a great class III and IV river located in the Sarapiqui region. The river is dam controlled and releases can be sporadic. The Rio Sarapiqui is another nearby river that is more reliable. The river provides class II, III and IV rapids and is a popular tour for visitors to the Arenal Volcano region.
The Rio Balsa is one of the most popular and most consistent rivers in Costa Rica. The river offers class IV and V rapids in the upper section, but most tourists opt for the calmer class II and III rapids of the lower section. The Rio Balsa is easily accessible from the Arenal Volcano area.
Closer to La Fortuna, the Rio Arenal is a spectacularly beautiful canyon river. The river is dam released and therefore can only be whitewater rafted a few days per year. It is however a great river for tubing and whitewater duckies.
The Rio Penas Blancas is located near La Fortuna. This is a great river for a safari float on class I, less than rapids. Local tour operators utilize whitewater rafting boats to float the river in search of wildlife. This is a great tour for families with children that are too young for whitewater.
The Rio Tenorio is a raging class III, IV and V river located near Bijagua. This would undoubtedly be one of the most popular whitewater rafting rivers in Costa Rica if it were more accessible. Tour operators offer tours to the river from the Guanacaste beach areas and Arenal area, but you should be warned that it requires a few hours drive in each direction.
The Rio Colorado is a great canyon river for rafting on duckies. The river is the closest whitewater river to the Guanacaste beach areas and provides a thrilling experience for those that do not mind the smaller boats.
Located within the grounds of Hacienda Guachipelin, the Rio Negro is another scenic canyon river. The adventure ranch provides whitewater tubing tours on the river with spectacular scenery.
The Rio Savegre is undoubtedly the most popular river on the Central Pacific. It is conveniently located within a half hour drive of Manuel Antonio and provides class II, III and IV rapids. The upper section of the river is narrower, difficult to access and provides stronger rapids. Most tour operators provide the tour on the lower section which is more manageable and tourist friendly.
The Rio Naranjo is an excellent river during the rainy season, providing class IV and V rapids. This short, but fast run is always a thrill, but only recommended for experienced rafters.
Central and Caribbean Costa Rica Rafting
The Rio Pacuare is rated as one of the top 10 best whitewater rafting rivers in the world. It is surrounded by picturesque rainforest covered mountains which provide an incredible back drop for the ultimate adventure. The upper portion of the river provides raging class V rapids. Most tours however are performed on the lower portion of the river which is class III and IV. There are many tour operators on the Rio Pacuare, so it is important to do your homework and choose an operator that is certified with the Costa Rica Tourist Board for safety and business ethics.
The Rio Pacuare is unique in the sense that there are several float in and float out lodges located on the banks of the river. Visitors literally raft in to these rainforest lodges providing an amazing experience. Lodges include the Pacuare Lodge, Rios Tropicales lodge and several other tent and cabin camps.
The Pejebaje River is located near the Turrialba area and is a great run for beginners on kayas and duckies. Duckies are small whitewater rafting rafts that fit two people. The Reventazon River is located nearby and was a great rafting river in years past, but was dammed in 1998 for the production of electricity.
Generally speaking, rafting in Costa Rica is safer than most other Latin American destinations. This is due to strict guideline by the Institute of Tourism in Costa Rica. Registered whitewater rafting guides receive excellent training for safety and emergency rescues. When choosing a whitewater rafting tour operator, always request ICT certification to ensure your safety.