Sarapiqui in Costa Rica: Adventure and Beyond

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Long gone are the days when the Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica was one of the country’s most important transport routes, connecting the farms and plantations of the interior lowlands with the outside world. Still a fascinating area for anyone interested in agriculture, the Sarapiqui river valley has also managed to reinvent itself as Costa Rica’s ultimate destination for those wanting to try white water rafting. But if that isn’t enough to tempt you to visit Sarapiqui, then the nearby areas of protected land such as Braulio Carrillo National Park offers some of the Central American nation’s finest wildlife viewing opportunities too.

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  • Location: Sarapiqui canton lies within the confines of Heredia province. Located inland in the north-east of Costa Rica, it is bound in the north by the border with Nicaragua. Its main city, Puerto Viejo (meaning ‘Old Port’), is less than 100 kilometers from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose.
  • Popular attractions: White water rafting in Sarapiqui river, guided tours through pineapple, cocoa, or coffee plantations, gardens of Frog’s Heaven, Snake Park, Cino Ceibas Rainforest Reserve and National Park, Dave and Dave’s Nature Park, Museum for Indigenous Cultures.
  • When to visit: The comfortable dry (and therefore, also high) season lasts from December until April. Since this is the peak season, accommodations will cost higher. The rainy season lasts from May to November, with the worst of the weather with possibility of snow during September and October.
    Check out our travel guide on Best Time to Visit Costa Rica for more details. 
  • How to get to Sarapiqui: Most visitors reach the Sarapiqui region from San Jose, home to Costa Rica’s main international airport. There are two alternative routes to the region from the capital, skirting Braulio Carrillo National Park to the west and east. The western route follows the paved Highway 4 from Santa Clara, while the older eastern route winds through the Heredia countryside. Buses ply the newer and faster route, while private taxis and rental vehicles are alternative options for getting here.


1. White water rafting on the Sarapiqui River

Sarapiqui river is a great place for rafting
The Sarapiqui river stretches over 12 km and passes through rainforests.
Rafting in Sarapiqui river
The Sarapiqui river boasts Class III and IV rapids.

While on a tour in Costa Rica, kids and adults alike can enjoy a rafting tour down the Sarapiqui river. The  river boasts class III and IV rapids that are guaranteed to get any adrenaline junkie’s blood pumping. But don’t let the names of rapids like ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Confusion’ put you off. Rafting in Sarapiqui is also suitable for beginners setting foot on a raft for the first time. The highlight of white water rafting in Sarapiqui while on a tour is a 12 km stretch of the river which hosts more than 40 individual rapids, all within the setting of lush untouched rainforest. On quieter stretches, you’ll also be able to jump out of the raft and swim in the river’s natural pools.

2. Visit Sarapiqui’s National Parks

Sarapiqui is home to the endangered green macaw
Green macaws can be spotted in Braulio National Park.

One of the only regions in Costa Rica where it’s still possible to see the endangered Green macaw in the wild, Sarapiqui is well protected with national parks and nature reserves, including Braulio Carrillo National Park. Here, you can hike through cloud forests while keeping an eye out for some of the 150 species of mammal, including jaguars, peccaries (wild pigs) and howler monkeys that inhabit the park. Walking trails stretch from just a few hundred meters, to one that extends for 60 km between Brava and La Selva, offering something for all levels of hikers.

3. Go birdwatching

Braulio Carrillo National Park is home to more than 500 different species of birds, including the gloriously-named bare-necked umbrella bird and flame-throated warbler. With a wide range of different altitudes, Sarapiqui’s Caribbean slopes provide ample opportunity to capture hummingbirds on film, should you be quick enough. But the most popular location that has been dubbed Costa Rica’s Bird Route is La Selva Biological Station — embedded in an area of numerous habitats from primary rainforest to riverine creeks. Alternatively, head to La Tirimbina Rainforest, where a bridge hangs across the Sarapiqui River providing the perfect location for a birdwatching extravaganza.

4. Explore the region’s plantations

Sarapiqui cocoa plantation in Costa Rica
Cocoa beans being harvested
Coffee plantations at Sarapiqui
Coffee beans at a plantation

An area with a history intricately linked with agriculture, you can discover more about some of the world’s tastiest crops on a visit to a Sarapiqui plantation. Finca Corsicana is the world’s largest organic and fair-trade pineapple farm, harvesting an incredible 38 million fruits each year. Tours to the 3,000 acre plantation take place on specially-designed trailers, from where you can discover the entire process from plant to supermarket. Known as the heart of Costa Rica's banana growing region, you cannot miss a visit to the banana plantations. If you have an even sweeter tooth, it’s possible to learn about the history of chocolate (once considered the drink of the local gods) on a cocoa plantation tour, while lovers of caffeine will be intrigued by the art — and taste — of Costa Rican coffee production.

5. Take to the saddle

Horse riding at Sarapiqui
Sarapiqui's scenic countryside can be explored on a horseback

Horses were the main means of getting about Sarapiqui long before the existence of all-terrain vehicles, and there’s perhaps no better way to explore the region’s countryside than on the back of a horse whatever your age or experience. Before departing for the surrounding landscapes, tours provide basic tuition on horse handling and safety, including practice on how to successfully mount your steed. The scenic trails run over grassland, through jungle, and across rivers, giving you a unique way to experience Costa Rica’s famed natural beauty and extraordinary wildlife, at a leisurely pace, and without having to do much of the hard work!

A paradise for nature lovers and adventurers alike, Sarapiqui region is a great place to enjoy all the natural habitats, adrenaline-fueled adventures, farmland and wildlife that Costa Rica has to offer.

Published by Sofie, updated on July 6, 2023

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