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Whitewater Rafting in Costa Rica: The Best Rapids

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Whitewater rafting in Costa Rica is a thrilling way to spend your next holiday. With pristine mountains and coastal rivers surrounded by steep canyons and rainforests, Costa Rica offers a variety of scenic areas. From gut-wrenching paddling to gentle scenic floats, rafting is a favorite adventure activity for individuals, groups, and families. Downstream trips get you into the country’s pristine wilderness like no other outdoor activity could. With this list of the top 10 destinations for whitewater rafting in Costa Rica, you’ll be well on your way to discovering pure exhilaration.

#1 PACUARE RIVER

Of all the rivers in Costa Rica, the Pacuare River is one you don’t want to miss. The beauty and thrill of rafting through the pristine gorge has earned this river prestigious recognition as one of the best whitewater rafting sites in the world. Pass by captivating waterfalls, take a swim through towering canyons, and get a taste of adventure as you tackle some of the river’s intense rapids. While one-day floats are popular, the Pacuare River is also the base for 2 and 3-day rafting trips, complete with overnight stays in jungle lodges along the river. This is an unforgettable trip for families, but does require a minimum age of 12 years.

  • Starting and ending point: Turrialba, Cartago Province to Siquirres, Limon Province
  • Total distance covered: Up to 28 km
  • Total time: 4 - 5 hours
  • Rapid river class: II, III, and IV

This 13-day tour includes rafting in Pacuare river along with other adventurous activities to do in Costa Rica.

#2 BALSA RIVER

Fun is the name of the game on this river. With rolling whitewater, you’ll enjoy plenty of excitement without going overboard. Some of this river’s highlights include a scenic surrounding rainforest and opportunities to spot wildlife, such as monkeys, sloths, and tropical birds.

This Costa Rica rafting trip is an excellent option for beginners and families seeking a bit more than a gentle float downstream.

  • Starting and ending point: San José to Arenal, Alajuela Province
  • Total distance covered: 10 km
  • Total time: 2–3 hours
  • Rapid river class: II and III

#3 SARAPIQUI RIVER

When it comes to Rafting in Costa Rica consider Sarapiqui River.
Sarapiqui is home to some of the swiftest currents in Costa Rica.

The Sarapiqui River, which is recognized as a National Historic Monument of Costa Rica, is home to some of the swiftest currents in the country. It is a top choice for experienced rafters, but with some grit, thrill-seeking beginners can raft these raging waters too. Children should be at least 14 years of age.

  • Starting and ending point: San Miguel, Alajuela Province to El Roble, Puntarenas Province
  • Total distance covered: 22 km
  • Total time: 3–4 hours
  • Rapid river class: II, III and IV

#4 PEÑAS BLANCAS RIVER

With more tranquil Costa Rican water, Penas Blancas River offers an easy-going float often likened to a river safari. Children and adults alike will enjoy sighting the diverse wildlife such as howler monkeys, sloths, frogs, crocodiles, and other lizards. Hot springs, waterfalls, and canyons reaching 213 m are other pleasures enjoyed on this trip. Some areas along the river offer more challenging rapids for those who seek them. It is also a great destination to kayak in Costa Rica.

  • Starting and ending point: La Fortuna to Chachagua, Alajuela Province
  • Total distance covered: 8 km
  • Total time: 2–3 hours
  • Rapid river class: I, II, III, and IV

#5 COROBICÍ RIVER

Rafting in Costa Rica
Rafting in Corobici River is suitable for families and large groups.

Another gentle Costa Rica river is the Corobicí River located in the popular Guanacaste province. Passing nearby the Palo Verde National Park, over 300 species of interesting birds call these river banks home. As you drift by, you may notice storks, kingfishers, herons, ibis and others. The water is quite calm, providing some excellent whitewater rafting in Costa Rica for all to enjoy. It is particularly inviting for families with children aged 7 and up.

  • Starting and ending point: Corobicí to Cañas, Guanacaste Province
  • Total distance covered: 12 km
  • Total time: 2 hours
  • Rapid river class: I and II

#6 SAVEGRE RIVER

For a varied experience rafting in Costa Rica, try out the Savegre River which provides a nice balance of easy paddling and exciting rapids through coastal whitewater. You’ll enjoy the changing scenery as you float from the rainforest to the mangrove forests and estuary just outside of Manuel Antonio National Park. This is a family favourite.

  • Starting and ending point: Talamanca Mountains to Manuel Antonio National Park, Puntarenas Province
  • Total distance covered: Up to 10 km
  • Total time: 6–7 hours
  • Rapid river class: II and III

#7 TENORIO RIVER

For the even more adventurous, river rafting in Costa Rica can be extreme on the Tenorio River. With a varied thrill ride, a typical trip on the Tenorio River means paddling with vigor through roaring rapids. The one class V rapid drops an incredible 3.6 meters. Rafting this river is suited for people who are in good physical condition and at least 11 years of age or older, to keep up with the intensity.

  • Starting and ending point: Cañas, Guanacaste Province
  • Total distance covered: 12 km
  • Total time: 2–3 hours
  • Rapid river class: III, IV, and V

#8 NARANJO RIVER

Rafting in Naranjo River in Costa Rica offers spectacular views.
Naranjo River offers challenging rapids and gorgeous scenery along the way.

Set in the Talamanca Mountain Range foothills, this is another river with gorgeous scenery and challenging rapids. Taking you through steep canyons, alongside farms and plantations, and through the mountains, this is one visually enticing float. There are opportunities for swimming and viewing wildlife along the way too. Children ages 8 and up are welcome.

  • Starting and ending point: Villanueva to Quepos, Puntarenas Province
  • Total distance covered: 10 km
  • Total time: 4 hours
  • Rapid river class: III and IV

#9 COLORADO RIVER

A solid choice for a fun time with the family, the Colorado River offers some swift twists and turns that are energizing, but not overwhelming. Situated in the valley below the famous Rincón de la Vieja, enjoy navigating over mild drops between impressively steep canyons or take a break from paddling to look for capuchin monkeys in the trees.

  • Starting and ending point: Rincón de la Vieja, Guanacaste Province
  • Total distance covered: 3 km
  • Total time: 1–2 hours
  • Rapid river class: I, II, and III

#10 REVENTAZÓN RIVER

The river with the best rafting in Costa Rica is debatable given so many unique choices. But undoubtedly, the Reventazón is by far the most adventurous. Not for the faint of heart, this trip provides a steady stream of roaring rapids all the way through. Enjoy views of the lush tropical and lowland forests as well as sugar cane fields, if you can. However, there is a beginner section to raft for a milder and more family friendly journey.

  • Starting and ending point: Turrialba to Orosi, Cartago Province
  • Total distance covered: 8 km
  • Total time: 2–3 hours
  • Rapid river class: II, III, IV, and V

Best time to go rafting in Costa Rica

Consider rafting June to October for fuller, faster water and more challenging rapids. Beginners and families may prefer dry season, December to May, for milder journeys.

Whether it’s your first time hitting the whitewater or you’re a well-skilled enthusiast, whitewater rafting in Costa Rica is one of the best ways to journey through this unique landscape. The rivers here are as unique as the individuals who visit, and you’ll have no problem finding a raft trip to suit your adventure level.

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