Forward! Hard! Duro, duro!
I could hear our guide’s voice behind me, yelling us to paddle stronger as we quickly approached the next rapid.
I tightened my grip and paddled as hard as I could, sputtering water out of my mouth and bracing for the wave to hit us.
Water splashed all over me and I found myself teetering on the edge of the raft with my arms flailing in the air.
Yeison grabbed my jacket and pulled me back in, preventing fall number 2.
Yes, we were voluntarily white water rafting the Pacuare River, a 108 kilometer long river that is famous for being one of the best places for rafting in the world.
Were we crazy?
Probably, but then we were in good company with lots of other locos who wanted to brave the rapids and go on an adventure like no other.
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White Water Rafting Costa Rica – Pacuare River
The Pacuare River is on the Caribbean side of the country, bordering Talamanca mountain range. Not only is the river one of the best in the world, it’s home to a huge range of wildlife and the indigenous communities.
I had been anxiously wanting to white water rafting the Pacuare River after everything I’ve heard about it and now I can finally kick it off my bucket list . I can also say that it’s one of my favorite things to do in Costa Rica!
Book Your Rio Pacuare Costa Rica Rafting Tour and get $5 OFF
Rio Pacuare One Day Trip
Our one day tour consisted of rafting 19 miles from San Martin to Siquirres on Class III and Class IV rapids. Rapids are classified on a scale of 1 to 6, 6 being deathly dangerous and 1 being very small and easy. So class 3 and 4 rapids were right in the middle and quite large.
We got picked up bright and early at 5:40 AM by Rios Tropicales in San Jose for a long bus ride to the river. After a full breakfast, we reached the river shore and started getting ready for our exciting adventure!
You’ve probably seen Jurassic Park right? Remember how beautiful the park was with lush jungle? That’s pretty much what came to my head when we reached the river (except for the dinosaurs).
Everywhere you look is green green green! Especially since we are in rainy season so the forests are abundant and thriving. It felt so peaceful and serene to gaze at all the nature around us.
Start of the White Water Rafting Rio Pacuare Costa Rica Tour!
Our guide taught us the different commands and what to do in case of emergency. At this point, there was no turning back and all I could do was set my nerves aside and enjoy the beautiful ride.
The first rapid came pretty fast, just a few seconds after we pushed off. As we twisted and turned, I couldn’t help but scream “Wheeeee!” It was like going on a roller coaster and I do love roller coasters!
Yeison has done this exact Costa RIca white water rafting tour before probably like 10 times, so I was expecting him to be some what of an expert. He’d already gone through the worst possible scenarios so imagine my surprise when he was the first one to fall off the raft! We hit a rapid and plop! He fell backwards and disappeared into the water.
Thank goodness for guides. Our guide Otto grabbed Yeison and yanked him back onto the boat like nothing. “Haha you fell first!” I teased Yeison. But the teasing didn’t last long as we hit another rapid and I had to concentrate on paddling and keeping myself from falling!
As we rafted down the river, I couldn’t help myself from saying “wow” every two minutes. There were beautiful cascading waterfalls, birds flying everywhere and intense jungle on both sides. The air I breathed felt like the purest and freshest air on earth and I just wanted to savor that feeling.
At one point, it started pouring down rain but none of us cared. It felt amazing! I looked up to the sky, closed my eyes and embraced the water falling on my face, relishing every drop. It felt magical, almost unbelievable that we were in a place so beautiful. This was pura vida.
Around halfway down the river, the class IV rapids started appearing and quite a few of them too. It was time for the true test of our strength and skill.
This rapid looked pretty intense and from the sounds coming from the other boats, it seemed like a few people fell out or were very close. Although my shoulders were hurting, I took the paddle and went forward hard.
I’m not sure what happened right after because the next thing I remember, I was in the water and I could feel myself slipping underneath the boat. I threw up my hands to grab onto anything and I miraculously got hold of the safety line. I tugged on it, pulled myself up and then all of a sudden, I was on the raft again!
Otto the savior pulled me up and thankfully I was only underwater for a few seconds. But my joy didn’t last long, I had to grab my paddle and get ready for the next rapid!
As we approached the next rapid, I was looking at Yeison who was sitting across from me in the back. I paddled hard, hanging on tight to get through the next rapid, looked up and saw everyone fall out of the raft! It was just me and Otto left and our boat was quickly swirling away from the rest of our companions.
I threw out the handle of my paddle for someone to grab but we were too far. Paddle backwards now! Otto yelled. I paddled back as hard as I could to get closer to our group. Otto pulled up one guy, then the girl with Yeison on his way but we were missing one! I looked around frantically but I had to keep paddling since another rapid was quickly approaching.
We’re missing one! By that time, everyone was scrambling around on the boat trying to get situated and I saw a raft float next to me with our last companion in it. Phew! At least he was saved!
Towards the end of the tour, everyone in our raft had fallen in at least once (actually everyone fell twice but me). There were a couple class IV rapids left until the end and by that time, we felt like pros. And when the end of the river came, I didn’t want to get out. Stepping out of the raft, my head spun a little bit as the adrenaline was still pumping through my body.
I steadied myself when I had two feet on the ground and let out a wild woop! That was insane! I yelled out. Can we do it again?
The End of the White Water Rafting Tour
What a beautiful and exciting day it was. The Pacuare white water rafting is definitely one of the best tours I’ve done in Costa Rica so far, living up to all the expectations. I know there are other rivers in Costa Rica for rafting but the Pacuare river is truly something special.
Watch our Pacuare white water rafting Costa Rica video to see the all the excitement for yourself!
If you’re in San Jose, I highly recommend doing this tour, it’s one of the best day trips from San Jose!
Booking Your Tour
You can also book this tour as an interconnection between San Jose, La Fortuna and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. For example if you are in San Jose and need to get to La Fortuna, you can book this tour and the tour operator will pick you up at your hotel in San Jose and drop you off at your hotel in La Fortuna. Also works for pick up in Puerto Viejo, drop off in La Fortuna/San Jose or any connection between the three.
Book Your Rio Pacuare Costa Rica Rafting Tour and get $5 OFF
What to Know About Rio Pacuare White Water Rafting Tour
- This is an all day tour so get a good night’s rest. You’ll need all the energy you can get! Pick up time from San Jose is around 530-6 AM and you will get back around 6 PM depending on traffic.
- Breakfast and lunch is included
- Itinerary is: pick up; travel to operation center in Siquirres; light breakfast; transfer down to river start; safety talk; rafting tour; transfer back to operation center; change and have lunch; transfer to your final destination
- If you have a car, you can drive to the operation center. We will let you know what time to be there when you make the reservation.
- Wear clothes that can get wet and dry easily and wear your swimsuit underneath. I recommend wearing either a rash guard or quick dry shirt instead of just a swimsuit
- You need to bring a change of clothes
- Waterproof cameras only! We attached our GoPro to Yeison’s helmet. Just make sure to bring the helmet mount.
- You have to wear closed toed shoes or hiking sandals. Our KEENs were perfect. Water shoes also work well. They must be closed toed.
- If you want to wear sunglasses, bring a strap or else they will fall off. You can also buy one at the gift shop.
More exciting things to do in Costa Rica!
Balsa River rafting Class 2 and 3 (La Fortuna)
Snuba (Matapalo, Guanacaste)
Buena Vista Combo tour (Guanacaste)
Doka Estate coffee tour (Alajuela)
Isla Tortuga day cruise (Gulf of Nicoya)
Kim Miller says
Hi! My son is 13 so he’s over the age limit for this white water rafting tour but he is very light. Around 85lbs. Is there a weight limit? Thank you!
Hi Kim, yes the minimum weight is 110 lbs (50 kilos) and 4 foot 9 inches (150 cm), unfortunately he is too light to do the rafting.
I am very interested in doing this tour but when I was doing my research I found an article saying that Rios Tropicales actually closed in March 2021. However, your article is dated November 2021 and I saw that I can still book a tour on your website. So is Rios Tropicales still running, or should I be booking with another company? If it’s the later, do you have any company recommendations?
Thank you so much! I love your website and have probably read every article haha
Hi Yvonne, we now work with another tour operator 🙂
If we do the pacuare River tour what do we do with our bags if we are using the tour as a transport from la fortuna to San Jose?
You will store it at the operators office during the tour because you’ll go there first in the morning to change and have breakfast, and then go back there after the rafting to change and have lunch
sarah swanson says
Hi there! I am considering taking the day trip transfer and rapids from San Jose to Puerto Viejo. The rafting sounds so fun! My question is, I have 8 and 10 year old kids, will the rapids be too advanced for them? Looking forward to more information and our trip this December/January!
Hi Sarah, the minimum age for this tour is 12 so they won’t be able to do the Pacuare rafting trip. They can do another rafting that goes through a different part of the river though that has Class 2 and 3 rapids, as the minimum age for that one is 6. If you’re interested in booking that one, feel free to contact us: https://mytanfeet.com/contact-us/
Hi Alex, it is recommended to take the transportation since it is a long drive, from San Jose it is at least 2 hours and you have to be at the operation by 8 AM so they usually leave San Jose by 530 AM. You can drive to the operation center in Siquirres on your own and then take the tour transportation to the river start (it does not end where it begins so you need to take their transportation) and then they will bring you back to the operation center after the rafting. But if you’re staying in San Jose, it is recommended to take the transportation as it is quite a long drive, especially after a full day of rafting.
There is no discount for going with your own transportation, it is the same price.
We are planning to do the water rafting day trip on the Pacuare River.
If the borders are open we will do that on november 16th.
We have are own transportation 4×4, so we do not need transportation from San Jose or something. We do we have to drive to? What are the time schedules for departing and arriving?
What are the prices if we come by our own transportation?
My husband and I will be staying at Lost Iguana in early March. Is that a good time to experience the Rio Pacuare Whitewater rafting? Can we be picked up at our hotel?
Hi Annie, March is a good time, though the river levels are a tad lower due to the dry season but it’s still fun. They can pick you up at Lost Iguana but there is an extra $40 USD total fee (for 2-8 people).
We are flying from the west coast of Canada and arriving around San Jose about 8:30 pm with two 17 year olds on March 15th. We have rented a car for two weeks and plan on going to the Arenal Area, then Monteverde area, over to the Pacific coast and to Manuel Antonio. We don’t plan on going into the city. We think we’d like to do the one day rafting on the Rio Pacuare and I see that we could meet the company at their operation centre. It would seem we will be getting the teenagers up early (painful!) on quite a few days on this trip because it will be high season. We will need to find a place to stay not too far from the airport given our arrival time and are trying to figure out what makes the most sense accommodation wise if we are heading east to do that one day river raft when it is out the way of our itinerary. Would it make sense to stay one night then drive toward the Rio Pacuare area and stay one night before rafting the next day? Then it seems it would be a very long day to drive all the way to the Arenal area for the next night. If you have any advice, we would love to hear it. Such a GREAT blog! Thanks!
If you guys are flying out of San Jose Airport, my recommendation would be to stay your last 2 nights in San Jose. Return the car when you get to San Jose, stay the two nights at a hotel near the airport on the San Jose side (Like Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express San Jose AIrport), do the Pacuare rafting the day before you fly out and then get an airport shuttle/taxi the day you fly out. That way you guys don’t need to drive because it’s a long drive super early in the morning to get to their operation center and you can also return the car a couple days earlier, not to mention that it will be an extremely tiring and long drive after rafting all day under the sun. Better to schedule it so you can take the transportation from San Jose (You can even do this as a trip from La Fortuna but you can save that day for enjoying La Fortuna instead and do the trip from San Jose since you don’t plan to see the city).
kathryn Zdriluk says
Hi Sammi, I’m so sorry that I did not see your reply and I wish I had! I’m not sure how that happened because I was looking for it. Your advice makes TOTAL sense, but we have now booked 3 nights in Alahuela because we arrive so late and thought to rest and explore for a day and then do the rafting.
We only have our last 5 nights to plan which will be out on the Pacific coast (driving to the airport from the coast for an overnight flight out of San Jose). We are considering a base for 3 nights on the coast and then another to stay 2 around Manuel Antonio (although I am apprehensive about how busy the park will be mid March). It’s hard to decipher what would be the best base(s) coming from Monteverde. If you have any thoughts on that, I would be most appreciative. Thanks again ,
Manuel Antonio is very nice but you don’t have to stay right in Manuel Antonio since you’re renting a car, you can find a hotel in Quepos or outside of MA and just go to the park 1 day.
Hi Patrick! Thanks for the feedback and glad you had a great time! Glad you enjoyed it, this tour is one of our favorites! It was my pleasure to help you and we hope to see you in Costa Rica again on eday 🙂
If you are considering going rafting on the Rio Pacuare, DO IT!!!
It was easily one of the major highlights of a recent trip to Costa Rica for me and my brother. The scenery is spectacular and the rapids are a total blast. And if you’re going to do it, definitely book through mytanfeet. Samantha was so incredibly helpful in getting our reservations. She also provided advice on where to park our rental car for the day for our pickup from La Fortuna and even contacted the hotel manager of the parking lot we used to make sure our car would be ok! Truly above and beyond help!
Plus, we got a $10 discount on the price for each of us.
Thanks again, Samantha!
Sorin z says
Thanks a lot for the guidance, you guys are awesome. One last question. Is it safe for people that don’t know how to swim?
There is no rafting or swimming experience required, since everyone has a lifejacket and helmet. If you fall out of the raft the lifejacket will keep you afloat. Just make sure to keep your legs up as well and the guide will pull you back in quickly. There is a section of the river that is very calm and you can get jump out and float if you like (always with a lifejacket) but that’s all the swimming you’d do on the rafting tour. I would advise to tell your guide that you don’t know how to swim though so he can place you on the raft and make sure you don’t fall out to make you as comfortable and safe as possible.
Hi Sorin! Yes Rios Tropicales can pick up at La Fortuna/Arenal as long as there is a minimum of 2 passengers. You can get our $10 discount and book the tour here
Is the 1 day rafting pacuare tour available for pick up in Arenal as well?
Awesome write up, I am dying to go now. Ive only been White water rafting once in Maine, class 4 & 5, very challenging and cold, but so fun. Maybe this will be my birthday destination.
We hope you are able to go! It is a lot of fun and it’s warm in Costa Rica 🙂
Enjoyed your write up on this adventure. We have wanted to try both times we visited but never went. We have two smaller children that wouldn’t be able to raft and haven’t found a way for both of us to raft together while the kids are watched. Would love it if one of these outfits had a daycare.
Usually because of the kids, we split up the activity, so one of us does it while the other does the activity, then the next day we switch. Having been to this area, is there anything else to do while not rafting?
Hi Dan, yes since Rio Pacuare has bigger rapids they need to have a certain height and weight requirement. Unfortunately tour companies don’t provide a day care service since they don’t have the staff or extra space, I have seen only resorts with kid centers but that would be nice.
Which area will you be in? The rafting is on the Caribbean side but people go from either San Jose, Arenal or Puerto Viejo to do the rafting.
After researching a little more, I’m thinking of staging somewhere and doing a transfer with the tour company. The family could hang out in the hotel or city while one of us goes and rafts. We could do it at the beginning out of San Jose, or later on when we’re in Puerto Viejo area.
Hi Dan, you can definitely do that too and you could even do it this way so you and your wife could both do the rafting (separately but at least you can both do it). You can do the rafting tour from San Jose to Puerto Viejo and meet your family in PV and then your wife can do the rafting from Puerto Viejo to San Jose and then meet you guys in San Jose. The only thing with the transfers is that it requires a minimum of 2 people so someone else will need to be doing the same transfer but we will check to see.
Hello I’m going to Costa Rica in Feb and would like to try white water rafting. It would be my first time ever. I heard pacuare was the best. Since its not a class I, do u recommend it for beginners? Also how long are you in the water for? Thanks love the blog!
Hi Silvia! The Pacuare is the best in Costa Rica for white water rafting (it’s also top 5 in the world!) but don’t worry if you have never done it before. We met lots of people who were first timers when we went and they loved it. The guides are amazing and all you really have to do is follow their directions and have fun. They give you a crash course on how to paddle, directions and safety before you go and they will separate you into rafts depending on level. When we went last time, one of our friends was very scared so our guide was super nice and steered us away from a lot of the rapids. The rafting trip is about 4 hours total and it does take a couple hours driving depending on where you get picked up from. Pacuare is amazing and crazy fun, everyone always wishes it was longer at the end, even my friend who was scared said she actually wished we went through the higher class rapids.
Hi! We are travelling around in Costa Rica by car and would like to do a one day rafting tour on our road trip. Is it possible for us to drive immediately to the place where the tour starts, instead of being picked up in San Jose, as we will not be staying in San Jose? After the trip we will continue our journey so don’t need any transport to San Jose. Is the price the same if we don’t need any pickup at all? Thanks!
Hi Soeliko, yes that’s totally possible. You can drive to the Rios Tropicales operation center, leave your car there and then drive back from there. They also have lockers and a storage area if you are bringing luggage and the price is the same.
Ok. Around what time would we need to be at the Rios Tropicales Operation Center?
A little before 8 AM so you can have a nice breakfast and get checked in/ready. This is the GPS coordinates to their base in Siquirres: 10.103333, -83.548056 and here is the maps: https://www.google.com/maps/place/R%C3%ADos+Tropicalesemail@example.com,-83.5502447,17z/data=!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x0:0x0!2zMTDCsDA2JzEyLjAiTiA4M8KwMzInNTMuMCJX!3b1!8m2!3d10.103333!4d-83.548056!3m4!1s0x0:0xc92d027a6e639694!8m2!3d10.1035117!4d-83.5485739
David Stropes says
Hi, my family and I will be traveling to Costa Rica in Early June 2017. We will be staying at the JW Marriott Guanacaste June 2nd through June 7th and heading down South to the Marriott Hotel Punta Islita for 2 more days. We are looking to set up a rafting trip, any recommendations for that area of the country? BTW-love the blog!
There isn’t really any rafting in the areas you’re staying but if you can drive, there is a one that goes to Upper Tenorio River, which will be closer when you guys are at the Marriott. It’s still about a 2 hour drive but the really good rivers like Pacuare or Sarapiqui are really far away. There is also a white water tubing at RIo Negro in RIncon de la Vieja that Hacienda Guachipelin offers. It’s not quite rafting but it’s still super fun.
Hi Sammi and Yeison,
We are coming to CR next month (October) and have planned to go White water rafting down the Naranjo and Savegre Rivers (out of Jaco) and we have a group of family members ranging from 7 – 77 that want to do this adventure. I’ve heard that the rapids on this particular trip are class 3 and 4’s and based on your report and video I’m kind of terrified for my kids lives. The tour company said the age limit for kids is 6 but would you recommend this adventure for my daughters who are 7 and 9 and weigh all of 55 lbs each? Then we also have the 75 and 77 year old grandparents, it looks too strenuous for them as well. Have you ever rafted these rivers and would you recommend us changing our plans???
Thanks so much for your advice.
I would go for a class 2 and 3 rapids if you’re worried. When we did 3 and 4 in July (rainy season means fuller rivers and crazier rapids), it was pretty crazy and in October, peak rainy season month it’ll be even more full. I think Rio Balsa is class 2 and 3 and there is a section of Savegre that is 2 and 3 that if I remember correctly, we did last year. Haven’t done Naranjo but you can also email the tour companies to get their opinion.
Holly @Bravecheesehead says
This looks like so much fun! Who took the pictures of the whole raft? Is that from the tour company! Just so cool!!
Most of the rafting companies have their own photographer, at the end of the tour you have the option to buy their pictures.
Rahul Lad says
I am collecting information for river rafting your blog help a lot. Thanks for sharing
River rafting is always a memorable adventure no one can forget this thrilling experience.
Carmen @ CarmensTravelTips says
That looks like so much fun. I’ve been white water rafting several times and it does wipe you out. Great pictures.
It’s super fun! Leaves you pretty sore the next couple days for sure!
Indeed they are! The place looks awesome!
It is! Highly recommended!
Finally m going for rafting next week at Colorado.
Have fun!! I heard Colorado has great rafting !
It’s SO much fun! Even if you’re not a huge rafting fan, you’ll have an amazing time. It’s like a giant rollercoaster but more thrilling. And it’s gorgeous!
The Wandering Wanderluster says
You are much braver than I am. I am terrified of water so I don’t think I could ever do rafting. I love canoeing and kayaking on calm waters but rapids scare me to death! Looks like an awesome adventure though!
Well I have to say that I was quite nervous in the beginning but it was really fun and the adrenaline and excitement takes the fear away after a few of them. Maybe you can go on a baby one just to try it out! 🙂
Jessica J. Hill says
What a fun adventure! And the scenery looks incredible. I started off this summer by training to be a whitewater raft guide in Colorado, but I ended up (for many reasons, mostly monetary) deciding to give it up. However, I can’t help but think how nice it would have been to train in the warm weather of Costa Rica, instead of the 36-degree mountain runoff I had to swim in daily, ha. I’ll definitely check this trip out if I make it to CR soon! Thanks for sharing.
That would be fun to be a white water guide! You’ll have to go here if you go to Costa Rica, definitely the best!
I love water rafting and it looks like a great place to do it! Lots of fun!
James Hicks says
Rafting the Pacuare was my most memorable excursion in Costa Rica. From the most adventurous trip from San Jose through the Braulio Carrillo National Park, to the deli style picnic three quarters down the river, to seeing the blue Morpho Menelaus amathonte (that really big blue butterfly), to the Jesus Lizard running across the river. Will be back soon.
It is an amazing adventure for sure!
Raphael Alexander Zoren says
Impressive photos!!! The video is absolutely amazing guys!!!! 😀
Sammi Wanderlustin' says
I’m going to be trying white water rafting in Slovenia in a couple of weeks time- I can’t wait 😀
Have fun!! It is amazing!
Sounds fabulous and what a beautiful location! I have loved white water rafting the couple of times I have done it (although I have not loved falling in but all part of the experience!). That looks like a stunning place to do it.
It is, it is soo beautiful it’s almost unreal! White water rafting is super fun, I would definitely do it again!
I wasn’t even aware that Costa Rica had rafting excursions like this! This will definitely go on my wish list for a future trip!
They actually have quite a few but this one is the best. Costa Rica’s full of nature and crazy outdoor activities like this!
SJ @ Chasing the Donkey says
How cool! I just wrote about my first white water rafting experience yesterday..!! I said in in that I was keen to try someplace more adventurous – and now I read this!!! Serendipitous much!!! Sounds like a fab day, and I love those action shots.. they are the best part!
If you want adventure, this one was perfect. SO exciting and so much fun! The action shots are pretty awesome!