The Pacuare River in Costa Rica is one of the best rafting trips in the world

The onset of Costa Rica’s “green season” means it is whitewater rafting time! Rainwater flows into Costa Rica’s tropical rivers this time of year, making the rapids bigger and more exciting. What could be more fun than splashing down a warm-water tropical river on a hydro-powered rollercoaster? Costa Rica is one of the world’s top destinations for whitewater rafting.

See waterfalls and rainforest rafting on the Pacuare River, Costa Rica / photo by Rios Tropicales

Tropical rivers in Costa Rica are renowned for their beauty. Thick green jungle splashed with rainbow colors of over-sized flowers, waterfalls thundering down cliffs, jewel-toned birds and butterflies darting overhead, all combine to create the feeling that you’ve entered a lost paradise.

Costa Rica has rivers ranging from Class I to Class V rafting. So no matter your age, strength or physical condition, Costa Rica offers exciting rafting trips for everyone. Float trips aside, here is our list of some of the best whitewater rafting trips in Costa Rica. Paddles ready!

Raft Costa Rica's Pacuare River through an amazing rainforest gorge / photo by Rios TropicalesPacuare River (Rio Pacuare)

The Pacuare River is the quintessential “lost” paradise tropical river. Noted for being one of the “top rivers in the world for whitewater rafting” (Outdoor & National Geographic magazines), the World Rafting Championships were held on the Pacuare River in 2011. I trained as a whitewater rafting guide on the Pacuare River – my first job in Costa Rica – and I’ve never forgotten its magic.

The Pacuare River flows from its source in the Talamanca Mountains to the Caribbean. Rafting trips paddle 18 miles through pounding Class III-IV rapids, past calm pools and gushing waterfalls in the heart of densely vegetated gorges. The lowland rainforest here is remarkable for its luxuriant variety and amazing abundance and diversity of wildlife. A lunch stop at a River Lodge will recharge your batteries. The afternoon packs in the biggest rapids, like Upper and Lower Huacas, Cimarron, Dos Montañas, and many more. Trips finish at a private rest area near Siquirres for lunch, showers, drinks and souvenir shopping.

Difficulty: Moderate-High. Tour: Full day. Minimum age: 14. Physical condition: Good. Location: Caribbean (day tour from San Jose).

Costa Rica's Naranjo River is fun whitewater rafting near Manuel Antonio / photo by Rios TropicalesNaranjo River (Rio Naranjo)

The Naranjo River borders the southern end of Manuel Antonio National Park on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast. Rafting trips start from the town of Villanueva in the mountains, and travel 6 miles through fun and exciting Class III-IV rapids with names like “La Piñata”, “El Cesar” and “Robin Hood.” On the second half of the trip, the river opens up on the Pacific flatlands with great views and the chance to see many species of birds, like the Ringed Kingfisher and White Ibis, and with a little bit of luck maybe even a crocodile.

Difficulty: Medium. Tour: Half day. Minimum age: 8. Physical condition: Average. Location: Manuel Antonio / Quepos (Central Pacific).

Great family rafting on the Savegre River, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica / photo by Rios TropicalesSavegre River (Rio Savegre)

The Savegre River rafting tour is a full-day adventure of pure action while enjoying fantastic landscapes in Costa Rica’s Central Pacific near Manuel Antonio. Trips start with an early breakfast in Quepos, then a scenic 1.5 hour drive through African oil palms and Teak reforestation projects to the river put-in. Six miles of Class II-III rapids like “Boca Diablo” and “Roller Coaster” wake you up with adrenaline. Trips make a brief stop near some beautiful waterfalls, then hit the newly formed “Screaming Child” rapid before the river tames down until the end. A hot lunch is served at Silencio Lodge; afterward it is a 45-minute drive to Quepos.

Difficulty: Easy. Tour: Full day. Minimum age: 6. Physical condition: Average. Location: Manuel Antonio / Quepos (Central Pacific).

Raft the Balsa River near Volcano Arenal, Costa Rica / photo Desafio AdventuresBalsa River (Rio Balsa)

The Balsa River offers fun, rolling Class II-III rapids with names like “Morning Coffee” and “Rock around the Croc”. Tranquil river pools make for scenic photos along this isolated rainforest river canyon, located 30 minutes from La Fortuna / Volcano Arenal. Wildlife in the area includes monkeys, sloths, and tropical birds such as Ospreys, Oropéndolas and Toucans. Lunch is served at the end. This river trip is a good way to combine adventure and nature.

Difficulty: Easy. Tour: Half day. Minimum age: 10. Physical condition: Average. Location: Arenal

Intense rafting on the Tenorio River in Guanacaste / photo by Rios TropicalesTenorio River (Rio Tenorio)

The Tenorio River will test your courage with its Class III-IV rapids as you plunge through twists, turns and drops, down 8 miles of intense, challenging rapids. The river flows through an arid and impressive canyon in Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific Guanacaste region. Wildlife you may see along the river includes monkeys, iguanas and tropical birds. This river trip finishes big – with a 10-foot waterfall drop!

Difficulty: Moderate-High. Tour: Full day. Minimum age: 14. Physical condition: Good. Location: Guanacaste

Rafting the Colorado River, Costa RicaColorado River (Rio Colorado)

Located in Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific region of Guanacaste, the Colorado River flows down a natural and impressive canyon through tropical dry forest. Rafting trips ride a Class II-III section of rapids on a 1.5 hour tour. There are many swimming holes to enjoy on this scenic river.

Difficulty: Easy. Tour: Full day. Minimum age: 8. Physical condition: Average. Location: Guanacaste

Sarapiqui River rafting, Costa Rica / photo by Rios TropicalesSarapiqui River (Rio Sarapiqui)

Conveniently located close to San Jose and the Central Valley, Sarapiqui is halfway between the Tortuguero National Park and Arenal Volcano. The Sarapiquí River offers adventure seekers both whitewater rafting and float trips in its crystal clear waters. The Class II-III “La Virgen” section is perfect for beginners and families looking for a fun rollercoaster wave trip on a picture-perfect tropical rainforest river. Wildlife in the area includes sloths, monkeys, reptiles and amphibians, and more than 360 species of birds, including the endangered Green Macaw.

Difficulty: Easy. Tour: Half day. Minimum age: 12. Physical condition: Average. Location: Sarapiqui (day tour from San Jose)

Valle Dorado Tours offers all of these whitewater rafting trips in Costa Rica. Contact Valle Dorado Tours in Costa Rica to experience the country’s top one-day tours and custom tour packages. More than 20 years of local experience in the Costa Rica travel business ensures that Valle Dorado Tours offers you the best in custom-made Costa Rica vacations, one-day tours, and destination and thematic tour packages all over Costa Rica. Their expert travel staff can help you arrange your Costa Rica vacation from start to finish.

By Shannon Farley

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