White Water Rafting in Costa Rica

Just three days in and I was already experiencing la pura vida like the Ticos do. I went horseback riding in the countryside and then hiked a tropical rainforest. My galloping butt was painfully sore and my shoes didn’t exactly make it home with me from the jungle trek but I couldn’t believe I was having all these incredible adventures in Costa Rica, the happiest country in the world (more on this at the end of the post). On the fourth day of our trip Arienne and I geared up for our most epic adventure yet. We were about to take on one of the world’s most adventurous rivers by white water rafting in Rio Pacuare.

Pacuare River Costa Rica

White Water Rafting Costa Rica

National Geographic called it one of the top 5 rivers for rafting in the world. Few rivers have daredevil Class VI rapids but this is one of them. The Pacuare flows 108 km to the Caribbean Sea in the East and our Raft Master Roy led us through 28 kilometres (18 miles) of it. Even with crazy rapids, Rio Pacuare is adventurous but it doesn’t have to be dangerous – I did levels I to IV and I survived (but even experienced tour companies won’t take you beyond that).

Armed with a life jacket, helmet, and paddle, my adrenaline was running high. I’m not a strong swimmer but I still couldn’t wait to tackle this monster river. After white water rafting the Austrian Tirol and even plunging head first from a bungee I had no doubt in my mind I could do this. It’s also nice when you have a friend there to share a crazy adventure with.

white water rafting

Arienne and I before our epic adventure


What to Expect

Be prepared to paddle for FOUR straight hours and then have arms that feel like jello. It’s well worth the ride though – along the Pacuare you pass tropical forests, cascading waterfalls all around, and real treehouses you can sleep in (this is where I plan to stay next time I’m in Costa Rica).

The Raft Master shouts commands at you the entire time. I thought he was yelling at us but really he was just trying to keep us from going over. On normal rivers the commands are often ‘Go’, ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward’ but the Pacuare River is not your normal river and our Raft Master’s commands were very different.

White water rafting costa rica

white water rafting

If the current got strong, he yelled “Oh shit” – this was our cue to bend over or duck. If things got really crazy, he yelled  “Oh my God” which meant get the hell inside the raft and hang on for dear life.

Roy was constantly yelling “Oh shit”, and “Oh my God”, sometimes multiple times in a row. At one point there were constant rapids coming at us from every angle. I kept getting confused – sometimes I was ducking, other times I was moving myself into the raft. Sometimes I was so distracted by the massive waves of water in my face I would forget to paddle. Luckily our boat didn’t capsize but the team behind us did and I quickly learned that getting back in is harder than it looks!

White water rafting Costa Rica

Our raft team with Roy (in green) and an American couple we met

White water rafting Costa Rica

White Water Rafting Costa Rica

white water rafting costa rica

White water rafting adventure costa rica

White water rafting adventure costa rica

If we survived we got a “muy bien” and even high-fived our paddles together.


This adventure has been my most epic yet. It isn’t for the faint of heart but if you don’t panic easily, and have a good Raft Master you’ll survive. I did. (And I can’t even swim very well).

Costa Rica is ranked the happiest country in the world by the New Economics Foundation’s 2013 Happy Planet Index, based on human well-being and environmental impact or low ecological footprint that causes the least amount of permanent damage to the planet and impact on future generations.

Location: Limon, Costa Rica

Length: Four hours, 28 kilometres (18 miles)

Difficulty: Class II-IV

What to Budget: $100 USD

Where to Stay:  In a tree house along the Pacuare River

What to Pack:

 Wet suit or (non-cotton) clothes you can get wet
 Water shoes or closed-toe sneakers
 Dry change of clothes
 No jewelry or cellphone



I was a guest of Visit Costa Rica during their Gifts of Happiness campaign to discover what it’s like to live la pura vida in the happiest country in the world. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Have you ever had an epic adventure?


More in this series:

Hiking La Marta Rainforest
Horseback Riding in Turrialba
Where to Stay in Costa Rica: An Eco-Lodge with a Purpose



A TV journo turned blogger, Cristina traded in the conventional 9-5 to contribute in a more meaningful way. Her passion for local travel and experiences has taken her to more than 25 countries and 50 different cities. She is currently planning her next chapter to volunteer her way around the world. Follow her on:

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