Just three days in and I was already experiencing la pura vida in Costa Rica. I went horseback riding in the countryside and hiked a tropical rainforest. My butt was painfully sore and my shoes didn’t exactly make it home with me from the jungle trek. I was having all these incredible adventures in Costa Rica, the happiest country in the world but we still had one more epic adventure to go. We were about to take on the world’s most adventurous river by white water rafting in the Pacuare River.
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.
What to Expect
Be prepared to paddle for FOUR straight hours and then have arms that feel like jello. But it’s well worth the ride – 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 usually ‘Go’, ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward’ but the Pacuare River is not your normal river and our Raft Master’s commands were very different.
If the current got strong, Roy would yell “Oh shit.” That was code for “bend over or duck”. If things got really crazy, it was “Oh my God”. Translation: get the hell inside the raft and hang on for dear life.
He definitely wasn’t shy about using them. He was constantly yelling “Oh shit”, and “Oh my God”, and multiple times in a row. I kept getting confused – sometimes I was ducking, other times I felt like I was rolling myself in a human ball right 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, although the team behind us did, and I quickly learned that getting back in is way harder than it looks!
If we survived we got a “muy bien” and high-fived our paddles together.
Good to Know:
White water rafting 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 don’t even swim that well).
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
What NOT to Pack:
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.