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Costa Rican Adventures - Rushing through the rapids of the Pacuare River

Updated on August 10, 2017

I am all for adventure, especially anything involving nature. So when I planned our last visit to Costa Rica, naturally my travel companion and I were both thrilled about booking a white water rafting trip. There are many options for tours with the rivers Reventazon, Pacuare and Corobici offering some of the best white water rafting in the world. After weighing all the options we decided to book with Rios Tropicales online. Their prices were reasonable, the booking process simple and the few questions I had were promptly answered with friendly responses.

Our tour was a one-day trip along the Pacuare River on Class III and IV rapids. Despite my excitement, the night before the excursion I was not feeling very calm. I had never rafted more than a Class II and I had heard that the rapids here could be very intense. The Pacuare River is sourced from the Cordillera de Talamanca and flows over 100 km into the Caribbean Sea. Nurturing the rain forest that surrounds it, this river has been named by National Geographic as one of the world's most thrilling places in the world to white water raft. But despite my fear, I was excited to board the small private bus which picked us up at our hotel in San José for the long trip to the Rios Tropicales Operations Center which is the starting point for the tour. After the bus stopped at another hotel to pick up two more rafters, we made our way out of the city for a roughly 1 and 1/2 hour drive into the rain forest.

As we drove through rudimentary roads winding this way and that, bumping over the ever present potholes along the way, I was mesmerized by the splendor of nature in the dense rain forest surrounding us. The breeze coming through the open window was cool and fresh. I could smell the clean scent of chlorophyll which permeated the air and the sound of birds chirping in the tree tops and animals rustling in the undergrowth relaxed any trepidation I had had when we boarded the bus in San José.

Just before 8am we arrived at the Rios Tropicales Operations Center where a traditional Tico breakfast was laid out on the buffet table for us – beans and rice, exotic fruits and juice. Beans and rice are Costa Rican staples and the freshness and seasoning that this dish is made with makes it so tasty you never get tired of eating it. After our hearty breakfast the four of us on the tour began changing into rafting clothes; shorts and shirts made of quick drying material and water shoes. Afterwards we were fitted for life-vests and grabbed some paddles. The guide led us down to the rafting put-in spot. After a review of the equipment, safety procedures and instructions on rafting basics, we were ready to begin our tour.

Pura Vida!

Since we were visiting during the rainy season, the guide warned us that it would be a fast ride because the water levels were so high. High water levels also mean that getting completely soaked is guaranteed because huge waves and whirlpools are very common in these conditions.

Just before we pushed off, the guide's face split into a grin as he warned us that it was quite possible we'd fall into the water given the fast conditions, but reassured us that the two guides in the raft would be quick to pull us out, and safety kayakers would be following behind if the guides couldn't get to us in time.

His warning made me a bit nervous and the beans and rice sat heavy in my stomach as we paddled out into the water, making our way to the rapids beyond. My nerves were immediately distracted by the lush green landscape that hung over the river's banks. Huge leafy plants, tall thick trees covered in moss and water falls trickling down the slopes of the banks rushed past us as we headed into faster waters. The sound of birds calling to each other became overpowered by the sounds of rushing rapids.

Before we got to the first rapid run, the guide told us that in dry season the tour would take about five hours, but in these wet season conditions it would be more like three hours. The tour would bring us through some of the Pacuare River's biggest rapids such as the Upper and Lower Huacas, Cimarron and Dos Montañas. Just before we hit the first rapid, the guide grinned again and reminded us to follow his instructions on when and how to paddle and to keep our knees pressed into to the inflated seats in front of us which would help us remain securely in the raft.

At that point we didn't need to paddle any longer as the current brought us fast into the first set of rapids. Our guide yelled out Pura Vida and off we went. Adrenaline pumping, I heeded his commands which he spat out in rapid fire. My mind swam with the orders of Right back! Left forward! Paddle hard! Left oars up! After each set of rapids, we were met with calm pools of water where we would raise our paddles in the air to tap against each other in a toast of Pura Vida, meaning pure life (my personal definition was we are still alive!).

Enjoying the river and the rainforest

The rest of the tour was a blur of water and adrenaline; the rush of the water and the green glory surrounding us gave me a glorious feeling of how good it is to be alive. At one of the calm pools we took a break to swim and float in the calm waters, flanked by tall banks chalk full of foliage and trickling with small waterfalls.

I have to admit that I did fall in….twice…during some of the fast Class IV rapids, as did some of our raft mates. But true to their word, the guides were amazingly fast in fishing us out, scampering back across the raft's seats to pluck us out of the rushing water by grabbing us by our life-jackets and flinging us into the bottom of the raft like stupefied fish gasping for breath.

Reaching the raft take-out point a few hours later, we were greeted with a huge buffet lunch, a comfortable dining area and hot showers. The day had sped by so fast - literally - and I was saddened that our trip was over. The next day we were destined for the Arenal area but if we would have another day to spend on the Pacuare River I would gladly have done so.

In addition to one-day tours, Rios Tropicales also offers multi-day adventures which include a stay overnight at their Lodge located within the rain forest. I would highly recommend Rios Tropicales to anyone planning a trip to Costa Rica looking for adventure. You will definitely find it on the Pacuare River!

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