White Water Rafting Pacuare River
Real Deal Team Experiences in Costa Rica
Here at The Real Deal Tours we send our team members out to experience the tours that we offer to our customers. We do this not only as a means of quality control, but to get to know the services we are offering up close and personal so that we can match them up to our clients’ needs. That said, here is one of our team member’s personal experience whitewater rafting the Pacuare River in Costa Rica.
First I want to note that Costa Rica is brilliant when it comes to navigating your way through the country. Many tour operators in Costa Rica offer their own version of the Smart Connection tours. Smart Connections basically picks you up from your hotel at one destination in Costa Rica and drops you off at your next destination as well as offering some sort of fun activity along the way. Whitewater Rafting the Pacuare River is one of the best Smart Connections out there. I was able to leave the city of San Jose behind and head out to the Caribbean coast for the weekend at no additional cost!! Yay for weekend getaways and a great job that literally forces me to try new activities in Costa Rica whenever possible!
So, the day starts out pretty darn early. My pickup time was at 6:00 am and I am an early bird so that was not really a problem for me. No worries if you are not a morning person as the drive to their Exploration Center is nearly 2 hours so you will have plenty of time to squeeze in a nap. However, I would recommend staying awake when driving through the beautifully scenic Braulio Carrillo National Park. The guide in the van pointed out the really cool "poor man's umbrella" plants that line the highway and explained a bit about the flora and fauna we would see just before we crossed over a really high bridge and headed into the national park. The highway winds through the protected land and I could easily see and feel the climate change as we made our way towards Siquierres.
We were one of about four different vans full of people arriving at the Exploration Center from different locations. Two vans arrived with people coming from the Arenal Volcano, and another van arrived with people that were staying in Puerto Viejo and Cahuita National Park. You would think it would be chaotic, but I was thoroughly impressed by the guides’ abilities to instruct and assist everyone as they unloaded all their suitcases and backpacks and put them into lockers. I will note that the lockers are shared, not individual. It is kind of a big storage shelving that they lock up once everyone has loaded their belongings. A couple of people complained that they were concerned for their belongings but the staff was very reassuring that everything would be safe. This company has been in business for over 10 years and I have not heard of anything being stolen so I was not concerned in the least.
Once we loaded our belongings into the lockers, we had a delicious hot breakfast buffet ready for us to dig in. They had pretty much the standard fair of eggs, meats (honestly I do not eat meat and I cannot remember what was offered exactly), the typical gallo pinto, and of course fresh Costa Rica fruits most likely grown within a few kilometers as we were in the middle of an agricultural valley. We were given about 45 minutes to store our belongings, eat breakfast, use the bathrooms, and explore the gardens around the Exploration Center. I took that time to take notice of the makeup and ages of the group and it was truly a mix from all over the world with all ages and physical fitness levels. Wow, white water rafting in Costa Rica really is THE thing to do here!
Next the river guides spoke to each group individually to determine their levels of experience and physical capabilities. This was how they determined how to put the groups together, and which guides would go with which groups. This is a detail I have to admit that is not practiced with all Rafting operators in Costa Rica and is definitely something that sets the company apart from others professionally. Since I was travelling solo, and I have had prior rafting experience, they asked me if I would like to be part of an all-girl team, most of which also had some rafting experience. Heck yeah!!
Once they determined the groups, we loaded up into the vans again with our carefully selected teams. The drive to the top where we would start our decent takes about 45 minutes and was a bit bumpy as much of it is off road. During that time, our extremely acrobatic guide gave us all the instructions we needed for once we arrived on the river. I say acrobatic because as we were bouncing all over the road he was perched up at the front of the van holding various props and demonstrating proper paddling positions without seeming to notice that we were off the beaten path. Another huge kudos to this team is that the instructions given were more thorough than I have received from any other company I have ever rafted with. They were not just basic instructions. They explained the physics behind how the raft reacts to the water currents which makes everything you have to do in the water so much easier to understand. They went through emergency situations as well which came in handy on a separate rafting trip at another time which I will save for a future blog. Luckily my girl power team on this trip rocked and we never once dumped!
Once we arrived at the river, I realized what a huge team this company had working together to get everyone equipped and loaded up on our appropriate rafts with our teams. We were each given a well-fitted life jacket which the guides ensured were very securely fastened and then did the same with our helmets. For those who did not read the instructions prior to arrival and were not prepared, they had a local vendor there selling water shoes for around $10. Note: you must have tennis shoes or completely secure water shoes for your safety on the river. They will not permit you to go in flip flops or anything else that is loose fitting....you WILL lose them! Loaded up with our gear and our paddles, we followed our guide to our rafts.
Our guide was from Arenal and had been a guide with Exploradores Outdoors for several years. He accessed our group based on weight and experience and gave us our designated positions in the boat. We hopped in and practiced our skills until we were all comfortable and agreed to set off on our adventure. I cannot even put into words what an amazing white water rafting adventure in Costa Rica this was! Seriously, the Pacuare River is indeed the best river in Costa Rica for whitewater rafting, and it is also one of the most scenic rivers I have ever encountered. The first hour or so the rapids are only class II and class III, so you really have the chance to look around and seek out wildlife between rapids. Our guide was quick to spot toucans as they flew across the river and a lone monkey crossing the treetops. But the best part was swooping down the class IV rapids and then getting a natural shower under the 150 foot high Huacas waterfall just before entering the Pacuare River Gorge. Here we were able to hop out and go for a swim and just have fun splashing around in the river. It was a truly magical experience for me, like something out of Fern Gully!
After the swim we had a couple more super fun rapids before stopping for lunch aside the river. Again this company impressed me as the guides on each raft began carrying up all the food and beverages they had been storing in water tight barrels aboard each raft. We had time to wander the trails, go to the restrooms, or just take a much needed break by the river while they prepared lunch. After such an adventurous couple of hours, most of us sat recounting all the fun we had on the different rapids and discussing who saw what wildlife. We were all very excited to share our experiences, but also exhausted. Meanwhile, the guides cut up fruits and set out water first so we could freshen up while they prepared the rest of the meal. The lunch was a large buffet of veggies, cheeses, meats, and condiments to build your own super wrap. It was the perfect amount of food to re-charge for the second half of the river.
The second half of the river still has some really fun rapids and waves to play on, but mellows out a bit as the area widens out. This was where my super team of women had the most fun. Our guide determined that we were all very good at following instructions and working as a team, so we got to do some "tricks" such as all standing up and holding onto each other while the guide made the raft spin in circles. It was awesome! We also got to take turns on a small bumpy rapid riding "rodeo" style while sitting at the front of the raft and holding onto the rope as we bounced up and down like riding a bucking bronco.....such a blast!! Between the incredible guides and the safety kayaks, I felt 100% secure the entire time.
As the rapids were winding down and we neared the Exploration Center, we saw a bunch of local kids swimming in the river. A couple of the kids jumped aboard the rafts for the last 100 yards of the journey and were grinning from ear to ear. The guides said the kids know what time they pass every day and always try to be there to hitch a ride. For me it was the perfect ending to the perfect day on the Pacuare River.
Back at the Exploration Center, we got out our bags again and were able to shower and change out of our wet clothes. My newly formed group of friends and I decided to celebrate with a beer (Imperial of course) and viewed the photos of the day. After about 40 minutes we were instructed to grab our luggage and load up in the vans according to our differing destinations. I loaded back into the van happily, put on my iTunes, and dozed off dreaming I was floating on the river. Best of all, the fun was just beginning because my final destination was Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast!!!
So, that was my personal experience and if you have any additional questions or concerns you can contact any of our Activities Specialists in Costa Rica as we are happy to share our experiences with you.
One final thought: I think it is important to note that the Pacuare River has class III/IV rapids and this trip takes you over 52 different rapids in over 18 miles. This is what makes the Rio Pacuare the best white water rafting river in Costa Rica. This means a LOT of fun and not a whole lot of time to rest. This is still a great river for first-timers, but you have to be old enough, strong enough and tall enough to sit up on the edge of the raft for up to 5 hours which is why the minimal age is 12 years old.