White Water Rafting Costa Rica
A Real Deal Team Members Personal Experience Rafting the Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica
Last summer, I had the chance to visit Costa Rica where I spent 3 of my 10 day Costa Rica vacation in the small town of La Fortuna, in the province of Alajuela. Let me tell you…rafting down a raging river was one of the most memorable experiences I have from my 10 day trip to Costa Rica. Actually I take that back...white water rafting in Costa Rica was THE most memorable event of my entire Costa Rica vacation!!
La Fortuna is most famous for the almost perfect-coned Arenal Volcano. In 1968, this active-but-currently-sleeping volcano’s eruption caused extensive damage to surrounding towns and a death toll of 82. What was then called El Burio had the (good) fortune, or la fortuna – to be spared by the devastation, and since then the geography and economy of the whole region has changed, making La Fortuna one of the most visited tourist destinations in Costa Rica.
Sarapiqui was the river I rafted. It was supposed to be the Toro River but the water levels were not suitable for a run that day, so we were taken to another river of the same class instead...Class III-IV, baby! The highest rapid class is Class VI, which is basically unnavigable while class III & IV rapids are considered intermediate to advanced for commercial rafting, so it was a pretty nerve-wracking experience for someone who doesn't swim! Luckily though, I did this rafting excursion with Wave Expeditions, the premiere river rafting company in La Fortuna so I felt a bit more secure.
Early that Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised that Wave called Hotel Rey Arenal's reception to ask if it was ok that I cross to the other side of the street, since there was a road improvement project going on that morning and the van was not going to be able to pull in to the driveway. I hadn't even gotten picked up yet and already I getting excellent customer service? YESSSS!!!!
From my hotel, we passed by the operator's office close to a small church and Parque La Fortuna. The guides quickly packed the rafts on to the top of the van, put the rest of the gear inside, and when everyone was done reading and signing waiver forms, we were off on our white water rafting adventure.
Our guide José, a member of the Costa Rica men's whitewater rafting team (woah!), talked about the history and gave us some trivia about the sights we saw along the way. We stopped for a bathroom break at a riverside restaurant famous for the iguanas that live on the trees that line the banks, and when we were done taking pictures, off to the river we went.
Grab a big breakfast before you do this activity! It came as a surprise to me, although it served me well that day, but most restaurants open quite early and serve really good food despite the ungodly hour. The typical Costa Rica breakfast of "Gallo Pinto” is my top recommendation (love that rice!), but any food is fine really. Once on the water the adrenaline will definitely give you a boost, but it would be best if you had the energy to paddle to begin with.
Trust me...you will need your strength!
José gave us all the necessary instructions about paddling commands, what to do if you fall off the raft (what?!), what to do if the raft flips over (are you kidding me?!), and all other safety reminders while we were still in the van. Once we got to the Sarapiqui river drop point which is pretty much just the river and rocks, we immediately geared up. No time for shenanigans, folks! We've got a river to ride!
Our group was split into 2 teams, and within the raft our seating arrangement was decided on by our team leader, according to weight. My team leader was Momo, a great guide that lives in the area, so when the van arrived to river, him and the guys in the safety kayaks were already there setting up.
These guys move like clock-work, man! I was impressed, intimidated, excited, scared, and pumped all at the same time, and within minutes of arriving, we were whitewater rafting down the Sarapiquí!
To describe this experience is not impossible but difficult…so here are some pics instead.
I survived this
Be sure to listen closely to your guides and work together as a team. It is so very important that the team gets in sync with each other so that the raft remains stable and you can safely navigate the rapids without risk of falling out.
Great Run, Team!
We ended the run by changing at the encampment beside the river and went to have lunch in a small ranch close by. While we waited for our food we viewed the pictures taken that day, and then they treated us to a tasting of Casique, Costa Rica’s local liquor distilled from sugar cane juice.
From here the group separated…the guides that live in the area headed home, and the rest of us returned to La Fortuna. On the way back I sat between the driver and the José, and this time I learned a lot about Tico colloquialisms and local tidbits.
All in all, this river rafting excursion in Costa Rica is top-notch, and for me personally, unforgettable. I will say, that if you like intensity, excitement, fun, using your body and nature, you definitely have to live this one out this one yourself.