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Whitewater rafting !!

Adventure Guide to Costa Rica

Adventures on Water

Nothing means adventure more than whitewater rafting on one of Costa Rica’s famous rainforest-fed rivers. It’s the one trip we take every time we’re in-country. Challenging curls and whirls of whitewater – rolling, roiling rapids – are enjoyed in six- to eightperson self-bailing rafts. These raft trips – offered by a select few safetyconscious tour operators – are good for everyone, from late pre-teens to dexterous senior citizens (depending on the river levels).

White Water Rafting in Costa Rica Our mini-bus strains uphill through the cloud-shrouded Braulio Carrillo National Forest, a sprawling nature preserve that bridges the Pacific and Caribbean halves of the country – across the mountainous Continental Divide. An hour later, on the other side, we pile out of our bus and into a rugged, mudsplattered, four-wheel-drive vehicle. Heading down a precarious road hacked out of the jungle, we drive as near as we can get to the river. Then we hike the last 200 meters/658 feet downhill, past enough colorful heliconia flowers to stock an expansive florist. The rainforest here is thick, pungent and alive with sounds. It speaks its own language – lyrical but somewhat dangerous – much different than the woods near our home. At the bottom of a ravine, we don yellow helmets and orange life jackets and push off into the Río Pacuare. The raft in front of us is sucked into the thick misty shadows ahead and its occupants’ screams echo up the steep verdant walls of jungle on either side. Michi, our guide, looks at us and smiles with anticipation. Suddenly, our bright orange raft rushes after the first one – tossing and twisting in the water as we paddle furiously in the rainswollen rapids. The raft slides down into the swirling water below and, just as suddenly, we emerge from our first rapids triumphant. Everyone is whooping in excitement.

Three big river-rafting operators own their own lodges and also work with other adventure expeditions. These are: Costa Rica Expeditions, the largest of its kind; Ríos Tropicales; and Adventuras Naturales. Coast to Coast Adventures  runs the most physically challenging adventures. They also sponsor a grueling, two-week race across Costa Rica each year. Trips combine mountain and road biking, hiking, climbing, rafting, swimming and much more.

The most popular rivers to raft during a day-trip from San José are the Reventazón and the Pacuare (pa-QUAR-ree). The former used to include Class IV & V rapids until a dam in Turrialba softened the river’s currents. Today it features Class II, III and a few IV rapids. The Pacuare, however, offers much more spectacular scenery as it flows down through primary as well as secondary deep green rainforest with Class III and IV rapids. When you’re not shooting rapids you can watch brilliant blue morpho butterflies drift by and jungle birds along the riverbank. The Pacuare is by far the classiest trip and boasts two rustic luxury lodges, one owned by Adventuras Naturales and the other by Ríos Tropicales. You get to stay overnight at one of the lodges on the two-day trips, which are filled with hiking and nature activities. Companionship comes from fellow adventurers. The Pacuare offers the river ride that most people see only in brochures.

The Sarapiquí is a more gentle raft float river strictly for beginners or birders. One-day tours offer breakfast and lunch and often combine the trip with a visit to the La PazWaterfalls en route.   Most day-trips start around US $75 per person, including transportation, breakfast and lunch.  Other rivers rafted around the country include the Corbicí, General, Río Naranjo, Peñas Blancas, Río Bravo and Río Toro – proof that Costa Rica boasts more whitewater rapids per square mile than any other country in the hemisphere.

La Paz Waterfall  is a pleasant natural wonder on the slopes of the Poás Volcano (admission about US $16) in Montaña Azul de Heredia.  Not a single waterfall but a series of five powerful falls and cataracts that crash dramatically down a steep, heavily wooded gorge. You can climb many steps and walk several paths along the river. The orchid gardens attract scores of hummingbirds. There’s also an indoor/outdoor buffet-style restaurant. Most visitors arrive with a group tour, usually one that combines other attractions such as the Butterfly Farm or a visit to Poás Volcano. La Paz, which means “Peace,” is located six km/four miles north of Vara Blanca. Apleasant, but long, day-cruise to Isla Tortuga in the Gulf of Nicoya can be arranged.

A bus ride to Puntarenas and back, light breakfast, onboard drinks and lunch on the small island are included in the US $100 fee. Another day-cruise line is Breeze Cruise from Freedom that departs Los Sueños Marina near Jacó and goes to Quepos, Manuel Antonio Park. Speaking of overseas, Cruise West has a fun, nine-day cruise route up and down the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and Coiba Island off Panama. An 11-night sail on one of their intimate luxury ships includes passing through the Panama Canal. Vessels carry (100 passengers in 50 ocean-view cabins. List prices in 2002 were US $2,000-3,000. If you’re already in Costa Rica and tempted to sail, local Tico travel agents can book this for you. Seven-night sailing yacht cruises are offered by Windstar Cruises.  Ships depart from Puerto Caldera, near Puntarenas, and sail to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, then down the Costa Rica coast as far south as Quepos. If you are a serious diver or naturalist, a voyage into the Pacific to Cocos Island could be the highlight of your trip. 

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