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).
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
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.