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Rafting in Costa Rica – 4 Best Rivers and White Water Rapids

If you’re planning a vacation to Costa Rica, your dreams have probably comprised lush rainforest, spider monkeys, and stunning beaches. But there’s so much more to this diverse, vibrant country.

Costa Rica has a lot to offer any enthusiastic adventure-seeker, and the biodiversity is matched by the diversity of people and cultures that populate it.

I didn’t spend long in Costa Rica, but I fell in love with the variety of things to do. With its waterfalls, rainforests, mountains and beaches it’s the perfect outdoor lovers destination.

While there is tons to do in this energetic country, rafting should definitely be on your Costa Rica bucket list. Alongside surfing and coffee tasting, of course.

If you’re planning to do some rafting during your Cosa Rica trip, this is the guide for you!

I’ve put together everything you need to know about rafting in Costa Rica, including the best rafting spots, prices, what you need and more.

Rafting with my friends in the Sarapiqui River

Rafting with my friends in the Sarapiqui River

Do you need travel insurance to go rafting in Costa Rica?

After my personal experience spending two nights in a private hospital in Tenerife, and having to pay for it out of pocket (it wasn’t cheap), I always recommend getting travel insurance.

You might not end up needing it, but for a small fee you can travel without worries. Personally, I suggest getting your travel insurance with  Heymondo.

Heymondo offers tailor made travel insurance, providing the best value for money for your specific trip. You can also buy it once you’re already abroad and have forgotten about it before flying (which, if you’re anything like me, is quite likely).

Besides the usual cancellation, medical expenses, luggage coverage and general travel insurance services, Heymondo also has a 24/7 doctor chat and instant assistance through their app.

As a Greta’s Travels reader, you get 5% off your Heymondo travel insurance!

Click here to get your 5% off Heymondo travel insurance!

One of the tougher parts of our rafting experience in Costa Rica

One of the tougher parts of our rafting experience in Costa Rica

White Water Rafting Costa Rica

There’s nothing quite like paddling calmly down a river, interspersed with some exciting rapids and rushing water.

In Costa Rica, you can choose to meander down a gentle river or battle white water rapids. It all depends on the river you choose, and the time of year that you vacation in.

And, if you want to experience it all, there are options that have a little bit of both. It can be a day of relaxing sightseeing and a memorable adrenaline rush all at once.

When the banks of the river are covered in what seems like hundreds of shades of green, dotted with rainbow coloured flowers, it’s quite spectacular. You’ll even be passing (and ducking under) sparkling waterfalls.

The Costa Rica squad getting ready to go rafting

The Costa Rica squad getting ready to go rafting

Costa Rica rafting is also a great way to spot wildlife. Spider monkeys are a pretty common sight, and always exciting.

And since Costa Rica contains 6% of the world’s biodiversity, while only making up 0.03% of its landmass, you’re sure to be impressed by the flora and fauna.

Rafting should definitely feature on your Costa Rica Itinerary.

Even if you’re not into adventurous activities, you can still do a relatively calm rafting course. I was a bit scared, but when I saw there were people under 12 and above 65 years of age in my rafting group I relaxed a bit.

Planning your Costa Rica rafting adventure is as easy as reading on and choosing the option that suits you best.

Safety and how-to explanation before our Costa Rican rafting experience

Safety and how-to explanation before our Costa Rican rafting experience

Best Costa Rica Rivers for Rafting

Here’s a breakdown of the best rivers for your rafting adventure. You really can’t go wrong with any of these options. But because there are quite a few differences between them, you should choose the experience that suits you best.

Pacuare River White Water Rafting in Costa Rica

This stunner is rated among the top 10 rivers in the world by National Geographic. It’s renowned for its exciting rapids, cascading waterfalls and incredible tropical scenery.

There is about 30km of class 3 and 4 whitewater rapids. And fortunately for those who are planning to head to Costa Rica in the dry season, the quality of these rapids doesn’t change much throughout the year.

Another drawing card for Pacuare River is that no previous experience is needed. It’s considered one of the best rivers in the world to practice rafting on, because it has it all, and you can be an absolute beginner.

Also, the animal and bird life in this rainforest is pretty unbeatable. You might even spot a toucan and a couple of spider monkeys.

So if you’re wanting to tick off all of the dream rafting experience boxes, this is probably the best white water rafting in Costa Rica.

Find out more about a Pacuare River rafting adventure here!

Me and my friends rafting in Costa Rica

Me and my friends rafting in Costa Rica

Sarapiquí River Rafting Costa Rica

This river holds a lot of excitement within its banks. During the rainy season, there are great level 3 and 4 rapids, particularly along the San Miguel section.

I rafted down the Sarapiqui River when I was in Costa Rica. I really enjoyed cruising down the river and having a couple of intense rapids to spice things up. There were people of all ages enjoying both the calm and exciting parts.

There are a couple of gorgeous natural pools to swim in. You can hop out of your raft to cool down occasionally.

And because the river flows between two national parks – Parque Nacional Juan Castro Blanco and Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo – you’re sure to see a lot of beauty.

If you’re tight on time, you can simply take a 3-hour tour of the most exciting part of the river, and be done by lunchtime. This is a great option if you already have a full schedule but want to fit in a couple of iconic thrills.

Because this river is just north of San Jose, it’s easy to enjoy this Costa Rica river rafting trip as a half-day activity.

You could also choose a full day option, and still make it home for dinner. Or use it as a fun, easy way to get from San Jose to La Fortuna, or visa versa.

Click here to book your Sarapiqui River rafting!

Rafting along a calm part of the Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica

Rafting along a calm part of the Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica

Peñas Blancas River Rafting Trip

If you’re looking for a rafting trip that’s perfect for the whole family, it doesn’t get much better than a Peñas Blancas River tour. It’s calm and easy, and only has level 1 rapids.

So whether you’re travelling with children, or if you’re simply wanting to go on an outdoor sightseeing expedition, this river is sure to make you very happy.

You’ll likely spot monkeys, sloths, and tons of birds as you make your way calmly down the river.

This is one of my favourite ways to take in the sights while having a little adventure. And because you’re paddling, swimming, and gazing around, it’s a fantastic active way to experience Costa Rica.

After all, vacations aren’t just about adrenaline rushes and challenges, as fun as those can be. Sometimes just relaxing while experiencing a unique perspective is exactly what you need to really make a vacation perfect.

Check out prices and availability here for Penas Blancas River rafting!

A fruit break during our rafting experience in Costa Rica

A fruit break during our rafting experience in Costa Rica

Catching some waves during our Costa Rica rafting

Catching some waves during our Costa Rica rafting

Balsa River Rafting Costa Rica

This river is perfect for those who want to take it one step up from cruising on Peñas Blancas.

Families can comfortably venture out onto this river, though it’s recommended that children be above the age of 10, as things can get a little exciting.

Like in the other Costa Rica rafting trips, you can spot an abundance of wildlife as you make your way down the river.

And with a couple class 2 rapids, a Balsa River rafting experience is an adrenaline rush for beginner and intermediate rafters.

Another great aspect of this river is that it’s near La Fortuna, where you can go check out Arenal Volcano National Park. You can also go on one of the best canopy and zipline tours in Costa Rica, and get an incredible view of the volcano.

You could even choose to do a canyoning and white water rafting tour! So Balsa River is a great option if you want to expand on your Costa Rican adventures, without travelling too far from place to place.

Click here to find out more about Balsa River rafting!

Getting ready to go rafting in Costa Rica

Getting ready to go rafting in Costa Rica

Rafting in Costa Rica

Rafting in Costa Rica

Best Time for Costa Rica White Water Rafting

The ideal time to go river rafting depends on what you’re wanting to experience. Because the dry and wet seasons create such a difference in the flow of the rivers, you’ll find that the seasons usually dictate your rafting experience.

If you’re wanting a great adventure, opt for the rainy season, between May and December. If you’re really wanting rushing water and a challenge, September and November are the peak rainfall months.

But if you’re wanting a reasonably dry rafting day (which isn’t hugely necessary, as the rain is warm in Costa Rica), it’s better to avoid those two months.

And if you’re wanting a calm, family-friendly coast down the river, head over in the dry season. There is almost no rain between January and April, so the water levels will drop drastically in most rivers.

Whatever time of year you visit, you’re sure to find a river that will support whatever experience it is that you’re looking for. Just be sure to check in advance, to avoid disappointment.

Though disappointment seems unlikely when surrounded by such beauty.

Blurry GoPro shots from our Costa Rica rafting experience

Blurry GoPro shots from our Costa Rica rafting experience

Final thoughts on Costa Rica White Water Rafting

The Costa Rica rivers are something else, and it’s an incredible experience just to be able to view the world from within the river. Watching the tropical rainforest, which teems with life, as you paddle along, is very special.

And that you can take stops, swim in the warm waters and duck under waterfalls, it’s certainly an experience you’ll never forget.

Most of the tours also include lots of fresh fruit and delicious traditional lunches. That way you can experience the wonders of Costa Rican food while you’re at it. Great food always makes a great addition to a pretty perfect day.

Be sure to have your camera ready, so that you can capture the animals that you spot and the smiles on everyone’s faces.

It might be handy to get either a GoPro or a waterproof cellphone pouch, so that you can catch these moments, without sacrificing your phone in the process.

Happy faces at the end of our rafting experience in Costa Rica

Happy faces (except for Jordan) at the end of our rafting experience in Costa Rica

Whichever river you choose, and whatever time of the year you plan to head to Costa Rica, you’re sure to have a memorable experience. After all, on the rivers in Costa Rica, the fun of rafting is only half the experience.

The incredible tropical scenery and wildlife glimpses make up the other half. Add in some tasty food, and lots of happy faces, and you have a day that goes above and beyond.

Rafting was one of my favourite activities to do in Costa Rica. I hope you find this rafting tours overview useful in planning your own rafting adventure in Costa Rica!

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Photo collage of a sloth and a group of friends rafting in Costa Rica with text overlay saying "where to go rafting in Costa Rica"

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