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WE HAVE RAFTED COSTA RICA’S RIVERS 2000+ TIMES. YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT.
We are no strangers to the field of white water rafting in Costa Rica (especially white water rafting the Pacuare River, which, combined, we have done more than two thousand times). We know the rivers both personally (being avid rafters) and professionally (both working as a tour guide on the river and handling rafting tour reservations), so it is no surprise that so many travellers turn to us for help getting their Costa Rica rafting tour questions answered.
If you’re planning to go rafting in Costa Rica, you may be asking yourselves many of the same questions that other travellers wonder about, too. On the chance that you are, we have compiled the below list of the most popular Costa Rica rafting tour questions that we receive, including our answers to each. Need to know about the river’s rapids? A particular tour operator? Rafting seasons? What to bring rafting? If your child can participate? No problem! We’ve got you covered, and remember, if we haven’t yet answered your Costa Rica rafting tour question below, you can always leave your question as a comment for us below and we’ll add it (as well as our answer) to our list.
- Some of the answers and tips provided below were pulled from our other rafting-related blog posts, The Best River For Rafting In Costa Rica, The Pacuare River Rafting Tour, White Water Rafting In Costa Rica: Go Big Or Go Home, and The Pacuare River Family. For all of the information we have to share about white water rafting in Costa Rica, we recommend reading each blog post linked to above in its entirety.
OUR ANSWERS TO YOUR COSTA RICA RAFTING TOUR QUESTIONS
Is previous rafting experience required for participation in a Costa Rica rafting tour?
No. All Costa Rica rafting tours include a safety demonstration (and all necessary rafting equipment) regardless of a participant’s level of experience with the activity. While rafting experience is an asset, it is not required.
Do I need to be able to know how to swim in order to participate in a Costa Rica rafting tour?
No. Being able to swim may help you feel more comfortable in and around water, and that level of comfort may heighten your overall rafting experience. But, all Costa Rica rafting tours include life jackets (among other safety equipment), so knowing how to swim is not required.
Do I need to be in good physical condition in order to participate in a Costa Rica rafting tour?
Yes. You do not need to have completed an Ironman competition or run a marathon to do so, but you should be mobile (i.e., able to climb into and out of the raft without issue), have the ability to use your upper body and arms to paddle, have the ability to bend your knees to sit comfortably in the raft, and not have any preexisting medical conditions that could be worsened by adrenaline-inducing activities, sudden and jerky movements, and/or physical exercise.
How old do you have to be to participate in a Costa Rica rafting tour?
This depends entirely on the river you plan to raft, the rapid class of the river, and the tour operator running the tour. In addition, although every rafting tour outfitter has a minimum age requirement for participation in their rafting tour(s), the limit may be negotiable with the tour operator according to the time of year you plan to travel during (especially if you plan to be in Costa Rica during the dry/summer season), the height and weight of your child, and his or her level of rafting experience.
Costa Rica white water rafting tour minimum age limits by river, rapid class, and tour operator:
Pacuare River; class III/IV (Exploradores Outdoors): 12 years old
Reventazon River; class II/III (Exploradores Outdoors): 6 years old
Sarapiqui River; class III/IV (Desafio Adventure Company): 13 years old
Sarapiqui River; class II/III (Desafio Adventure Company): 10 years old
Balsa River; class II/III (Desafio Adventure Company): 10 years old
Tenorio River; class III/IV (Desafio Adventure Company): 13 years old
Tenorio River; class II/III (Desafio Adventure Company): 10 years old
Naranjo River Chorro Section; class IV (H2O Rios Tropicales): 15 years old
Naranjo River; class III/IV (H2O Rios Tropicales): 8 years old
Savegre River; class II/III (H2O Rios Tropicales): 6 years old
What is the difference between a class II/III river in Costa Rica and a class III/IV river in Costa Rica? Should I choose a class II/III river or a class III/IV river?
River “classes” (sometimes referred to as “grades”) signify river difficulty. In general, class II signifies a novice class, class III signifies an intermediate class, and class IV signifies an advanced class. Classes are often grouped together (e.g., as class II/III or class III/IV) when the river includes a combination of easier and more difficult sections. In Costa Rica, most white water rafting tours are run on either class II/III or class III/IV rivers. In layman’s terms (at least in Costa Rica), class II/III rivers are best chosen by timid rafters and/or rafters with children who may be too young to participate in class III/IV river rafting tours. In contrast, class III/IV rivers are the most common rafting tour option; they are available to all travellers above the minimum age limit for participation, they are ideal for both beginner and experienced rafters, and they provide the most thrilling rafting tour experience.
What colour/clarity is the river’s water?
Unfortunately this is impossible to predict, as the clarity (and colour) of a river is dependent on a number of factors that change from day to day (most notably, the degree of dirt/mud flowing into the river from its surrounding landscape/mountains due to recent rainfall). Throughout Costa Rica, we have rafted rivers nearly crystal clear, just as we have rafted rivers of what felt like flowing chocolate; approximately 70% of the time, the rivers are relatively clear.
Will I see wildlife during my Costa Rica rafting tour?
Unfortunately this too is impossible to predict, as the act of wildlife-spotting can never be 100% guaranteed. This being said, while rafting, we typically spot a variety of birds and butterflies flying overhead, egrets and herons perched on the shorelines, and the occasional iguana sunbathing on a tree branch. From time to time, monkeys can be heard, as can the river’s natural soundtrack of bird calls, cicada buzzes, and roaring rapids. The trouble with trying to accomplish more in-depth wildlife-spotting during a fast-paced activity such as white water rafting, however, is that the nature of the flowing tour makes it impossible to stop along the way to study any fauna seen. As a result, to avoid disappointment, our best recommendation for all Costa Rica rafting tour participants is to recognize in advance that the activity is an adrenaline-inducing adventure tour–not a wildlife-focused tour–but that a variety of critters will likely be encountered along the way.
What happens if it rains the day of my Costa Rica rafting tour?
Given that Costa Rica is part rainforest, rain is inevitable. For this reason, the majority of tours and activities run rain or shine. However, in the event of extreme weather, such as significant rainfall that could increase a river’s water to a dangerous level, the river rafting tour would be cancelled by the tour operator.
What happens if my Costa Rica rafting tour reservation is cancelled?
In the event of a rare river tour cancellation issued by a rafting tour operator, the tour operator will either offer a rafting tour experience on a alternative river (if available and safe) or make an attempt to reschedule the original river rafting tour experience for a different day/time (usually the next day). If/when neither of these solutions is possible, payment for the cancelled tour is not required; if no prepayment has been provided to the tour operator, then no payment upon tour cancellation would be due, and in the event that a prepayment has already been provided to the tour operator, a refund would be issued.
Are Costa Rica rafting tours ever cancelled for reasons other than high river levels?
Not usually. We cannot say “never”, because life is full of surprises and anything is possible. However, throughout our entire history rafting Costa Rica’s rivers and working with rafting outfitters, we can only remember a few times when rafting tours were cancelled due to non-water-level issues (the cancellations were due to obstacles blocking river access, such as fallen trees or mudslides). While cancellations that result from high river levels are rare, cancellations that result from other causes are even more infrequent.
What do I wear for my Costa Rica rafting tour?
In short, wear comfortable clothing that you don’t mind being wet in. Most men wear bathing suit shorts with a t-shirt, and most women wear shorts and a t-shirt or tank top with a bathing suit underneath. Water shoes, running shoes, or strap-on sandals are a must as flip flops or the use of other unsecured footwear is not permitted. Hats are also not permitted, as a helmet must be worn during the tour (if you have long hair, consider leaving your hair down or tying it in a low ponytail/bun to prevent discomfort while wearing the helmet). Do not wear any valuable jewelry or accessories to avoid losing them in the river.
What do I bring for my Costa Rica rafting tour?
If you plan to use your Costa Rica rafting tour as a city-to-city transportation-inclusive tour (as described in our related blog post Costa Rica Tour Transportation: How To Use Tours To Travel Between Destinations) bring all of your trip luggage with you to the Costa Rica rafting tour.
Separate from the rest of your luggage (if you plan to use the rafting tour as a city-to-city transportation-inclusive tour) and in addition to the clothes you plan to wear during the rafting tour (as described in our answer to the question “What do I wear for my Costa Rica rafting tour” above), plan to bring a towel and a set of dry clothes (including a t-shirt or tank top, shorts or pants, undergarments, and footwear) to change into upon completion of the rafting tour. Although most tour operators provide tour participants with plastic bags for storing wet clothes in, it is not a bad idea to bring a plastic bag of your own, in case one is not provided. Bring a high SPF waterproof sunscreen for adequate sun protection while on the river, any medication you may need to take throughout the course of the day, and cash for tipping your tour guide and/or purchasing rafting tour souvenirs (such as photo CDs and/or t-shirts) after the river trip.
What do I bring with me in the raft?
In addition to the clothes you plan to wear during the rafting tour (as described in our answer to the question “What do I wear for my Costa Rica rafting tour” above), the only other items you should plan to bring with you to the river (i.e., in the raft) are a high SPF waterproof sunscreen for adequate sun protection while on the river, and any medication you may need to take throughout the course of the day. Your tour guide will indicate where you should leave your other belongings (such as your towel and change of dry clothes/footwear) while you are on the river.
Is there an option to buy rafting photos or videos from the day as a tour souvenir?
In most cases, yes. Unless by fluke one is not available the day of a particular tour, a “paparazzi” photographer will accompany the rafting tour group down the river (usually in a his or her own kayak) in order to capture photos and/or videos of the day’s events. Access to such photos and/or videos is available for purchase at the end of each rafting tour. Although the cost varies, the photo and/or video souvenirs typically range in price from $20.00 to $40.00.
Is it possible to use Costa Rica rafting tours as a means of transportation between cities?
Yes! As we describe in our related post Costa Rica Tour Transportation: How To Use Tours To Travel Between Destinations, many Costa Rica rafting tours offer complimentary transportation between two separate Costa Rican cities. For a complete list of our recommended Costa Rica rafting tour options that include a pick-up in one city before the tour and a drop-off in another city after the tour, please visit our article linked to above.
I plan to use the rafting tour as a means of travelling between two destinations; what do I do with my luggage while I participate in the rafting tour?
Depending on the river you plan to visit and the tour operator running the rafting trip (as each outfitter has their own luggage storage plan), your luggage will be safely secured for you while you raft. In most cases, luggage is stored in lockers (large enough to contain multiple suitcases), however for more remote river trips, luggage may be stored in the tour operator’s tour transportation vehicle, which is locked and guarded by the tour operator’s driver.
What happens to my city-to-city transportation service if my Costa Rica rafting tour reservation is cancelled?
The transportation service is still provided. Since many travellers use city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours as a way of travelling between destinations, the transportation portion of the reservation is still provided regardless of whether the rafting portion of the day’s activities is cancelled. For example, if you plan to use a Pacuare River rafting tour as a mode of transportation between San Jose and La Fortuna but the river trip is cancelled the day of your tour, you will still receive transportation between San Jose and La Fortuna to help maintain your scheduled trip itinerary. In these cases, when a rafting tour is cancelled (and an alternative river is not able to be run in its place) but a city-to-city transportation service is still provided, the rafting tour is charged at a discounted rate; the entire reservation cost does not apply since no rafting tour was run, however partial payment is charged to cover the cost of the transportation service provided between cities, as well as the cost of any meals or other services provided. The exact discount awarded depends on the river and the tour operator selected, as each tour operator’s cancellation policies vary from the next.
Are meals included with Costa Rica rafting tours?
In most cases, yes. The majority of Costa Rica rafting tours are 3/4-day or full-day excursions that include lunch (in some cases, breakfast and lunch). The few half-day rafting trips that exist in Costa Rica typically do not include a meal, but they usually include a snack (such as fresh fruit and/or cookies, as well as a beverage).
Do I tip my Costa Rica rafting tour guide? How much do I tip my Costa Rica rafting tour guide?
Although Costa Ricans tend not to tip, tipping is a common practice exercised by many foreign travellers who opt to visit Costa Rica, and as a result, it has come to be expected by tour guides who offer a valuable service worthy of appreciation. For tipping amount recommendations (assuming your rafting tour guide was friendly, knowledgeable, fair, safe, and contributed to your enjoyment of the Costa Rica rafting experience), aim for 10% of your rafting tour’s cost, or 15% if you’re feeling generous.
How long does it take to get to the river?
This answer depends entirely on which river you plan to raft and where you plan to depart from. Since river trips can depart from nearly every popular city in the country, the drive time could be anywhere from ten minutes to three hours long. If you have a specific Costa Rica rafting tour in mind, as well as a specific departure location, please post these details as a comment at the bottom of this page and we will respond with an approximate driving duration for the route.
Can I drive myself to and from the river?
In some cases yes, and in other cases no. For many Costa Rica rafting tours, the tour operator has a meeting spot, center, or clubhouse of sorts nearby the river. When this is present, travellers may drive themselves to and from the meeting spot if they would prefer to do so, as secure parking is available onsite (the tour operator’s transportation vehicle would then be used to get from the meeting spot to the river put-in site, as well as from the river take-out site back to the meeting spot). In the event that a tour operator is not able to provide a meeting spot, center, or clubhouse of sorts, we strongly recommend that travellers do not try to drive themselves to and from the river. Not only will vehicle parking be unsecured at the river, but since the river take-out site is different than the river put-in site, once the rafting trip is complete, you’ll need to figure out a way to get back to your vehicle upon completion of the rafting tour.
OUR COSTA RICA RAFTING TOUR TIPS AND IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
In addition to the questions posed and answered above, familiarize yourself with our helpful Costa Rica rafting tour tips, advisories, and other important things to know.
River levels are determined by the amount of rainfall that a river receives the day/night before (and early morning of) the rafting tour date.
Costa Rica’s rivers are typically higher during the rain/wet/green season (May-December) and lower during the summer/dry season (January-April). This being said, a significant amount of rain received overnight on any day of the year can increase the river’s water level and affect a rafting tour’s ability to run the following morning. For this reason, river levels and rapids are difficult to predict and cannot be guaranteed in advance. This means that unfortunately there is no surefire way to know whether a rafting tour will or will not run on a particular date, and similarly, there is no way to know whether the rapids will be awesome or average on the day you plan to raft.
When is the best time of year to go rafting in Costa Rica?
If we considered (on average) all of Costa Rica’s class III/IV rivers for white water rafting and gave the water/rapid level a score between 1 and 10 (1 being the lowest level we have seen and 10 being the highest level we have seen), this is what to expect from month to month:
February: 3 or 4
March: 2 or 3
April (first few weeks, depending on whether the rain/green season starts early or late): 1
April (the last week, depending on whether the rain/green season starts early or late): 5
May: 5 or 6
October: 7, 8, or 9
November: 8, 9, or 10
December (first few weeks, depending on whether the dry/summer season starts early or late): 8
December (last few weeks, depending on whether the dry/summer season starts early or late): 5
Rafters absolutely must wear secure shoes, a life jacket, and a helmet when participating in a Costa Rica rafting tour.
The use of a life jacket and a helmet during a Costa Rica rafting tour is nonnegotiable. So too is the requirement to use secured footwear; flip flops and other shoes that can slip off easily are not permitted. In fact, many tour operators will deny travellers participation in the tour or require them to purchase water shoes or strap-on sandals onsite when improper tour footwear is presented.
No rafting tour operator wants to see any harm done to any traveller (nor do they want to risk their company’s reputation), so if a river was ever unfit to run, the day’s rafting tour would be cancelled.
One of the most common questions we are asked about white water rafting in Costa Rica is: “is it safe?”. While recognizing that to a degree risk is inherent in all adventure activities (it is unavoidable), the short answer is, “Yes, it is safe.” However, we could also add, “…the rafting tour operator wouldn’t risk the lives of its tour participants and tour guides if it weren’t.” Safety measures (literally, river level measurements) are taken daily to ensure the river is not too dangerous to run, so if a rafting trip on any given day is a go (provided the tour operator can be trusted), the river is considered safe to run. Although there are many Costa Rica rafting tour outfitters available to choose from, we recommend Exploradores Outdoors, Desafio Adventure Company, and H2O Rios Tropicales with the most confidence.
Some Costa Rica rafting tours are city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours (i.e., tours that allow you to get picked up at one destination before the rafting tour and get dropped off at a different destination after the rafting tour).
Costa Rica rafting tours lead the pack of possible city-to-city transportation-inclusive tour options (to learn more, don’t miss our related blog post Costa Rica Tour Transportation: How To Use Tours To Travel Between Destinations). This means that if you plan to travel between two of Costa Rica’s popular destinations (including San Jose, La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde, Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, Samara, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, Conchal, Flamingo, Coco, Hermosa, Papagayo, Liberia, and more), your chances of finding a rafting tour option that connects the two are good. As we outline in our related blog post Planning A Trip To Costa Rica? Read This First!, we recommend a bottom-up approach to trip planning, which encourages travellers to identify their tour preferences before other trip decisions are made (such as decisions regarding which destinations to visit, which hotels to stay at, and which transportation services to travel with), not the other way around. If you plan on going white water rafting while in Costa Rica, give your Costa Rica rafting tour choice preferential treatment; doing so can save you precious vacation time and travel funds in the end.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have a Costa Rica rafting tour question that we haven’t yet answered above? Leave it for us below!
If you’re more of a visual learner, take a moment to view our gallery photos below from some of our Costa Rica rafting tour adventures.