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Pacuare River Rafting Tour: Must-Know Info From A Former River Guide

Pacuare River Rafting Tour: Must-Know Info From A Former River Guide

Last updated on May 13th, 2022 at 08:16 am EST

Do you want to know our pick for the BEST RIVER FOR WHITE-WATER RAFTING in Costa Rica? It is featured on DIY Costa Rica!
Want to save money in Costa Rica?
Our sister site, Pura Vida! eh? Inc., has rafting tour discounts. Con mucho gusto (you’re welcome) and pura vida!
🙂

We are Pacuare River experts!

Toot! Toot! That’s the sound of us tooting our own horn. We’re humble people, so very rarely do we accept—let alone share with others—how spectacularly awesome we are at something when we think that’s the case. However, when it comes to talk of Costa Rica’s Pacuare River and Pacuare River rafting tours, we wouldn’t hesitate to shout from the highest mountaintop, “We’ve got this!” How could we not? Between the two of us, we’ve rafted (or kayaked) the Pacuare River more than 2,000 times.

Yes, you read that right. 2,000 times.

As we mention in our related post The Pacuare River Family, Ricky and I are part of a very special river family here in Costa Rica. Not only are we incredibly lucky to have formed longstanding relationships with a variety of Costa Rican rafting tour operators, but we consider the owners and employees of several rafting tour companies to be our family. We know just about every white-water rafting tour guide who has worked on the Pacuare River over the past 15 years, and we’re proud to call many our friends. We also know the Pacuare River inside and out. It’s safe to say that white-water rafting on the river is so much a passion of ours that we don’t just know the names of the river’s rapids, we know how to read them, how to maneuver them, and how their drops, swells, and holes have evolved over time. Arguably, we know the Pacuare River better than any other attraction in Costa Rica.

More specifically, Ricky knows just about everything there is to know about the Pacuare River because he worked as a white-water rafting tour guide and safety kayaker on the river for many years. (Don’t miss our related blog post White Water Rafting Costa Rica: Go Big Or Go Home for pictures of some of Ricky’s most thrilling and adrenaline-filled white-water rafting experiences.) While Ricky spent his time on the river rafting 30 kilometers of rapids each day, I honed my knowledge of Pacuare River rafting tour logistics by working alongside rafting tour reservations teams; answering travelers’ questions about the river, rafting tour options, and tour outfitters; and securing awesome discounts for Pacuare River rafting tours that can be obtained from our sister website Pura Vida! eh? Inc. From the moment you decide to go white-water rafting in Costa Rica to the moment you complete the Pacuare River rafting tour, you can rely on us to make sure the adventure is one you won’t soon forget.

Have a general question about white-water rafting in Costa Rica?

We answer 20+ of the most popular Costa Rica rafting tour questions, plus offer our rafting tour tips and important information to know before you go. Don’t miss our related blog post:

Your Costa Rica Rafting Tour Questions Answered!

To learn more about the Pacuare River in particular, including white-water rafting tours run on the Pacuare River, continue reading below. Though several tour outfitters run white-water rafting tours on the Pacuare River, most of the tour-related information provided below pertains to Exploradores Outdoors‘s Pacuare River rafting tour, which is our preferred Pacuare River rafting trip.

Pacuare River rafting tour start and end points

The Pacuare River’s course

The Pacuare River headwaters (where the river starts) are found high up in the Talamanca Mountain Range, south of the city of Turrialba. The river flows north down the mountainside, loosely following Highway 10 until it meets the lowland town of Siquirres. At Siquirres, the river passes under Highway 32 (Costa Rica’s gateway to the Caribbean coast), winds through primarily uninhabited land that divides the coastal destinations of Tortuguero and Limon, and empties into the Caribbean Sea.

The section of the Pacuare River that’s commonly run during public white-water rafting tours is a section that’s known as lower Pacuare. Though rafting tour outfitters vary in where they start their tour (this is called the river “put-in” location) and where they end their tour (this is called the river “take-out” location), most companies run 1-day rafting tours that begin at a section of the river that lies just east of the community of Tres Equis and end at a section of the river that flows just beyond Siquirres. For this reason, several Pacuare River rafting tour companies have operation centers that are located in or around Siquirres.

What is a Pacuare River operation center?

In general, a rafting tour outfitter’s operation center is the site where their Pacuare River rafting tour begins and ends. It is also usually where breakfast is served (if breakfast is provided with your rafting tour), where you can change into the clothes you wish to wear to the river (if you aren’t already wearing them), where the rafting tour company stores its rafts and rafting equipment, and where your luggage and/or personal belongings will be stored while you’re out on the river.

If you choose to raft with our preferred Pacuare River rafting tour operator, Exploradores Outdoors, here’s what your interaction at their operation center in Siquirres (called the Exploration Center) will look like:

  • You’ll arrive at the operation center early in the morning via the tour operator’s complimentary pick-up service (see the “Pacuare River departure and drop-off destinations” section below for details)
  • You’ll enjoy a hearty, buffet breakfast at the operation center (the cost of breakfast is included in the cost of the rafting tour)
  • From the operation center, you’ll board a large van that will deliver you to the river put-in location (an approximate 35-minute drive from the operation center) where you’ll board a raft
  • Following completion of the rafting tour, you’ll climb out of the raft and walk a few steps back to the operation center (conveniently, the river take-out location is right in front of the operation center)
  • You’ll be able to change into a dry set of clothes and/or purchase souvenirs before departing from the operation center in the afternoon via the tour operator’s complimentary drop-off service (see the “Pacuare River departure and drop-off destinations” section below for details)

Pacuare River rafting tour departure and drop-off destinations

One of the best things about Exploradores Outdoors‘s Pacuare River rafting tour is that the experience is a city-to-city transportation-inclusive tour. (See our related blog post Costa Rica Tour Transportation: How To Use Tours To Travel Between Destinations for more information about city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours.) This means that, as part of Exploradores Outdoors‘s complimentary tour transportation service, you can choose to get picked up and dropped off in different cities for free. Securing this arrangement is as simple as requesting different pick-up and drop-off locations when you reserve the Pacuare River rafting tour.

Choosing to get picked up in one city and get dropped off in another can maximize your travel time and minimize your travel costs. Not only will making use of Exploradores Outdoors‘s complimentary city-to-city transportation service allow you to participate in the Pacuare River rafting tour while you travel between two destinations, it will also save you from hiring an alternative service (such as a shared shuttle service or a private transfer service) to transport you between two destinations during your trip.

Below are the current pick-up and drop-off locations (mix and match as you like!) that you’re welcome to select, free of charge, with your Pacuare River rafting tour assuming you choose to raft with Exploradores Outdoors:

  • San Jose (downtown core only; the tour operator may apply an extra fee to offer a pick-up and/or drop-off at a location on the outskirts of San Jose)
  • SJO Airport area (Rio Segundo part of Alajuela only; the tour operator may apply an extra fee to offer a pick-up and/or drop-off at a location elsewhere around Alajuela)
  • La Fortuna (the tour operator may apply an extra fee to offer a pick-up and/or drop-off at a location on the outskirts of La Fortuna)
  • Limon (the tour operator can only provide a pick-up and/or drop-off at their central meeting place in Limon, not Limon-area hotels)
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (the tour operator may apply an extra fee to offer a pick-up and/or drop-off at a location on the outskirts of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca)
  • Cahuita (the tour operator may apply an extra fee to offer a pick-up and/or drop-off at a location on the outskirts of Cahuita)
  • Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui (the tour operator may apply an extra fee to offer a pick-up and/or drop-off at a location on the outskirts of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui)
  • Turrialba (the tour operator may apply an extra fee to offer a pick-up and/or drop-off at a location on the outskirts of Turrialba)
  • Siquirres (if you have your own rental car, you can opt to drive yourselves to/from the tour operator’s Exploration Center in Siquirres)

How long does it take to get to the Pacuare River?

The following are approximate drive times for travel between popular Pacuare River departure destinations and Siquirres, where several Pacuare River operation centers are located. Note that actual drive times may be longer or shorter depending on the exact hotel you plan to stay at and where it falls in relation to the departure destination’s downtown core.

From downtown San Jose to the Pacuare River (operation center)Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes
From the SJO Airport area to the Pacuare River (operation center)Approximately 2.5 hours
From downtown La Fortuna to the Pacuare River (operation center)Approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes
From downtown Limon to the Pacuare River (operation center)Approximately 1 hour
From downtown Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to the Pacuare River (operation center)Approximately 2 hours
From downtown Cahuita to the Pacuare River (operation center) Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes
From downtown Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui to the Pacuare River (operation center)Approximately 1.5 hours
From downtown Turrialba to the Pacuare River (operation center)Approximately 1 hour
From downtown Siquirres to the Pacuare River (operation center)Approximately 5 minutes

Rafting on the Pacuare River

White-water rafting trips down the beautiful Pacuare River are the highlight of many travelers’ Costa Rican vacations. If you’re up for it, here’s what to expect from the trip.

Preparing for the Pacuare River rafting tour at the operation center

After you arrive at the operation center and eat breakfast, you’ll prepare for the river trip by determining which items (if any) you need to keep with you during the rafting tour and storing all other personal belongings in the tour operator’s giant lockers (locker use is free). Note that Exploradores Outdoors‘s lockers are large enough to fit several large suitcases. They’re also locked when you depart for the river and reopened when you return from the rafting trip.

In addition to the luggage storage you’ll find at the operation center, each raft is equipped with a waterproof barrel where small, essential items can be stored throughout the duration of the rafting tour. The only items you’re permitted to bring aboard the raft and store in the barrel are:

  • Sunscreen and/or insect repellent (ideally waterproof varieties)
  • Medication and/or medical apparatuses that you need to have with you for use during the hours you’ll be on the river (roughly between 9:00am 3:00pm)
  • A bottle of water

Items that you’re permitted to bring aboard the raft (that don’t need to be stored in the barrel) include:

  • Sunglasses with a tight band to ensure they stay securely on your face during the rafting tour
  • A GoPro camera (or similar action camera) with a helmet apparatus to ensure the camera stays securely on your helmet during the rafting tour

Other items that you may have brought with you to the operation center which are not permitted to be kept in the raft must be kept in the tour operator’s lockers. These items include, but are not limited to, personal identification documents, car/hotel keys, jewelry, spare clothing, spare shoes, and, in the event that you plan to change destinations after the rafting trip, all of your vacation luggage.

Another way to prepare for the rafting trip while at the operation center is to ensure you’re wearing the right apparel for the river trip. Here’s what to pack for the Pacuare River and what you should change into at the operation center, assuming you didn’t wear them there in the first place:

  • Clothes you don’t mind getting wet, including a bathing suit underneath a t-shirt or a tank top and a pair of shorts, ideally long, board shorts that cover the upper part of your legs. Note that some people raft wearing only their bathing suit. While this is permitted, we recommend not doing so to avoid extreme sunburn and/or getting a rash on your legs due to contact with the rubber raft.
  • Secure shoes you don’t mind getting wet, including water shoes, running shoes, or strap-on sandals (such as Keen-type sandals). Note that the use of flip-flops or other shoes that cannot be secured to your feet is not permitted. If you arrive with this type of footwear, in order to participate in the tour you’ll be required to purchase a set of water shoes on-site.

In addition, if you have long hair, leave it loose or tie it in a low ponytail. High ponytails, braids, and/or buns can be uncomfortable to wear while donning a helmet.

Items to remember to pack for the Pacuare River that can stay in the lockers throughout the duration of the rafting tour (until you need them after the tour is finished) include:

  • A towel
  • A dry change of clothes, including underwear
  • A dry set of shoes
  • Any toiletries you may want after getting wet, including makeup and/or a hairbrush

Preparing for the Pacuare River rafting tour at the river

After you’ve been transported between the operation center and the river “put-in” location you’ll be given a life jacket, a helmet, and a paddle. You’ll also meet your tour guide, who will brief you on safety techniques and paddle commands. To confirm, each raft is led by a trained rafting tour guide who will stay with you in the raft the whole time. Among other things, you’ll learn the following during the instructional briefing:

  • How to paddle forward (“forward” command) and how to paddle backward (“backward” or “paddle back” command)
  • How to steer the raft to the left (“left back, right forward” command) and how to steer the raft to the right (“right back, left forward” command)
  • How to assume the safety position when you are near a riverbank (“lean in” command)
  • How to assume the safety position when you’re entering a rapid (“get down” command)
  • What to do if you fall out of the raft. Though rare, this does happen from time to time, and tour guides (as well as safety kayakers) are trained to perform quick rescues.
  • How to exclaim “pura vida!” from the raft after you brave a fun rapid (“pura vida” command)

What to expect from the Pacuare River

White-water rafting trips on the Pacuare River invite you to explore the Costa Rican jungle. During the 32-kilometer rafting journey, you’ll float alongside tall mountains, through 2 breathtaking canyons, past an Indigenous reserve, alongside stunning waterfalls, and over 52 rapids. Don’t forget to smile as you brave the Pacuare River’s wildest rapids. A paparazzi photographer stations himself at various locations along the river to capture photos of some of the most exhilarating moments you’ll have during the rafting experience. A photo CD is available to purchase back at the operation center if you want copies of the photos as a souvenir. Here’s a sample of what some of the photos might look like:

One of the most common questions we receive about the Pacuare River pertains to the color of its water. Unfortunately, the river’s color is impossible to predict as it is determined in part by the weather and runoff from the surrounding mountains. What we can tell you with certainty is this: the color of the Pacuare River is ever-changing. On the day you visit, it may be an opaque, chocolate brown; a crystal-clear, shimmery silver; or a translucent aquamarine. In contrast, the river’s jaw-dropping jungle scenery is consistently stunning year-round.

About two-thirds of the way through the rafting journey, you’ll stop alongside the river (weather permitting) to have lunch. A buffet lunch is prepared by the rafting tour guides. It typically features a smorgasbord of tortilla wraps, meats, vegetables, cheese, chips, salsa, refried beans, and mixed nuts. Natural fruit juice is also served. Weather conditions and/or Covid protocols may require the lunch to be served back at the Exploration Center.

Shortly after you resume rafting after lunch, you’ll arrive at one of the Pacuare River’s beautiful canyons. Here, where the water flows quickly but calmly, you’re welcome to jump out of the raft and swim in one of Costa Rica’s most pristine rivers.

Pacuare River rafting tours are family-friendly

The minimum age limit to raft the Pacuare River is 12 years. Assuming the children in your travel group meet that requirement, Pacuare River rafting tours are a family-friendly activity. We’ve rafted the Pacuare River with members of our own family on several occasions. Those trips are awesome memories we’ll carry with us for a lifetime.

Wrapping up the Pacuare River rafting tour experience

The end of your Pacuare River rafting journey will deliver you back to the operation center. Showers, change rooms, and bathrooms are on-site so you can swap your wet clothes for dry ones (Exploradores Outdoors provides free plastic bags that you can store your wet clothes and shoes in to avoid dampening the rest of your luggage). While the rafting tour guides organize the day’s equipment and prep the transport vehicles for departures to various destinations around Costa Rica, you’re welcome to purchase a drink, a souvenir t-shirt, and/or a photo CD. Don’t forget to tip your rafting tour guide at this time, as he or she may not be traveling to the same city you are in which case you won’t see him or her once you leave the operation center. If you’re not sure how much you should tip your guide, our related blog post What To Know About Tipping In Costa Rica can help.

Map of the Pacuare River

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you rafted the Pacuare River in Costa Rica? What did you think of the trip?

Pura vida!

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Pacuare River Rafting Tour: Must-Know Info From A Former River Guide
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Pacuare River Rafting Tour: Must-Know Info From A Former River Guide
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Want to experience Costa Rica's Pacuare River rafting tour? We've done it 2,000+ times. Don't miss our info and free rafting discounts!
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