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Travel Costa Rica
By: Zdenko Kahlina
White Water Rafting on Sarapiquí River
While vacationing in Costa Rica our group of five (four ladies and one lucky guy: me!) went on several excursions. One of them was White Water Rafting on Río Sarapiquí River. Heart-pumping rafting from the town of San Miguel (La Virgen section)!
If you’re planning Costa Rica vacation, rafting on the Sarapiquí River is considered one of the “Must-Do” Costa Rica tours in the wet and wild Northern Zone of Costa Rica near the Arenal Volcano! At one time, the Sarapaqui River was a major shipping route from San Jose to the Caribbean coast. Today however, it sees more rafts than bananas. En route to the confluence of the San Juan River, Sarapiqui runs through the Caribbean lowlands rain forest. Rafting trips are held in the section of rapids between La Virgen and Chilamate—small towns near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui.
Our Rafting adventure in Costa Rica
I made the booking over the internet on the Desafío Adventure Company web site. They advertise this trip as an exciting, heart-pounding, class 3-4 Costa Rica rafting river. This is exactly what we got out of it! We all loved this intense, Costa Rica adventure, deep in the heart of the Costa Rican jungle! Our main concern was level of difficulty, as we were not experienced rafters. Our young and experienced guide Judd, made sure we were safe at all times and I’d like to thank him for that!!
The Sarapiquí River is one of Costa Rica’s most-exuberant rivers for some of the best rafting Costa Rica has to offer! This Costa Rica tour is for adventurous paddlers, and you’ll get over 2 hours of paddling with more than 20 continuous, class-3-4 rapids, along more than 10 km of lush, vibrant Costa Rica rain forest. We were ready! Bring on the adrenaline!!! Please note, although you don’t need experience, rafters should know how to swim.
Rafting day is finally here!
My friends and I enjoyed an amazing experience with Desafio Adventure Company, and I must say that it was one of the best adventures ever. Costa Rica is truly unique, and this one day tour with Desafio was well beyond our expectations.
We were staying in La Fortuna town, and as promised in email exchanges, Desafio’s bus arrived right in front of our hotel at exactly 8:30AM to pick up our little group of five. There were some other tourists already in the bus. During the bus ride our guide Jorge gave us all introductory info on what’s ahead of us, at the same time encouraging the whole group not to worry about this adventure.
Their Costa Rica adventure guides are professional, bilingual and trained in first aid, CPR and swift water rescue. We were assured that we’re in good hands on the river while rafting in Costa Rica! Little did we know at that point, we’ll have opportunity to verify this first hand! Jorge also mentioned in the bus that Desafío Adventure Company has only two rules.
1) Have Fun and
2) Be Safe!
The bus traveled through small, Costa Rican villages to the quaint town of San Miguel de Sarapiquí on a very scenic road. The bus ride from La Fortuna took almost two hours, before we arrived at the river.
We stopped at one small town (don’t know exactly where) for the last minute pit stop and last chance to purchase water or snacks. Soon after we were at the private entrance to the Sarapiquí River, and their experienced Costa Rican rafting guides provided a thorough safety talk. The rafting boats were awaiting us on the rock beds by the river. They helped us get set up with rafting gear such as helmets, life jackets and paddles. This was done very quickly and we were off down the river, paddling for more than 2 hours!
In my opinion this safety talk was not long enough and the spot where we entered the river was not properly picked. The minute we started going down the river we were into the rapids! If they were more considerate, our guides should picked some other spot at least ½ kilometer up the river stream, just so the inexperienced rafters like some of the people in our group, get a better filling for the river, and relax a bit before hitting first rapids.
Immediately into the rapids!
Be it as it was, we did hit the rapids immediately and were in trouble right away. One lady was ejected from the raft on the first rapid and ended up in the river… under the raft. Our guide Judd jumped very quickly grabbed her and brought her back into the raft. She was O.K., but obviously stressed a little. After this incident we all took rafting more seriously, prepared our self’s for the following rapids and listened guide commands more carefully! The commands were: Forward, Backward, STOP, go down (in the raft) or just GO, GO, GO (in panic voice)…
This fast flowing river has its origins from the mountains of central Costa Rica and runs to the border of Nicaragua. The Sarapiquí winds down a narrow waterway, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, as well as farmland and towering trees. The area is habitat to several different species of birds such as toucans and hummingbirds. Though we didn’t see much of wildlife, frequently spotted are monkeys, iguanas, sloths and river turtles. The river is a mixture of exciting white water rapids and quieter sections for wildlife viewing and relaxing!
This quiet little river turns to be quite a thrill rafting ride. The guides in all three rafts were very knowledgeable, concerned with our safety (a good thing, it turns out, since our incident at the beginning of the trip) and my biggest concern was that the hardest rapids were at the very beginning, when we were not terribly accomplished at maneuvering through them! Experienced and first-time whitewater rafters love the Sarapiqui River, and we did too. On this river the navigation is provided by the guide in the back of the raft and the passengers provide the power.
The big rapids always have names like ‘Shotgun’, ‘Surprise’ and ‘Monica’ and as we navigate them I always wonder how they get the names. Is Monica named after an ex-girlfriend? Is Shotgun named after the way the current thrusts you between the rocks? Is ‘Surprise’ named after that huge rock we didn’t see that nearly sent me flying into the water? But then again, maybe I should be paying attention.
Anyway, we made our way through exciting rapids like ‘The Pipeline’, ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Dos Locos’ – it seems the rapids never stopped for the whole two hours. The rapids are exhilarating, and you are guaranteed to get wet, to laugh a lot, and to shout ‘Pura Vida’ very often!
Our lead guide Judd was scolding me often because I wasn’t responding to his commands quickly enough. I would often respond too late to his paddling instructions. Admittedly, I was trying to make sure I synchronize my paddling with the person in front of me. But I was also looking back to see faces of the others in the boat, and to try and capture those looks of joy on my camera. Simply, I had a lot of fun in that boat!
However we did stop along the way for a nice, tropical fruit break and some people jumped in the river for a swim (me included). Water was warm and pleasant for swimming. One young fellow lost his vision glasses and was talking to his guide asking him to go back and find them! It just made me lough how some people are so naive…
At this spot we met a local ‘Tico’ who carefully cut and cleaned some sweet sugar canes for us, with his long machete. Several tourists tried to chew it like gum, to squeeze the sugary sap. The rest of the fiber had to be spit as it was no longer sweet.
Many dunking’s aside, overall it was fun, the water was warm, and I was able to cross whitewater rafting off my bucket list. Great adrenaline rush – highly recommended on a beautiful sunny day. In addition to a memorable encounter with nature along the Sarapiquí River, Desafio treated us afterwards with a wonderful meal, a typical Costa Rican “casado” lunch, at a historically rich plantation.
Their photographer was on this tour following every raft in his small kayak. You may want to bring some extra money to buy a photo CD of your tour, a cold beer or a souvenir t-shirt. We returned to La Fortuna and the Arenal Area around 5:00PM.
Tour Logistics - Whitewater rafting Rio Sarapiqui
Duration: Full-day (approximately 8 hours)
Includes: Transport to/from your hotel, fun & professional guides who love their job, tropical fruit break, delicious home-cooked meal (beer & other beverages extra), warm towel and lots of adventure!
What to bring: Clothes to get wet in, change of clothes, secure shoes and a big smile. Rafters should be ages 13 to 55 (I am 62!!) and in good, physical condition. Although you don’t need experience, rafters should know how to swim. A photographer will be on each tour. Should you wish to buy a CD, they cost $30 and you can purchase only one for the whole group and make copies yourself!
$85 pp (pick up in Arenal and drop in Arenal)
$95 (if using the Adventure Connection from San Jose and drop off in Arenal)
$125 (pick-up from San Jose and return to San Jose)
ADVENTURE CONNECTIONS: This tour also departs from San José & meets up with the rafters from the Arenal Volcano area. Reservations at the Desafio’s Web page.
So, Hasta Luego until next time, mi amigos!!
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