Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Whitewater Rafting Costa Rica’s Pacaure River With Exploradores Outdoors

Rafting Costa Rica's Pacuare River

Our whitewater adventure was rolling right along – then we encountered the rapids called Graveyard…

Costa Rica White Water Excitement

White water rafting has always held an appeal for us since we first dipped our toes into the rushing waters of West Virginia’s New River. We’ve been rafting about a half dozen times, but never outside the US. When we booked our travel to Costa Rica, one of the main attractions was the chance to raft the Pacuare River.

Our Costa Rica travels began in San Jose where we overnighted at Hotel Auténtico. The next morning we boarded the Exploradores Outdoors van for our trip to their Exploration Center, the launching point for their raft trips.

Ready to ride the rapids

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We started by fortifying ourselves with gallo pinto, the staple breakfast for Costa Rica which is rice and beans mixed with onions and peppers. It was quite good -- and we would need the energy for what lay ahead.

Our guide Roy was funny and obviously an expert rafter. We got the safety rundown as our bus rumbled to the river. He covered the basics of paddling, the various commands he would use, and safety instructions in the event someone went into the river. He also mentioned that drinks were on the first person to go overboard.

Packed With Rapids

The Pacuare River flows about 80 miles from the Costa Rican hills to the Caribbean. The one-day raft trip would cover 18 miles packed with 38 rapids. For the trip you’ll need the right rafting clothes, including light shoes that will stay on in the water, a quick-dry shirt, swimsuit, and sunscreen. There are lockers at the Exploration Center, so you can stow your luggage or change of clothes. At the half-way point, we would stop for lunch.

On either side of the river, tropical forest and steep green walls bracket the river. The weather had been mostly dry prior to our trip, but two days before the area had gotten a substantial rain -- which meant good rafting. During the first part of our ride, we practiced the various commands, such as “get down” where we would all crouch in the center of the raft while Roy guided us through a particularly rough passage.

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!

The section of the Pacuare we were rafting has Class III and IV rapids. The top classification for commercial rafting is V, which we’ve done a few times. Soon the water was churning and slapping over the edges of the raft as we paddled in rhythm.

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“Wow, was that a Class III?” someone asked. “No,” Roy responded. “That was a one.” We strapped on our helmets a bit tighter and paddled on.

There’s nothing like the exhilaration of being on a raft navigating through jutting rocks, riding high on a rapid’s swell then plunging down into the spray. Meanwhile, you’re paddling like crazy with your fellow rafters. The rapids come fast and frequent, but there are still opportunities to savor the beauty of the river and the forest beneath the impossibly blue Costa Rican sky.

We also had the opportunity to swim in the river, or more accurately drift in the current, in the calmer sections. The Huacas Waterfall plunges 100 feet into the river and you can paddle underneath to get an invigorating shower.

It’s Called Graveyard For A Reason

There are many named rapids including Pinball, Double Drop, and Bye Bye Burrito (which is right after the mid-way lunch stop). The lunch was a nice break to refuel with some tortilla wraps, fresh fruit, and cold drinks. One rapid that I won’t soon forget is Graveyard.

The key step to stay locked in the raft is wedging one foot under the inflatable strut in front of you and your other foot under the strut behind you. Maintaining that while all heck breaks loose is the trick.

Our raft went nose down into Graveyard. It hit a rock or wall of water and momentarily compressed. When it did, my foot pushed down on the raft bottom, freeing it from its locked-in position. The raft uncoiled and I saw the front paddler lurch over backward toward the water. My wife then splashed down.

I was catapulted out of the raft, twisting in the air for a moment I could see the sunshine reflecting on the cascading water. Then I plunged in, enveloped by a swirl of foaming water and bubbles.

When I resurfaced, I was about 20 feet from the raft, still clutching my paddle. I tried swimming to the raft but had no luck against the swift current. I made my way to a safety kayak and tried holding fast to a rock, but soon slid off into the roaring current. The second time was the charm, as I locked onto the kayak and was soon hoisted back into the raft.

Never before had I been tossed from a raft, but the Pacuare was a worthy opponent, full of exciting rapids and rocky challenges. Thanks to the safety briefing and professionalism of the Exploradores Outdoors crew, I never felt unsafe despite bobbing like a cork in the swirling chaos.

It was a trip to remember. I know my raftmates certainly will -- I had to buy them each a cold Imperial beer when we got back to base camp!

Both Exploradores Outdoors and Green World Adventures (who put together our Eco Adventure) are highly recommended.

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