The Best Spots for White Water Rafting in Costa Rica

Conquer the rapids!
Conquer the rapids! | © Jim Kelly/Flickr
Jenn Parker

While there are several months of the year during which there is very little or no rainfall in Costa Rica, the rainy season months definitely make up for it. In the central part of the country, the annual average is around 254 centimeters/100 inches. Some mountainous areas have been known to get as much as 25 feet of rain in a year! Between the mountainous and rugged terrain and heavy annual downpour, Costa Rica has some of the best white water rapids in Central America. The ideal time to go white water rafting is during the green rainy reason months when the rivers are fullest.

La Fortuna rapids

La Fortuna is often referred to as the “gateway” to the Arenal Volcano National Park and the adventure capital of Costa Rica. It is the perfect base for embarking on a white water rafting excursion. From this zone, there are multiple rivers and classes of rapids to choose from depending on your experience, adventure level and group dynamic. All of these rivers require a bit of traveling to get to, but they are all easily accessible from La Fortuna.


Penas Blancas River

The Penas Blancas River is the perfect choice for groups with small children or for those who prefer to float more peacefully down a river, as opposed to the high-adrenaline power paddling required on some of the higher class rapids. Penas Blancas River offers rafters both class I and II rapids. A safari float down this river provides an excellent opportunity to really take in the beautiful forest surroundings and spot some unique wildlife.

Rio Balsa

The Rio Balsa is located around 45 minutes from La Fortuna and has both class II and class III rapids. A white water rafting tour down this river is perfect for the whole family. It isn’t too powerful, but lively enough to make it exciting. While paddling down the river, you will be surrounded by lush and wildlife-rich forest. This is an incredible way to experience the forest while doing something exhilarating at the same time.

Rio Toro

The Rio Toro, or Bull River, is a befitting name for this somewhat aggressive river. If you’re looking for a bit of a challenge and some heart-pumping (but in a fun way) rapids, this is one of the best spots in this region. The Rio Toro offers rafters class III and class IV rapids. A white water rafting trip down the Rio Toro will provide non-stop action and a thrilling experience for the adrenaline lovers out there.

Sarapiqui River

A little bit more to the east lies the Sarapiqui River. The Sarapiqui River is a popular choice for those looking to embark on a multi-day white water rafting adventure, though one-day tours are available too. The Sarapiqui River churns up both class III and class IV rapids, which are at their best between June and October.

Turrialba rapids

The small town of Turrialba in the Central Valley is widely known as the white water rafting capital of Costa Rica. There are two rivers in particular that are renowned for their world-class rapids. This part of the country is breathtakingly beautiful and many other adventure and nature tours are accessible from here too. San Jose is also a very popular starting point for the following rafting tours.

All day fun

Pacuare River

The Pacuare River was rated by National Geographic as one of the top five best rapids in the world. What makes white water rafting in Costa Rica so inviting is the fact that the water is not icy cold. The Pacuare River is teeming with class III and class IV rapids. The river cuts through dense jungle and provides amazing opportunities for unique wildlife sightings. There are 52 rapids on this river!

Reventazon River

The Reventazon River flows down the Atlantic slope toward the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. This river has class III-IV rapids and provides this level of rapids year-round. While there are some challenging sections, this is also a great river choice for the first-time rafter with an adventurous spirit. When you are on a white water rafting tour down this river you will be paddling through the rainforest where wildlife sightings are common. Toucans, iguanas, monkeys and a beautiful variety of birds are all prevalent here.

Manuel Antonio rapids

While most associate white water rafting with more mountainous regions, there are actually two great white water rafting rivers that are easily accessible when staying in and around Manuel Antonio. Truth be told, any of the above rivers can be accessed from anywhere in the country if your heart is set on white water rafting. There are all-day and multi-day rafting tours available where transportation is provided and typically included in the price.

Rain or shine fun

Naranjo River

The Naranjo River is a very popular river choice for white water rafting enthusiasts. There are class III and class IV rapids on this exhilarating river. Taking a white water rafting tour down the Naranjo River is an adventure that the entire family will enjoy. The river is on the southern border of the Manuel Antonio National Park, so you can imagine the wildlife and nature viewing possibilities.

Savegre River

The Savegre River is an ideal choice for those interested in white water rafting with small children. The rapids here are a bit gentler than the Naranjo, but are still nothing short of exciting. The Savegre River has class II and class III rapids, with a reputation as one of the cleanest rivers in Central America.

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