Rafting the Pacuare River
When one lives in Manuel Antonio, it’s easy to begin believing that one lives at the center of Costa Rica. Or the center of the world, for that matter. Not only does this fit geographically to some degree, but the area also encompasses most all of the activities and amenities one would hope to find in a tropical paradise: beautiful beaches, rainforest, wildlife, great restaurants, canopy tours, ocean tours, horseback riding, waterfalls, a national park, adventure tours, eco-tours, and even white water rafting. Why is there any need to leave Manuel Antonio when we have everything here?
I’m happy to be reminded on occasion of the fact that there are some world-class things to do in Costa Rica outside of Manuel Antonio. One of these includes rafting the Pacuare River.
Located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, the Pacuare River is accessed near Turrialba, or Siquirres, and runs from the highest mountains down to the sea. It was lauded by National Geographic as one of the ‘Top 10 River Trips of the World’ due to the sheer natural beauty of the area, and the canyon through which the river passes. The river can be rafted in a single long day–or split up into 2 days, in which case you stay at one of the rustic lodges along the river.
Last week, for the first time in 15 years, I had the opportunity to raft the Pacuare once again–and was reminded of this river’s beauty. It was a two-day trip, with an overnight stay at the Rios Tropicales lodge just before the canyon. Day one was high water–an exciting and swift ride down a verdant rainforest valley, with class III and IV rapids split by calm, serene moments in between, during which one can look around and appreciate the natural beauty of the river. The river itself was a deceivingly cool tone of ‘cafe con leche’, appearing almost orange against the green verdure. Our passing rafts sent birds from their overhanging perches–snowy egrets, toucans, tiger herons and oropendolas, with their hanging nests. It was fantastic to arrive at the lodge–my first time not camping along the river–and enjoying the luxury of a hot shower before dinner.
The next morning was sunny and beautiful. Before breakfast, my wife and I crossed the hanging bridge to a double-tiered waterfall on the opposite side of the river, for a crisp dip in its reviving waters. Then we were off, veritably jittery with excitement. The second day of the Pacuare is the most famous–the Huacas River Gorge, approximately 10 miles of class III and IV rapids, cut through the rock of the valley like some vehement, tropical serpent. Most of the rapids are simple fun, with plenty of whitewater, but not much to get worried about; only a couple of rapids were known trouble-makers, and outside of these there is plenty of time to look around and appreciate the gorgeous scenery. It’s like a combination of Land of the Lost, and a fairytale–sculpted stone, forming dreamy shapes, and dozens of waterfalls forming tributaries to the Pacuare like silver streamers. The largest of these is well placed right between the river’s two most heart-thumping rapids: Upper & Lower Huacas (translation- Upper & Lower Graves!). At one point the river slows to a crawl through the gorge’s tightest crook– a chance to take a swim and marvel at the decrepit, Indiana Jones bridge overhead.
Of course–one of the most gratifying rewards of such a river trip is the Caribbean plate of food at the end! The most famous local dish is ‘rice and beans’ , and is pronounced as if it were a single word. What is the difference between Caribbean ‘riceandbeans’ and the Pacific ‘rice and beans’ you wonder?
Simple: The coconut oil.