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Guide to Costa Rica

Saturday-Sunday Aug 7-22, 2004
Kayak: Cheryl Robinson Simon Wiles and 5 friends
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium

In August 2004, Me and Six guys headed out to explore the Costa Rican rivers. The ability of the group was hugely uneven, me a beginner grade 3/4 and the others hardcore, no messing grade 5's...great was I actually going to get some paddling done? Thankfully one of them had invited me to go out and week early and paddle some of the easier rivers.

Most people tend to think you need to be guided down a river, believe me if you avoid this you will have a far more cultural experience, and paddle a much larger variety of rivers. This guide is aimed to show how easy it is.


Two of us flew from Montreal to San Jose using American Airlines. The flights were $650. The check in girls were unfazed by the sight of my kayak and worked hard to get me the lowest possible price. Outbound we were charged $80 CAD and in bound $70 USD for each kayak. Our friends flew in using British Airways and were not charged anything, Mark had even brought two kayaks, a creeker and a playboat.


Because we were traveling around Costa Rica, we had to have tetanus, polio injections and Malaria tablets.


Generally I found most Costa Ricans (Tico's) to be friendly, however being a female and white, I attracted a lot of unwanted attention particularly in bigger towns such as Turrialbla . I quickly learnt to dress modestly anytime I had to walk into town. Beggars are present in every town, and we had a couple of experiences: one tried to sell us a puppy.

Another actually tried to steal our shoes as we were loading up our kayaks on the van. Basic Spanish is very helpful.

Some places (hotels etc) will except dollars but the currency is Colones.

Note: If you are taking a credit card as advised by the guide books, please be warned some banks do not allow the use of their cards in Costa Rica due to the amount of fraud. We found cards issued by Star to be a problem.


Quepos, we stayed at Quepos Hotel, this was cheap at $15 per night per room with on suite, but it was awful definitely one to be avoided.

Turrialbla, Hotel Interamericano. The guys shared a room for $10 each per night while Simon and me had a double for $20 a night.

Sarapiqui, We stayed at the Sarapiqui outdoor centre, $10 each per night.

Domincal, We stayed at Carabina's San Clemente for $30 per night per room.

Some of the places served breakfast for a small price approx $3 each, but generally for lunch and evening meals we went in to the local towns..Highly recommend the Coffee Shop in Turrialbla (near the internet cafe) for coffee and cakes.

For a last night treat we stayed at the Best Western Irazu in San Jose $80 per room. I appreciated the first hot shower for three weeks, comfy bed and to top it off a casino to spend them last few Costa Rican colones. The airport shuttle will also take you and your kayaks for free to the airport.


This was our biggest expenditure of the Holiday. Airport transfers were haggled with the local drivers, costs were one way $100 to Quepos, $70 to Turriabla and $100 from Domincal to San Jose. In Quepos we used H2O / Rio Tropicales for our shuttles, generally charging $25 - $35 including food on the river. for the rest of the trip we hired a driver called Martinez, we booked him via the hotel Interamericano. He charged us around $100 per day and when we needed him over night we paid for his accommodation. His transport isn't luxury more of a cattle wagon with a scrappy double cab...we ended having a rota for sitting in the comfortable seats.

The transport sounds expensive but when you divide it between seven people it works out fairly cheap.

Kayaks & Gear:

All the guys brought creek boats and you wouldn't want anything less for the type of rivers they did. Mark also brought a play boat (kingpin) and I had a river runner (I3). These were okay on grade 3's and Ocean surfing.

If I returned I would definitely take a creek boat.

For kayak gear a shortie cag and rash vests are suitable.

Schedule and River Descriptions.

An essential whitewater guide is Chasing Jaguars and is produced by Earthbound sports.

We had an idea of a schedule and what rivers to do before we went. We picked August instead of the typical Dec, because it is at the height of the rainy season and this optimize our potential for paddling all the rivers chosen. We found that the rivers tend to flash flood in the late afternoon and can rise without warning.

Boating based from Quepos:

Rio Naranjo.

A Class 3 / 4, We did the upper and lower section. The start is a technical boulder garden. But the lower is mild short rapids. Like Most of the rivers in Costa Rica it has lots of shoals, which drive in to the river bed out for under cuts. There are different channels on this river and some lead you on a magical mystery tour!!

Rio Savergre

A class 3, very beautiful pretty river with many side streams that you can walk up to view pretty waterfalls.

We started in the middle of the upper section. Watch out for the section named Diablo, we were advised that diablo's mouth is a wonderful play the level we paddled it was a huge hole and a keeper I took my first hole beating here!! And it wasn't letting me go even after I swam!!

There is no technical rapids on this just nice long shoal rapids followed by lots of flat. The lower section is more of a float than a paddle

Quepos beach.

Great surf 2/3 ft, but disgusting water. The town run off leads right into the ocean. But the surf was great and we couldn't resist a couple of sunset paddles. We wore earplugs and nose plugs to prevent any bacteria entering our system. We also washed all our clothes.

San Antonio Beach.

Well the guidebook advised this beach was the best surf on the west coast..but we were highly disappointed. There wasn't much of a surf and it broke near the waters edge. There was bigger surf further down the beach, but it apparently ca be dangerous if you flip as there are huge rocks scattered along the shore...we opted for beer and food instead.

Boating based from Turriabla.

Rio Pacuare

The classic Costa Rican run we had all heard about. A nice enough class 4 run, with two decend boulder drop gorges. We had decided not to do the bottom section, but as we finished early enough, we added the extra 16kms. Luckily we have an all too common flash flood, and the level rose very nicely to help push us through those last miles.

Some fantastic scenery on the bottom Pacuare, as you float through deep gorges, with waterfalls cascading down the side of the cliffs above you.

Rafting the lower Pacuare is a good way to see the river if you don't fancy the paddle.

Rio Toro Amarillo

A nice low volume bouldery run. Would probably be very scary in low water. You can hike up a bit further if you so wish. A few miles of class 4. Watch out for the JCBs in the river digging for rocks.

Rio Sucio

Just a bit further from Turrialba than the Toro. It's a strenuous short trek down from the road bridge to the river, and you start just by the confluence of two streams. The main sucio flow is yellow from some volcanic sulphur emissions. A nice bouldery class 4 run in the main. Except if it flash floods, when it went from a nice tame class 4 to a huge thrashing class 5 monster.

Rio Orosi

Lovely short low volume run, which starts with a bang, with class 5 Dinosaur gorge. A good first couple of miles, with a nice hot spring on river left just after the gorge. Then eases off to a fast class 4 with the lower Orosi, which picks up a whole lot of flow from the side stream on river left, which supposedly is a great run further upstream, if you catch it when they are not diverting water. No shortage of water where it joins the Orosi. Its pretty much one long class 4 rapid to the takeout.

Rio Reventazon

We paddled numerous sections of the reventazon. Some of the more classic sections have been dammed, but there is still plenty of good boating to be had. I think in all we did 6 sections of this river, The top sections were low volume, the bottom sections, big volume boating. Generally class 3-4

Rio Pejibye

Upper Pejibye has a short class 4 section, before class 2/3. Lower section class 2. Don't miss the takeout, as you end up on the Reventazon, just before the dreaded lake.

Rio Patria

This was the highlight of our trip. 3 hr hike in, though dense jungle, thankfully downhill, then two days of intense boating. Day 1 has the hike, scrapey start, then huge portage around a gorge and fall, then some good boating. Day two has plenty of classy class 5. Be prepared to run some big class 5 rapids, since portaging is not always possible. Oh and take someone who knows the run, it'll help for the hike in at least. Finishes up on the Sucio for the last mile or so of that run.

Rivers Based from Sarapiqui

Upper Sarapiqui

A few miles of standard class 4 boulder rapids. Nothing too exciting, at regular low flows. Should be more exciting with more water

Lower Sarapiqui.

Class 3+ nice easy river. The rapids are not technical, but some do have holes that may catch you unawares. Most of the rapids a steep shoals sliding into the river bank. This section is quick and can be run a couple of times in a day. The put in is the sarapiqui out door centre

Poza Azul.

A 25ft waterfall, that is spectacular. Even if you don't run it, it is worth going for a look. The run out takes you out to the end of the upper Sarapiqui. Some of the guys ran the section above the waterfall and advised it is grade 5 waterfalls all the way, but very good. Beware the grueling walk in to either the waterfall, or the upper section.

Rio Toro

The upper Toro has a fantastic put in, in a narrow gorge, below some huge waterfalls, and a hydro plant. The whole upper section is sandwitched between two huge gorge walls, but often theres just enough room for a few rocks, or a beach for inspections. A great run, with plenty of action. Mostly class 4 with perhaps some 5. The upper finishes at the Hot springs resort, or you can continue down the middle section, which is much more mellow, some nice class 3 rapids, whilst still in the gorge. There is a lower section, class 1 and 2, but its long and dull apparently

Boating based from Dominical...

Domincal Beach.

Domincal is like a piece of California in Costa Rica...everyone is American. This is surf dude city. The surf is fantastic, and huge. As a beginner to ocean surfing I found I took quite a trashing and swapped the kayak for a surfboard. The guys promptly ripped out my outfitting and made use of the spare kayak. They certainly made every effort to rip it up out there. The beach is huge and there is plenty of space to avoid unwanted clashes with surfers. However this beach has a serious rip tide and it can be quite easy to get into trouble.

Rio General

The General used to be a Costa Rican Classic, and there is opportunity for multi day class 3 run. We picked off the hardest top section, which was tagged onto the end of the Buenovista, a nice easy class 3-4 boulder blast. The General, by the time we got there late in the afternoon was peaking at huge flash flood levels, so was a great class 4 blast ducking trees and dodging enormous stoppers

Rio Chirripo Pacifico

Another run that drops into the General. Since it was this section that had provided most of the General's flood flow, we jumped on it early in the day, and it was a nice class 4-5 boulder run. Some good rapids, pretty low volume. (maybe we should have waited a bit longer)

Other runs:

Well we pretty much hit all the classic class 4-5 stuff in the guidebook. The Patria was certainly the highlight. The Chiripo Atlantico is supposed to be a great multiday class 5 in a gorge. But we decided that the likelihood of a flashflood was high, given the time of year, and the number of times it happened to us, so we skipped that one. Apparently there is a great class 5 gorge that just goes on for ever!

There are a few other runs around, and plenty of easier runs available, but the above are certainly enough for a two week trip given normal water levels.

Other Information:

If your looking for a new paddle, or break or lose one, then local paddler Ferdinand Steinvorth (H20 / Rio Tropicales) manufactures exceptional paddles. Mainly carbon, he charges around $220 for each paddle. The quality is the same as AT's but a lot lighter.

Costa Rica is a great place to sell any of the Kayak gear you no longer want. Local paddlers pay extortionate prices and are only too happy to pay a fair price for your old gear especially PFD's and spray skirts.

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