White Water Rafting


Rafting on the Río Balsa

In Costa Rica you can fly through the air in a canopy tour or hike through scores of different parks and trails. However among the most enjoyable activities in Costa Rica is going white water rafting. Costa Rica is blessed with a lot of rivers that in the rainy season can go from tranquil to turbulent in a matter of minutes. In fact Costa Rica was recently in the news for going the first 100 days of 2015 using exclusively renewable energy. The reason being that Costa Rica has a fantastic topography for utilizing hydro-electric power.

Río Toro

Río Toro

This abundance of dams also lends itself to white water rafting because there is a predictable, controlled flow of many of the major rivers in the country. In the La Fortuna area the Balsa and Toro rivers are where you will be rafting. The majority of the time it will be the Balsa river, but when they are performing dam maintenance they will use the Toro as a backup.  There are quite a few companies that offer rafting packages, but I exclusively recommend Costa Rica Descents.

I’ve gone a half dozen times with Descents on both the Balsa and Toro rivers rafting class IV+ rapids at times and enjoying every minute of it. One advantage that Costa Rica Descents has is that they use a tight-knit team of professional guides. The majority of the guides I know there have been rafting these rivers for ten or twenty years and know the river like the back of their hand. For example when I went in 2014 one of the guides was getting ready to head to New Zealand the following week as part of team Costa Rica at the International Rafting Championships.

Costa Rica Descents also has an exclusive contract to raft on the upper–and most challenging part of—the Balsa river. Sadly the hydroelectric dam diverted their drainage tubes in 2015 which means that they cannot raft the highest part of the river every day anymore; it depends on where and when ICE (the Costa Rican electric and telecom company) decides to release water from the dam. Even if you only get to raft the lower part of the river there is some solid rapids that are a lot of fun. I just went recently and asked my guide to “do crazy stuff” and we flipped the boat going over a small waterfall. It was loads of fun! Don’t worry though, if that isn’t your definition of fun the guide will tailor the ride to your preferences.

You generally spend about 2-3 hours on the river depending on various factors. About mid-way they stop to cut up some pineapple and watermelon for a refreshing break and snack. After you get off the river they drive you back to town (about 45 minutes away) to an organic farm owned by the company. The location of this farm has changed over the years, but I believe that the location now is its permanent home. They have a nice custom built pavilion right across from the farmers market in La Fortuna.

The meal they feed you is typical Costa Rican food and almost all the food is produced on the farm itself (they just buy things like salt and pepper). After lunch you get dessert and coffee prepared in the traditional Costa Rican method (which is pretty cool, so I won’t ruin the surprise). Finally there is a tour of the farm which explains about how they use natural methods to protect the plants from pests without using harmful chemicals and also the various medicinal plants they cultivate there.

The tour wraps up with a demonstration of how sugar cane is processed into a drink and a tasting of both sugar cane juice and what I call ‘adult sugar cane juice’ (aka moonshine, very young rum, or guaro depending on what term you want to use for it) that is at around 120 proof.

After spending the day in the river I usually take advantage of the fact that I’ve got a swim-suit on and go to El Chollín the free hot springs outside of town. For information of pricing and reservations (including special 20%+ discounts) you can contact us here.

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