Itinerary for Costa Rica Packrafting
See what’s in store during 9 incredible days on this whitewater jungle expedition
Day 1 - Arrive in San Jose
Welcome to Costa Rica! Schedule your flights for anytime this day. Your guides meet you at the airport and we drive you to the hotel. Let us know if you’d like to be picked up elsewhere in the San Jose area (if you are travelling on your own before the trip).
Dinner is on your own…we’ll give you recommendations.
Day 2 - Whitewater skills on the Rio Pejibaye
Meet the group and guides after breakfast (a huge and delicious spread at the hotel). We’ll do introductions and go over the plan.
It’s a 2-hour drive to the river. We go through the town of Cartago, which has a lot of history and a historic cathedral. We travel on the flank of the Irazu Volcano. As we come out of the Central Valley towards the Caribbean, the scenery is awesome with mountains in the distance and lush vegetation. We’ll drive right by coffee ‘fincas’ and sugar cane plantations.
Once we’re at the Pejibaye River, we’ll get into whitewater training. We start with a thorough safety briefing and paddling instruction.
Your guide team from here on in is made up of 4 professional river guides including: two BR Adventures trip leaders, an indigenous (Cabecar) guide, and a video/safety kayaker. (Our expert naturalist guide joins us on days 5 and 6). Your guides are seasoned, knowledgeable, and welcoming.
Whether you’re experienced and want to learn new skills or you’re a beginner looking for the basics, the guides will give you great care, comfort, and clear instructions.
Get comfortable paddling whitewater! Learn new skills including how to:
- paddle your packraft in rapids
- read water
- swim safely in rapids
- walk and cross channels safely in shallow water
- surf waves
- catch throw ropes
- and more!
Lunch is a riverside picnic. Enjoy fresh tropical fruit like watermelon and pineapple, fresh veggies, a delicious lunch spread—all high quality and plentiful. Starting to get the idea that you’ll eat a lot of great food on this trip? You’re right! And of course we accommodate your food needs and preferences. Read more about the food.
After lunch we’ll start higher upstream and paddle the Taos section—a really fun class II-III run.
We’ll then drive 45 mins to Coast to Coast base camp for expedition prep. Your guides will help you:
- Load your backpack
- Pack food and equipment (we’ll have it all laid out so it’s easy)
- Test out our water filters and backpacking stoves
- Set-up your Hennessey Hammock or Tent
Dinner and camping at Coast to Coast
Day 3 – Trek the Talamanca mountains, paddle the Rio Pacuare
You’ll have an early start with another big and delicious breakfast spread—and of course, local coffee.
We’ll be driven into the mountains past the villages of ‘La Suiza’ and ‘Canada’, onto dirt roads and to ‘the end of the road’.
It feels awesome to put on our packs and hike away from the van. We’ll spend the morning hiking on trails (mostly downhill ☺) into the river valley.
You get to start your trip on a section of the Pacuare with no road access (here or anywhere upstream). Hiking is the only way here! We call this section of river ‘The Pacuare Headwaters’)
We’ll pump up our boats and start floating downstream. We’re going to work as a team to scout and paddle rapids. You’ll carry your pack in your boat. You’ll always have guides ahead of you and behind you. At this point we are truly expedition-river-running!
By mid-afternoon, we’ll pull over at a good spot to set-up our first camp. We’ll all work together to set up hammocks/tents and tarps. We collect firewood and set-up a kitchen area.
Here’s one important thing to know about camping and river running in the tropics: the sun sets at around 5:30 pm and rises at 5:30 am all year long, with little fluctuation. Also, unlike what you might be used to back home in temperate zones, there’s almost no ‘dusk’ and ‘dawn’: it goes from light to dark quickly. Because of this, the most important risk management decision we can make is to get up early and get off the river early. Early starts set us up for success.
Day 4 – Paddle the rapids of Top Pacuare and Upper-Upper Pacuare
You’ll wake up in the jungle on the side of the river. We’ll eat and pack-up camp as the mist lifts through the trees.
This is an awesome day on the river: the rapids are non-stop. Today we paddle the class II-III ‘Top Pacuare’ and class III+ ‘Upper-Upper’ Pacuare. You’ll be able to paddle most of the rapids. There might be 2 or 3 that we’ll scout and maybe portage. We’ll run 12+ miles of river. We stop for breaks and lunch on beaches and rock shoals.
As we head downstream, other creeks come in and the river gets bigger. Everywhere you look is just lush, tropical nature. Your guides will point out and explain the things you’re seeing. Check out leaf-cutter ants who ‘farm’ fungus. Sloths—who sleep for 21 hours a day in tall skinny Cecropia trees.
The Cabecar people live here. They live in small family settlements throughout the Talamanca mountains. The right side of the river—the south side—has no road access and is one of the biggest wilderness areas in Central America. This backcountry stretches all the way into Panama. It is really beautiful—but it’s a tough place to live. The terrain is full of steep ridges and lots of rivers. There are no roads so the Cabecar walk everywhere on trails. Some live a 5-day walk-in from where we’ll be paddling. Our Cabecar guide, Ariel, will be able to tell you about life in this area—how his people fish, hunt, and subsistence farm.
After an awesome day on the river, we’ll camp near the end of the ‘Upper Upper’
Day 5 – Jungle trek around the Upper Pacuare
Today we’ll arrive at the Upper Pacuare. This is a 9-mile class V section that’s sometimes paddled by expert kayakers. It’s too steep for us and would be dangerous to paddle.
We roll up the packrafts and hike on trails through the jungle. We’ll spend the whole morning trekking.
Once we make it around the Upper P, we’ll get to a spot where a 4 x 4 vehicle will bring in an equipment raft. This will get loaded with gear (we can throw our pack into it!) One of the guides rows it on their own. We’ll also get a food resupply for the rest of the trip (packed in barrels and coolers in the raft).
This is also where we’ll be joined by our expert naturalist guide. While the river guides know a lot about the area, a rainforest ecology specialist will bring interpretation to the next level! Sometimes you might just walk by an animal or plant without noticing it. A naturalist with vast knowledge and experience will point these things out! You’ll get to see amazing things and gain deeper understanding of the ecosystem.
We’re now on the famous Lower Pacuare. Back in our boats—the river here has a bit of a bigger feel. We’ll paddle about 5 miles of Class III and III+ rapids on our way to our new home. We arrive at El Nido Del Tigre—the eco camp. Staying here is sure to be one of your highlights of the trip. We’ll give you a tour of one of our favorite places in the world. We’ll show you:
- your platform tent (complete with mattress and bedding)
- the ‘Rancho’ and ‘El Laurel’, our comfortable hang out areas with chairs, hammocks, tables, and fully equipped open air kitchens
- the jungle showers—private, candle-lit, showers where the walls are the jungle and the water pours out of a bamboo spout
- wash houses with sinks and flush toilets
Settle in for a great meal and a relaxing evening.
Day 6 – Relax at El Nido
We’ll be staying at the El Nido camp again this night so you’ll need to pack up—this is a full layover day. You can have a relaxing morning with your coffee and book in a hammock, or watching birds and the jungle come to life.
You can choose from several activities for the day:
- hike in the rainforest with the naturalist guide
- walk up a side creek for a swim below a waterfall
- go for a run
- relax at camp
- or combine any and all of the above for a great day!
Day 7 – Paddle the Huacas Canyon
This is our biggest whitewater day—and we’ll be ready for it.
The class III-IV ‘Lower Pacuare’ is considered one of the top whitewater rafting sections in the world and the #1 in Central America—and you get to paddle it in your own packraft. As we float downstream leaving the camp, we’ll again have a support raft to carry our backpacks and food.
After a few hundred meters of warm up in easy rapids we get to the class III-IV ‘Huacas’ Canyon. This place is truly spectacular: everywhere you look you’ll see steep walls of primary rainforest, tall waterfalls tumbling into the river, and rapid after rapid of great whitewater. We’ll take our time and pick our way through, running rapids like ‘Upper Huacas’, ‘Lower Huacas’, ‘Doble Piso’ (double drop), ‘Pin Ball’ and ‘Guatemala’.
At this point in the trip you’ll be comfortable reading water. With your guides, you’ll scout the bigger rapids and decide for yourself which route to take and if you want to walk around. All the rapids can be walked and we’ll work together to make great decisions, set up safety, and keep things fun.
As we emerge from the canyon, the valley opens up. There are big beaches to pull over and enjoy breaks and lunch. There are some long, fun sections of class II that separate our final big rapids for the day, ‘Cimarrones’ and ‘Los Indios’.
Visit with the Cabecar people
Here we’ll pull over and walk about 20 minutes up the hill to visit with the family of our guide, Ariel. This is where Ariel grew up and where he still lives when he’s not guiding.
His family, like the other Cabecar people spread throughout the Talamancas, live off a combination of growing small crops, raising chickens, pigs, and livestock, gathering food from the rainforest, and fishing in the rivers.
There is no vehicle access here—Ariel’s family has a 3 hour walk on a trail to get to the nearest road.
The kids fish and play in the water and are avid swimmers. This is where Ariel learned how to kayak in whitewater. He started on a balsa wood log. Then one day, a kayak floated downstream on its own—good find! When he was younger, Ariel was very shy so he would hide as people rafted and kayaked by, but he watched and learned and would then practice on his own once the coast was clear. He taught himself how to hand roll (flip the capsized boat back over without a paddle, just his hands and hips while staying in it). One day some of the passing raft guides gave him a paddle and spray skirt–and the rest is history!
After visiting with Ariel’s family, we’ll head back to the riverside for our last night of camping under the stars.
Day 8 – Paddle Dos Montanas and return to San Jose
On day 8 we break down camp, pack-up, and get ready for a final morning of enjoying the river. We’ll run rapids including a few technical ones.
The highlight of the day is Dos Montanas: a big rapid followed by a spectacular slot canyon. The current pushes gently through the canyon, so it is a great place to jump out of your boat, float along, and enjoy the view.
After a few more turns, we’ll round a corner and see a railroad bridge, followed by a busy highway bridge (the road to the city of Limon, on the Caribbean coast). Passing under the bridges, you’ll notice the geography also changing quite a bit. The terrain flattens out and the river valley widens as the Pacuare enters the Caribbean lowlands.
We’ll float and paddle and enjoy our final rapids (at this point class I-II). We’ll see other bird life that we may not have seen yet such as herons and snowy egrets that live closer to the coast. We’ll paddle up to our take-out—another eco-camp called Finca Pacuarito—where we’ll meet our driver and support vehicles.
Finca Pacuarito has showers and change rooms where we can clean up a bit before the drive.
We’ll have another awesome Costa Rican lunch made by the local family who runs the camp, before loading up for the 2.5 hour drive back to San Jose.
This is yet another spectacular drive, first along the highway with great views of the Turrialba Volcano in the background and pineapple plantations in the foreground. Then we cut through Braulio Carillo National Park, up into a cloud forest covered mountain pass back into the Central Valley.
You’ll check back the hotel in the late afternoon, with time for a hot shower and to look for souvenirs in town, before we meet up for our farewell dinner at a great restaurant.
Day 9 – Breakfast and good-byes
You’ll have breakfast at the hotel. Then, we’ll drop you off at the airport for your flight home…or continue your travels!
Itinerary for Costa Rica Packrafting9 days of tropical nature, whitewater, and fun
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