Young, Broke and Abroad: Rafting in Costa Rica

Chandra and Friends rafting in Costa Rica


First, let me say that I normally bypass all things “outdoorsy”. However, when traveling I like to try whatever that area is famous for. In Costa Rica they are famous for many things like: coffee, nature, and beaches. So on our 8 day trip, my two girl friends and I did all of the above.

On day three we did a rafting trip with the company Exploradores Outdoors for a half day journey down the Rio Pacuare.   This company picked us up at our Hotel, fed us breakfast, took us rafting and supplied all the gear, fed us lunch and dropped us at the door of our next hotel in a different town for only $99. A GREAT DEAL!

Rafting in Costa Rica

Heading out with my friends on the River

I was very nervous – this was my the first “adult” rafting trip. I only remember sitting on the bottom of a boat as a four(ish) year old, with water crashing over me and my dad yelling “turn, turn, rocks, WATCH OUT”. Not good memories.

The crew was very nice and professional. They had kayaks around each rafting boat for safety. The river was a class III-IV and ran for 18 miles with 52 rapids ahead of us. There was a woman in the rear of the boat that was shaking in fear before we even pushed off the shore. Of course, she had to be on our boat. Everything was going great for the first 40 minutes. We came onto some pretty vicious rapids, with high rocks and fast moving water, in a pretty shallow area.

Rafting in Costa Rica

We were coming down and quickly noticed we were in trouble. A fellow raft was pinned on a large rock the size of a van. I saw the face of the other guide and knew we were in trouble as we came at them very fast. The edge of our raft lifted up over the other one, and in about 20 second everyone on the right side of the raft was up in the air. Our raft flipped over, and the people on the right side, crashed down on the people on the left.  My friend came crashing down on me, her foot bashing me in the face. I was pinned, probably everyone on the left side of the raft shared my fate. I did not panic. I thought “Well… she will get off of me as soon as she can.”

The Lunch Spot

The problem was, the boat was on top of us all, pinned between rocks. People started thrashing their limbs in panic. I just laid on the bedrock, thinking “they will figure it out in a minute.” After a few seconds, my friend cleared off me and I rose. I was trapped under the raft. My head popped up in a small pocket with air. The middle of the raft had wide inflatable benches so I could not see the length of the boat, just the small pocket I was in. The boat was not moving. It was pinned between rocks at this point. I decided to take a big breath and head out. I went right, and ran into a big rock, the raft moved slightly, so I had to find another “pocket” of air. I did, and I was not scared. I again took a breath and tried going left, as I went under I felt the boat start to move down the rapids and I emerged. No one was around. Everyone else had been swept down the river and another boat was coming down behind me. Thankfully the current carried me the same pace as the boat behind me.

Getting to swim while rafting in Costa Rica

I only started to worry when the current started moving me very fast, and I was surrounded by rocks. I was hurled forward by the current and my face led the way.  Finally, a kayak came up to me and I held on. He drifted me to safety. From there I got on a different raft, with new people who saw our ordeal.

When I got back to my original boat we all compared war wounds. People had bad scrapes, raspberries and the terrified woman – who was scared before we even left, hurt her wrist/arm pretty bad – but nothing was broken. She looked traumatized. She was non-responsive, shaking, and mumbling “No, no, no.. I want to go home now… No, no, no.” Little did she know the hardest rapids were still ahead of us.

The River in Costs Rica

The safety kayaker, who led me to safety was the owner. At lunch he approached me and said “I really liked your attitude and how you were able to bounce back after what happened to you.” I thought, “Was it that serious?”  Of course, ours was the only raft out of about eight to have any problems that day.

Even a nasty spill could not dampen my impression of the river. Yes, there were a lot of rapids – two or three were especially violent. But, the opportunity to see the natural land, the birds, and the terrain out weighted any negative aspect of the adventure.