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Rafting the Pacuare, Costa Rica

The Pacuare river has a painted rock that tells the river guide if the water level is low, medium, or high. Rafting the Pacuare when the level is near the top of the red zone gives pause to the life-threatening whitewater waiting on a Class IV rapid known as the Upper Cemetery. While most guides will cancel for a safer day, some need to make money and take the risk.

A red painted rock on the river when rafting the Pacuare.
Stop! When only the red rock is showing, rafting the Pacuare might not be a good idea.

Dropping from an elevation of 500 to 165 feet over a thirteen-mile stretch between Tres Equis and Siquirres, the river produces Class 2, 3, and 4 size rapids. Along its route lives the secretive Cabécir Tribe, who inhabit small huts spotting the hills and use a basket and pulley system to cross the river. The woven Montezuma oropendola bird nests hang twenty to a tree, like burlap sacks filled with a single coconut. And while resting your paddle between adrenaline-pumping rapids, there are blue Mariposa butterflies, Keel-billed toucan, Tropical cormorants, and the overpowering chant of the cicada chorus.

A red painted rock on the river.
Gondola. One way across the river is a basket and a pulley.

The rafting business is unregulated on the Pacuare, and each rafting company makes its own decision on safety. By their accounts on Trip Advisor, boats flip on average twice per month. When it happens, especially in a Class IV rapid, rafters will find themselves at the mercy of the river and the skill of the crew.

People in a raft under the rapids.
Rescued. Yes, we flipped and it was life threatening.

Survivors enjoy a typical homemade lunch followed by a drop-off at the dirty bus station in Siquirres. Hot, uncomfortable, and never on time, the bus is not the only option. Uber is negotiable here. And while a driver will use the app to make contact, they are more than willing to cancel the fare and negotiate a cash price. If heading to the Caribbean coast, the road is a slow truck-filled under-construction highway to Limón. Beyond lies fresh pavement with cool, moist ocean air and the occasional one-lane bridge, which locals are deft at crossing.

 

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Hi. We are Paul and Cindy, two biologists, fit and over 50, who enjoy exploring, photographing, and blogging about our outdoor travel. Our journey is to find outdoor activities that are away from crowds, kind to nature, and authentic. We carry backpacks, stay in clean accommodations, and feel that good food is as important as good friends.

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