Best Rafting Companies in Costa Rica
The best rafting companies in Costa Rica have one thing in common. The number of rafts or the quality of equipment does not determine a rafting company’s quality. How many guides a rafting company has on staff does not either. Whether a Costa Rican rafting company is owned by ticos or gringos or Canadians or Europeans is insignificant as well.
The one thing the best rafting companies in Costa Rica have in common is safety. In the rafting industry — world wide — the phrase best rafting company is synonymous with safest rafting company. Rafting in Costa Rica is no exception.
What Makes a Costa Rican Rafting Company the Best — the Safest
Being one of the best rafting companies in Costa Rica is tricky business. There are a large number of variables, but there is only one certainty. To be one of the best rafting companies in Costa Rica requires having the best guides. And, being the best guide is more than being the guide that loves their job the most. Being the best river guide on the river does not mean being the guide who speaks the best English or the most foreign languages. The best raft guide is not the one who loves being on the river the most! It is not being the guide that gets the biggest tips or the guide that the tourist give the highest praise.
Being the best river raft guide in Costa Rica means being the guide that is the safest.
What Makes a Raft Guide the Safest Raft Guide
Saying “no,” the fortitude to cancel a trip when the river is too high or the conditions are not right is what constitutes the safest raft guide. There are a number of reasons some raft guides with push the limits of safety. Some guides — simply — don’t have the money to cancel a trip. Some Costa Rican raft guides, raft guides all over the world for that matter, will run a river when conditions are not safe because they cannot afford not to earn the money they would lose if they cancelled a trip. Others refuse to cancel a trip because of bravado. Rather than loose face in front of their peers, some guide will push the limits of safety for fear of being called a coward.
Peer pressure is the number two reason behind river accidents. Lack of experience is the number one reason.
How Do the Best Rafting Companies in Costa Rica — the Safest Rafting Companies — Get the Best Guides, the Safest?
The best rafting companies pay their guides the best. As in every industry the world over, you get what you pay for. But, paying guides well — so a company can attract the best guides — isn’t enough. The best rafting companies in Costa Rica also pay for their guides to take safety courses. The best companies pay for their guides to gain safety experience. Like any corporation, the best companies pay the most and they pay for employee training.
While there are some great up-and-coming rafting companies, this is a list of those Costa Rica rafting companies with the most years in business and the best reputations. The list is divided into four areas: Reventazon Valley (Pacuare and Pejivalle), La Fortuna/Arenal, Sarapiqui, and Quepos. While there are other areas with rafting, it’s generally not class III/IV boating.
This is a list of the best rafting companies in Costa Rica in the best places in Costa Rica to raft!
Best Rafting Companies in Costa Rica: Reventazon Valley
Now that Phil Coleman and Rainforest World are no longer in Turrialba, there are two great rafting companies left in the Reventazon Valley.
Tico River Adventures
Roberto (“Tico”) Garcia and his son “Little Tico” have run the Pacuare, Pejivalle, and Orosi rivers together for a decade. Tico Sr. was a guide for 20 years before he and his son began working together. Tico River Adventures have the best equipment, the best transportation, the best guides, and the best reputation. And, Tico River Adventures pays its guides the most and the company pays for safety training courses every year, religiously.
In the entire country, there isn’t another company equal to Tico River Adventures.
Tico River only does day trips and they always serve the same lunch: fruit, vegetables, beans, tuna, tortillas and fruit punch. Since at least 1998, Tico has been serving his customers the same lunch — and providing the same quality trip, — day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month, and year-after-year. The lunch is good enough and there is always plenty. More importantly, Tico River Adventures never runs the river too high and rarely puts people at risk.
The service Tico River Adventures provides is always exceptional. Tico River Adventures shuttles people to the river in a 30 person, late-model bus. Tico Sr. is the driver. While other Costa Rica raft companies shuttle guests in five or six little “vancitos,” Tico’s bus is big, new and comfortable. Tico’s guides, because he pays the most, are the best of all those found in Turrialba and the surrounding communities.
Little Tico is the company’s photographer. At the end of a trip, you can buy his photos of you rafting. Anyone who can haggle Little Tico down on the price of his photos is a tried and true horse trader because Little Tico rarely drops the price of his photos!
Tico River Adventures is based out of Turrialba.
Tico River Adventures is the gold standard of Costa Rica rafting.
Rios Tropicales is a big version of Tico River Adventures. They do a variety of river trips including day trips, overnight trips, and extended-day trips. Rios Tropicales has a river lodge in one of the most beautiful sections of the Pacuare River Canyon. Particularly if you like looking at big-boulder rapids, the setting at the river lodge is unparalleled. All Rios Tropicales guides are American Canoe Association (ACA) certified. Most of Rios Tropicales river guides have their wilderness first responder certification.
Rio Tropicales opened its doors more than two decades ago. They does trips down every whitewater river in the country of Costa Rica including the Pacuare, Savegre, Toro, and Sarapiqui. Rios Tropicales is now doing international trips as well.
Rios Tropicales has mass river tourism down to an art.
Siquirres is home of Rios Tropicales. But, if you are staying in San Jose, Rios has a bus that will pick you up at your hotel.
Another company that does the bulk of its trips on the Pacuare River, Exploranatura is also based in Turrialba. Owned by two ticos and a gringa, Exploranatura has been running trips on the Pacuare and Sarapiqui since the mid-90s. So, they have a solid understanding of the logistics required to get you to and from the river. Additionally, Exploranatura has used many of the same guides over the last 20 years. That means the company pays well and has maintained its reputation for safety.
While its Turrialba branch is not as big as some of the other companies, Ecoadventures has built a solid reputation in around Costa Rica. Ecoadventuras runs trip all over the country including the Sarapiqui, the Naranja and Savagre, and the Rio Toro. Like many of the better companies in and around Turrialba, Ecoadventuras has built a solid reputation for offering safe trips and employing guides that only run the river when conditions are safe.
Best Rafting Companies in Costa Rica: Sarapiqui
Most of the companies based in Sarapiqui are at a disadvantage, because they must compete with the companies both in the Reventazon River Valley as well as those out of Arenal. There is an exception however, Adventuras Del Sarapiqui.
Adventuras Del Sarapiqui
One of the best rafting companies in Costa Rica, Adventuras Del Sarapiqui have one big advantage over their competitors. Adventuras Del Sarapiqui does it all. Not only can you go rafting with Adventuras, you can go mountain biking. You can go kayaking with Adventuras. You can canoe with them. They’ll take you zip-lining. They do hiking tours. You can go horseback riding. You can even go river tubing with Adventuras Del Sarapiqui.
Adventuras Del Sarapiqui does recreating in the Sarapiqui area better than anyone else. As the name suggests, Adventuras Del Sarapiqui is based in Sarapiqui.
Arenal/La Fortuna’s Best Rafting Companies
Of all the places you are likely to go rafting in Costa Rica, in Arenal/La Fortuna you need to be the most selective about rafting companies. Arenal is the country’s largest tourism center that isn’t associated with a beach. Because of the number of tourists in Arenal — almost year around, — it isn’t difficult for middling and lower tier companies to scrape by on the scraps and survive.
And, there is another problem. Arenal is close enough to the San Jose, Alajuela, and Puntarenas that there are a large number of companies operating in Arenal that are not Arenal-based. That presents a problem. If you are with a company whose guides and chauffeurs don’t live in Arenal, you’ll under pressure to hurry to the takeout. That is the last thing you want to do.
If you are in Arenal, there are two companies you want to look up.
Owned and operated by an Arenal native, Arenal Rafting was one of the first rafting companies in the region. Daniel Anchia, the owner, got his start just shortly after Roberto from Tico River Adventures and Rafa that owns Rios Tropicales. All the guides with Arenal Rafting are from Arenal which means they’ll be in no big hurry to get off the river.
In addition to the fact that Arenal Rafting is based in Arenal, they have some of the best rafts and equipment on the river. And, the guides that work for Arenal are some of the best in the country. Arenal Rafting is one of the best rafting companies in Costa Rica.
Desafio Adventure Company
Like Adventuras Del Sarapiqui, Desafio Adventure Company does it all. From zip-lining and canopy tours to rafting, they’re probably the most respected company in Arenal. They’re a huge company that does huge numbers. Though their prices are high, they have access to so many different locations and activities that people lineup to go with Desafio.
Desafio is one of the only rafting companies in Costa Rica that can compete with Rios Tropicales with respect to volume. Look in any Costa Rica travel guide and you will find Desafio. As a result of the time Desafio spent cultivating its reputation, this is a company that is serious about safety and guide quality.
Best Rafting Companies in Quepos
Quepos is the other area Rios Tropicales dominates. Though they are the biggest company in Quepos, Rios Tropicales isn’t necessarily the company you must go with down the river. There are other rafting companies in the Quepos area that are equally impressive, though not as big.
So you are aware, H2O Adventures is Rios Tropicales
Amigos Del Rio
The other big name in the Quepos area, Amigos Del Rio runs a tight ship. Many of the guides have been with the company for more than a decade. In addition to many of the best guides, they have the best equipment and transportation as well. Their lunches aren’t bad either!
If you are looking for a smaller group of boats to run with, as opposed to bumbing down the river in a raft caravan, consider Amigos Del Rio. Like Tico River Adventures, they’re small and high quality.
Costa Rica Tropical Adventures
This company is a good story with a great message. They are not a mass river tourism outfit. It’s modest. But, if you want a company that will stop so you can hike a little or swim or just watch the river run by, this is the company you want to go with. You aren’t going to feel pressured to get off the river quickly with Costa Rica Tropical Adventures. They use excellent young guides who love their work.
If you aren’t looking to ride a rubber train down the river, check out Costa Rica Tropical Adventures!
Remember, the best rafting companies in Costa Rica aren’t always the biggest companies nor those found first on the search engine results page. The best rafting companies in Costa Rica are those that are the most concerned with safety!