Wet, Wild and Wonderful: White Water Rafting in Costa Rica

One of our favorite – and wettest – activities on our most recent Costa Rica trip was a white water rafting trip down the Balsa River. It was a fantastic way to get out and experience the area, and was a big hit with both the adults and teens. 


We chose to take on Class II & Class III rapids on the Balsa River with Arenal Rafting during our stay in La Fortuna. With our group of adults and teens, it was a perfect mix of adventure and scenery that we all really enjoyed. It was adventure-filled enough for the teens, and not too much exertion for the kinda-sorta in-shape adults.

The Details

Arenal Rafting offers hotel pickups, but we joined them at their office in La Fortuna for the 45-minute bus ride to our starting point on the Balsa River. The ride included a quick stop for sloth viewing, a stop at a roadside fruit stand for bathrooms and drinks (not included, but available for purchase), and entertaining commentary from our host, Oso. 

white water rafting in costa rica
Costa Rica Rafting 2

Our Visit

Once we got to the river, we met up with our river guide, Carlos, who got us outfitted with life jackets, helmets and paddles, then into our boat to hit the river. Our group of 8 was split up between 2 boats (each boat could hold up to 6 rafters) – but once we let our guide know we were together, he made  sure we would get close enough for some fairly epic splash fights at a few different spots along the ride. 

Carlos was fantastic, guiding us through the rapids, instructing us on when and how to paddle different directions and pointing out the landscape and wildlife during our trip. It was a nice mix of rapids that kept us working hard with the paddles, as well as some calmer stretches where we could get out of the boat and float alongside if we wished. The rapids were so much fun, and the scenery along the river was beautiful (it is Costa Rica after all). 

We visited in July, and the water was great – warm enough to be enjoyable, but cool enough to feel refreshing in the heat. We ended up pretty soaked after our first run through rapids (as we expected) though I suspect that once Carlos saw how much fun we were having watching our kids get doused by the waves, he was maneuvering to make sure we hit a few more. 

Costa Rica Rafting 5
Costa Rica Rafting 4

How long does it take

We arrived for our tour about 9:30 am and were done by roughly 2:45 pm. The ride to the river was about 45 minutes, and we were on the river for about 2 hours, which included a stop with fresh fruit of pineapples, watermelon, and mangos. Once we reached the end of the tour, we were met with dry towels and hopped back onto our bus for the ride back to La Fortuna. Once we arrived, we were able to change into dry clothes in their changing rooms (individual rooms, not a group locker room, which I appreciated) and were led upstairs for a delicious hot lunch. During lunch, they played a slide show of photos taken during our trip, which was fun, but also gave us a preview of whether we wanted to purchase copies for ourselves. 

What to Wear

We wore bathing suits under shorts and t-shirts and closed-toed sneakers/water shoes, which worked out well for us. I opted to keep my t-shirt and shorts on over my swimsuit to avoid rubbing with the life jacket and had no issues. We ended up very wet and were happy to have a dry change of clothes to change into before lunch. We were able to leave our dry clothing on the bus during our trip, so we didn’t have need of a dry-bag. If you can’t do without your glasses during the ride, I’d definitely recommend a lanyard or strap.


Costa Rica White Water Rafting Pinterest

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