Just How Dangerous Is White Water Rafting?

If you follow the media about accidents involving adventure pursuits, then at some stage you will see headlines about some fatality on a white water rafting trip. The media take on it will be full of drama and finger pointing. Does the media actually have a point? Just how dangerous is rafting?

When I started writing this article about how dangerous rafting is, I thought that it would be fairly easy to research the figures. What I did not anticipate was how difficult it was to source relevant information, and be able to compare that information to other sources and research.

While I have managed to source a good deal of information, both from within New Zealand and the USA, often the methodology has been very different. For instance, some data refers to incidents per user days, other data refers to incidents per million activity hours, while other still refers to incidents per participant.

The data I sourced was all available by researching on the internet, and included ACC figures in New Zealand, plus various studies both here and abroad.

  • To get around this I worked on the following assumptions:
    An “average” rafting trip would be two – three hours duration.
  • I have taken the figures at the higher end of injuries and accidents as being more typical due to under reporting (minor injuries In New Zealand do not have to be reported, though they must be recorded)

What Were The Results?

A Raft surfing in Pop Up Rapid in the Grade 5 section of the Rangitikei River, New Zealand

To put all the results in perspective I used a benchmark of injuries and fatalities per 100,000 people, which is the approximate number of people who go white water rafting in New Zealand each year. There is little data available on the Grade of rapid in which any incidents occurred.

Injuries of all types – the range here was from 106 to 179 injuries per 100,000 participants. Of those injuries, approximately 8 per year are deemed as being serious harm – typically some sort of fracture. Half of all injuries occurred in the raft, from paddles and the like, while half occurred outside the raft.

Fatalities – of the injuries deemed to be serious harm, on average 1 per year since the beginnings of the rafting industry in 1978 has resulted in a fatality.

To put that in perspective, that 1 per year is 30 deaths for the over 3 million people who have rafted since the beginnings of the commercial rafting industry in New Zealand.

How Do These Figures Compare To Other Countries?

To get comparative figures is close to impossible, however from some American research I managed to find, these figures would appear to be fairly typical.

In fact one American study that used distance traveled on a raft as its base unit of comparison estimated that it was up to 100 times more dangerous to travel in a car on any given distance than what it was to be on a raft. Of course another study refuted that and said that rafting on a distance covered basis was 3 times more dangerous than traveling in a car.

How Does Rafting Compare To Other Adventure Activities?

How rafting compares to other activities is very hard to pin down. The big four as far as the number of injuries reported in New Zealand are Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Hiking (Tramping) and Surfing.

The comparative injury rates for these activities on a 100,000 participants basis are:

  • Horseback Riding – 2860 injuries
  • Mountain Biking – 1480
  • Surfing – 1110
  • Hiking/Tramping – 760
  • White Water Rafting – 179

I would not read too much into these figures however, as what we don’t know is how many hours each participant was engaged in that activity – unlike rafting where the average river trip is only 2 -3 hours. For instance, horseback riding includes commercial tours and recreational riding. Many recreational riders may ride for several hundred hours each year, but still be viewed as only one participant. The same logic applies for all the other categories.

Having Done This Research, Can I Contend That Rafting Is Safe?

I would have to say that after all my reading, and my own close on 30 years experience, that rafting is NOT safe in the sense that safe means NO likelihood of any injury or harm.

You do have a small chance of being injured on a rafting trip, about 1:558 and a 1:100,000 chance of being a fatality.

This means that for the vast majority of people, rafting is simply a great fun adventure.

Rafting not just about big white water. Here is a family having fun on an overnight trip.

How Do You Ensure You Stay Safe If Going Rafting?

There are a few simple things you can do to help keep yourself safe once you have decided on taking part in a rafting adventure.

Read Post  How Much Does White Water Rafting Cost?

These simple things are:

  • Choose a Grade of river appropriate for your physical fitness – higher grades are generally more demanding, though you may actually do more paddling on a lower Grade River.
  • Be honest with yourself about your physical limitations
  • Listen carefully to your guide’s on the bank briefing and on the river instructions. Do your best to follow those instructions.
  • Make sure that you wear your safety equipment, mainly helmets and life jackets, at all times while on the water, and that they are securely fastened.

The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On

Rafting is not 100% safe, and that is the way it will always be. In saying that, rafting is a fun and exhilarating adventure, which you should not miss.

Newspapers and the media love to sensationalise adventure accidents, and white water rafting is no exception. However the reality is, is that your chances of being a statistic are very small. Go ahead and have some fun white water rafting on a river.

If you are ready for an exhilarating Grade 5 trip, River Valley Rafting offers one of the best half day, grade 5 white water rafting trips in the world. On all our rafting trips we provide you with full safety equipment – helmets, life jackets and wetsuits. We believe our guides are some of the best in the business, all highly skilled and participating in regular safety, rescue and first aid training. Our guides will do everything they can to minimise risks so you can enjoy your time on the river knowing that you are in safe hands.

This blog post covers further questions about white water Rafting in New Zealand and the types of trips on offer.

About the Author:

Brian Megaw guided his first rafting trip in 1986. Over the years he has rafted in Africa, the USA, Switzerland and India, though not always as a guide. He is passionate about the white water rafting industry and can still often be found out on a river somewhere.

White Water Rafting in Costa Rica: Where to Go & What to Know

White Water Rafting in Costa Rica

Are you looking for adventure in Costa Rica? Do you want a thrill with a little bit of relaxation on your vacation?

Let’s talk about the amazing white water rafting you can experience in Costa Rica, whether you are a level I rafter (beginner) or a level 6 (Expert).

In this article, we want to allow you to learn how to flow down the stream that will touch your heart and soul.

What Is The Best Place to White water Raft in Costa Rica?

Rafting the Mighty Rio Pacuare

“Rio Pacuare!” members of the Costa Rica Escapes team will collectively and enthusiastically answer! Travelers that want to take full advantage of their limited time in this country must experience white water rafting on the Pacuare (Pah-KWAH-ree) River. Overall, this paddle-sport adventure leaves people in awe and provides an unforgettable white water experience.

Pacuare River rafting is one-of-a-kind and offers visitors an incredible and genuine look into the primary rainforest of Costa Rica. So naturally, and as Mother Nature intended, is the way that paddlers will experience this world-renowned river.

Rio Pacuare (River): Costa Rica White Water Rafting

No vacation is complete without a white water rafting adventure on Costa Rica’s famous Pacuare River!

Kayaking or rafting Costa Rica’s Rio Pacuare is ideally spent as an overnight trip to enhance visitors’ adventure. The overnight trip breaks the rafting into two portions and allows paddlers to sleep at one of the river’s eco-lodges and riverside campsites. With this experience, travelers get a million-star experience as they truly feel it is like to sleep in the rainforest.

Lodge on Pacuare River

Gorgeous Rainforest Lodge Camping on the Pacuare River

Hands down, the best place to white water raft in Costa Rica is the Pacuare River. This excellent river basin starts at over 9,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level in the Talamanca Mountain Range and travels for over 400 feet (130 Km ) until it reaches the Caribbean Sea. Since 1985, the land alongside the river has been protected as a forestry reserve, making this river one of the most beautiful sights in the world.

As you travel the river waters, you can enjoy impressive small waterfalls, canyons, and a dense rainforest home to a lot of wildlife. Travelers have seen jaguars and tapirs on the side of the river, but those sights are very rare. Instead, it is common to see toucans, raccoons, monkeys, sloths, anteaters, peccaries, iguanas, hummingbirds, and many butterflies like the blue morpho.

It is common to see indigenous people using and enjoying the river since a considerable population of the Cabecar Indigenous Community lives in the area.

The first white water adventurers to enjoy this river only did it in 1980, but multiple experts and companies have rafted down its waters since then. Today there are over 20 companies that offer white water rafting tours in the Pacuare.

The Pacuare River has three main sections that offer different rafting experiences:

  • Lower Section
  • Upper Section
  • Upper Upper section

The most commonly rafted section is the Lower Section, a 230-mile (37 Km) stretch of river with multiple class III and IV rapids. The Upper Upper Section and the Upper Section are much more technical, and only the Upper Upper Section can be rafted. In addition, there are level IV and V rapids in the Upper Section that kayaks can only run.

Where Else in Costa Rica Can You Go White Water Rafting?

Suppose you are looking at the map of Costa Rica. In that case, you will notice many white water rafting adventures in the provinces of San Jose, Cartago, Alajuela, and Heredia. In addition, there are some in Puenteras province, closer to Manual Antonio and Limon province, closer to Panama, but those are not as popular.

Costa Rica map with rivers

Let’s talk about a couple of rivers located in Costa Rica that may spark your interest, but we have some incredible rivers that we will break down even further.

La Fortuna Rapids

La Fortuna is a famous town in Costa Rica, as you will hear people say, “The Gateway to Arenal Volcano.” The volcano has two active volcanos in Arenal but let’s talk about La Fortuna Rapids. From this town, many white water rafting companies will take you out on the many entrances of La Fortuna. You will have to travel to get to these spots for La Fortuna.

Read Post  River Rafting Packing List

Rio Balsa

Another incredible place to go white water rafting in Costa Rica is close to La Fortuna, about 45 minutes, called Rio Balsa, which is perfect for the whole family.

If you are brand new to rafting, this is a great river to go. You will have some great movements of pure joy on the rapids, but then you will be able to experience and see the landscapes, possibly see the monkeys and many birds.

Penas Blancas River

Are you looking for a river that you can take the family down? Well, Penas Blancas River is it. The Penas Blancas River is in Puenteras Province, under 2 hours from the San Jose Airport.

You can enjoy the river’s flow without worrying about trying to paddle your way out. If you and the family are lucky enough, you will be able to enjoy the wildlife, such as monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, and many birds, to name a few. Don’t forget to grab that camera!

Rio Toro

The Rio Toro, which means “Bull River,” is not for the gentlest of heart, as the name says it all. Instead, this river is for experienced rafters who experienced white water rafting rapids, such as class III and IV. So, taking the kids would not be ideal, but if you want the blood pumping, then we highly recommend it.

The Rio Toro is in the Alajuela Province and about 3 hours from the San Jose Airport.

Sarapiqui River

If you want to head north of the San Jose Airport for only 2 hours, you can experience the Sarapiqui River, as many white water rafters will head here. Why? They have many multi-day adventures.

The beauty of this river is that you can experience class III and class IV rapids, especially during the rainy season, which is June to October. Still, you can also experience some safari tours for the family.

How Much Is Rafting In Costa Rica

Long story short, it will depend on how long you will be rafting. Are you looking to do a day trip or a multi-day trip? Are you adding other adventures to it, such as zip-lining, lunch, or rappelling?

If you are looking at a one-day trip, we have seen prices starting at $65/person up to $130, including zip-lining or lunch or hanging bridge hikes.

If you are looking for a multi-day trip for whitewater rafting, you will have to contact the tours as the tours will be based on how many people will be joining the journey to fuel the heart and soul on the white water rapids in Costa Rica.

Group Rafting in Costa Rica

How Dangerous Is White River Rafting in Costa Rica?

We wouldn’t suggest white water rafting in Costa Rica if it weren’t safe for us, Costa Rica Escapes, so we want you to feel at ease that it is one of the safest activities for visitors to Costa Rica.

We also want you to make sure you feel comfortable on the rafting tours, so if you are looking for a specific tour, tell us how comfortable you are, and we will do the rest.

How Far Is Pacuare River White Water Rafting From San Jose Costa Rica Airport

If you fly into San Jose (SJO) International airport, the Pacuare River takes approximately 2.5 hours to get to the Pacuare River.

The Pacuare River (or Rio Pacuare), a class III & IV river, runs from West to East through the Talamanca Mountains and ultimately ends in the Caribbean Ocean. This river is most easily accessed from the Costa Rican adventure capital of the East – Turrialba. Turrialba has numerous commercial outfitters that have been running this river for years.

The Pacuare River has numerous put-in points. While the river is accessible from the capital city of San Jose and other population and tourism hubs around the country, the easiest way to take a guided trip on this river is out of Turrialba.

The most often used put-in is located in a town just outside of Turrialba, called Tres Equis. In addition, commercial outfitters use numerous put-in spots further upriver from Tres Equis, but these are generally reserved for special paddling trips or kayak tours.

Where Is The Best Whitewater Rafting For Children In Costa Rica?

Let’s talk about the basics of kids and whitewater rafting. It is suggested that kids should not be under five years old when rafting and starting at a level I (see below). Still, some of the whitewater rafting that we see in Costa Rica for the family are Penas Blancas River and Rio Balsa, to name a couple.

When looking for rapids for the kids, look for Levels I and II, but many white water rafting companies will have restrictions, so make sure you check into that before you book.

What Level/Class Is White Water River Rafting In Costa Rica?

There are levels/classes to white water river rafting in Costa Rica and around the world, and Costa Rica has all the levels.

Let’s discuss what the levels are all about:

  • Level I: You want to go tubing? Here is your class.
  • Level II: This level is for the novice, and you may have to deal with some obstructions, such as rocks, trees, etc.
  • Level III: Expect to get wet on this one, as you are dealing with some rapids, obstructions, and working on your boat control.
  • Level IV: This is an advanced level, as you may have to make quick moves so you don’t flip the raft.
  • Level V: This level is for expert rafters.
  • Level VI: OOFF, how good are you with white water rafting? These are unpredictable and very dangerous.

For the most part, here at Costa Rica Escapes, we see many levels III and IV but then, of course, the ones for the family, at the levels I and II.

What To Wear White Water Rafting In Costa Rica

Expecting for the best and preparing for the worse would be our mantra for white water rafting in Costa Rica, but it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out what you need, whether you are hitting the Level I rapids or the IV.

Let’s break it down for you:

  • Clothes: Shoes, such as Tevas or tennis shoes, that you don’t care about will get wet. A swimsuit. Maybe a long sleeve wicking t-shirt to help block the sun or an SPF top. Don’t forget to grab some dry clothes for the car ride home when you are leaving. If you are rafting as the sun goes down, sometimes it can get chilly, so maybe have a light jacket.
  • Essentials: Waterproof sunscreen, 50 SPF or higher, insect repellent, if you are someone who gets bit, and any medications that you need personally. Sunglasses with a strap to make sure you don’t lose them! A water bottle, preferably not plastic, as we don’t want to pollute our rivers.
  • Additional: Of course, a camera, and it could be your phone. Binoculars to look for those cute sloths, potentially a flashlight, AND if you are overnighting it, maybe an additional charger to charge your phone for more photos the next day.
Read Post  Raft Rentals On The Shenandoah River

Summary: White Water Rafting in Costa Rica: Where to Go & What to Know

Are you ready to experience those streams and Leonard di Vinci’s river beautifully described in Costa Rica? We think you are.

Many rivers in Costa Rica will do white water rafting, and while we couldn’t name them all, we wanted to share our top ones for you to plan out your trip.

If you are looking to experience more than whitewater rafting, reach out to us, so we can help you plan the trip of a lifetime!

John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.

White Water Rafting on Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica

Extreme sport lovers flock to Costa Rica to try a number of exciting activities, including the popular white water rafting on Rio Pacuare (Pacuare River). This exciting excursion takes you down a stunning river where you will be in the middle of the Costa Rica jungle.

White water rafting on rio pacuare | pacuare river | costa rica | excursions

While white water rafting can be dangerous if you are inexperienced, excursions come with guides who will ensure you remain safe throughout the full ride. Excursions typically come with safety training, lifejackets, helmets, a photographer, and roundtrip transportation.

Continue reading to experience what it’s like to go white water rafting on Rio Pacuare in Costa Rica!

**Please note that this blog post uses affiliate links. If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.

**Note: This was not a sponsored excursion and all views are my own. All photos while rafting were taken by the tour operator, Costa Rica Groups Travel Company.

Table of Contents

White Water Rafting on Rio Pacuare

Receiving Thorough Training on the Ground Before Heading Out

Heading out white water rafting can definitely be intimidating for your first time. But, what set my mind at ease was the training we had beforehand. You will receive safety equipment, including a helmet and a life jacket.

After you are put with your group, you will meet your guide (they sometimes are called the captain as well). The guide will walk you through everything from how to properly sit on the boat, when to paddle, how to follow their directions, and what to do if you accidentally fall off. You will likely even practice following the commands with the boat on the ground before heading out!

Begin White Water Rafting on Rio Pacuare

Now, for the exciting part! Your team will get in the boat in a calm area of the river. This is a strategic move, as you will have some time to practice commands and paddling in the water before hitting the more difficult rapids.

White water rafting on rio pacuare | pacuare river | costa rica | excursions

As you complete your practice session, you will see the water becoming rougher in the distance…

Float Through Class II-IV Rapids on Rio Pacuare

The first rapid you go through will likely (hopefully) be a lower class rapid. These will be a lot of fun to go through as the boat rises into the air from the rapids. As you continue floating down the river, you will reach more challenging rapids up to Class IV.

White water rafting on rio pacuare | pacuare river | costa rica | excursions

These rapids will give you an adrenaline boost as you float over them! While going over the rapids, the captain will ask you to paddle hard. I found this interesting as it is opposite of what I would have thought you should do in this situation.

White water rafting on rio pacuare | pacuare river | costa rica | excursions

Throughout parts of the trip, you may reach rapids that aren’t extremely safe for beginners. There are times throughout the journey where your captain will yell at you to get in the boat and hold on! This is when you know it’s about to get REAL!

White water rafting on rio pacuare | pacuare river | costa rica | excursions

Once you survive the big rapids, there’s typically a bit of time where you gently float down the river and recover. Depending on the tour, you may be brought to a spot where you can swim in the middle of the jungle!

Experience Costa Rica Wildlife In It’s Natural Habitat

During the calm portions of the river, definitely take the time to look around at the surrounding jungle. You feel like you’re lost in the jungle!

White water rafting on rio pacuare | pacuare river | costa rica | excursions

Keep your eyes out for wildlife as you float down the river. You could potentially see some interesting birds, monkeys, and much more! Our guide pointed out all the animals he could find along the way.

White water rafting on rio pacuare | pacuare river | costa rica | excursions

How to Get to Rio Pacuare

From San José, Rio Pacuare is about 61 kilometers driving distance. If you don’t have a car in Costa Rica, you could take a bus or taxi to the river. Alternatively, you could take a guided tour from San José and have your travel planned by a tour company.

Guided White Water Rafting Tours on Rio Pacuare

The best and safest way to experience white water rafting on Rio Pacuare is by booking an excursion. These can typically be booked through your accommodations or an excursion company such as below.

Have you been white water rafting on Rio Pacuare in Costa Rica? Let me know about your experience in the comments!

Source https://rivervalley.co.nz/how-dangerous-is-rafting/

Source https://www.creescapes.com/white-water-rafting-costa-rica/

Source https://deventuretime.com/white-water-rafting-rio-pacuare-costa-rica/

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