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8 Things to Know BEFORE Going Whitewater Rafting in La Fortuna

8 Things to Know BEFORE Going Whitewater Rafting in La Fortuna

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La Fortuna is an absolute paradise for outdoor adventurers, and it’s one of the best places in Costa Rica to go whitewater rafting. 

Whether you’re a beginner looking for gentler rapids or a seasoned pro seeking more extreme rafting, you’ll be able to have a great experience in La Fortuna. You can combine your adventure with ziplining or end up at one of La Fortuna’s local restaurants.

There are even good options out there for families who want to give the rapids a go. We’ve gone twice while staying in La Fortuna and loved it both times! 

However, whitewater rafting is not completely risk-free, and there are a few things you need to know before you go. But as long as you know what to expect and choose a reputable company, then you’ll enjoy an amazing, adrenaline-fuelled adventure just like we did! 

Don’t have time to read the full article? La Fortuna is one of the best places to go whitewater rafting, but you’ll need to book a tour in advance. We loved this Whitewater Rafting Class III and IV tour because it’s on the extreme side and so much fun if you love adventure. If it’s your first time whitewater rafting, you might prefer going down gentler rapids on this Whitewater Rafting Class 2 and 3 tour.

1. Is whitewater rafting in La Fortuna worth it?

A tour group paddle into a rapid while white water rafting in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Into the rapids!

Yes, we loved it! In fact, we loved our first experience so much that we went a second time. It’s one of the best places to go whitewater rafting in all of Costa Rica

2. Where do whitewater rafting tours in La Fortuna go?

A group of people hit a rapid while white water rafting in La Fortuna
Rio Balsa!

Rio Balsa

The Rio Balsa is a good all-rounder, and lots of tours visit here. It’s about 45 minutes from downtown La Fortuna, so it’s easy to do a half-day tour here.

You can find Grade II, III, and IV rapids along the river, so you may find yourself on this river whether you’re a total beginner or opt for a more extreme experience. There are plenty of gentler tours on the Rio Balsa, although this one takes you to the upper river to find the Grade IV rapids. 

Sarapiqui River

If adrenaline is what you’re after, then you’ll want to go rafting on the Sarapiqui River. This river has more Grade IV rapids than the Rio Balsa, so it tends to be the destination for more extreme tours. It’s also slightly further from La Fortuna town center, as it takes around 1 hour and 10 minutes to drive there. 

Peñas Blancas River (river floats)

You don’t go whitewater rafting in the traditional sense on the Peñas Blancas River – instead, you float along the river on your raft for a more relaxed experience! You get to spot lots of wildlife as you chill and drift along, and it’s a very family-friendly destination if you have young kids. It’s also easy to get to as it’s only half an hour outside of town. 

3. What are the best whitewater rafting tours in La Fortuna?

White water rafting in Costa Rica
So much fun and thanks for the awesome shots of us!

Whitewater Rafting Class III and IV Rio Balsa

This top-rated whitewater rafting tour promises an unforgettable experience on the Rio Balsa. This option is more extreme, so although you don’t need prior experience, it’s well-suited to those who like an adrenaline rush. You’ll tackle Class III and IV rapids on this 6-hour tour, which also includes lunch! 

You’ll be picked up from your hotel or a meeting point in La Fortuna at around 9 am and then driven out of town to the Rio Balsa, where you’ll hit the rapids. Your adrenaline will be pumping as you race through the rainforest, and you’ll probably spot lots of wildlife along the way. 

After the rafting is over, you’ll visit a local restaurant for lunch while you enjoy beautiful views of the Arenal Volcano, one of the best volcanoes in Costa Rica, in the distance. And to make things even sweeter, you get a refreshing glass of sugarcane juice, too.

On your way back to La Fortuna, you also pass by the pretty El Salto waterfall, as well as the local park and church. 

This tour is so much fun, and it’s available daily. Although it’s a more extreme tour, children as young as 7 are allowed to participate, so it’s still suitable for families whose kids are little daredevils!

You can book this tour for $85 USD per person, which includes lunch, safety gear, and round-trip transport from La Fortuna. To remember your adventure, you can buy photos afterward for an additional fee if you like. 

You can check availability and secure your date online here.

Upper Balsa River Whitewater Rafting Class 3 and 4

This whitewater rafting experience is also a lot of fun, and the tour is operated by one of the most reputable companies around. It’s quite similar to the tour above, with awesome guides and a tasty lunch. So, if you’re looking for Class III and IV rapids, you have options in case one or the other sells out!

You can request hotel pick up and drop off or meet at the rafting company’s office in La Fortuna at 9 am. There is free parking near the office in case you’ve rented a car in Costa Rica.

Soon afterward, you’ll be paddling down the Rio Balsa, navigating the rapids. You travel for 15 kilometers (9 miles) down the river in total, so you get to see a lot of rainforest scenery along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the way. We saw so many beautiful birds and monkeys while heading downstream!

You also get to take a break during the rafting and enjoy some fruit snacks or even a beer, which is nice because, let us tell you, this activity can be tiring! 

After the rafting, you get to refuel properly with a complimentary casado for lunch in a local restaurant. This is the traditional local meal, which usually consists of rice, beans, plantains, salad, and some sort of protein – which really hits the spot after rafting! They also offer vegetarian options if you let the tour company know when you book your tour.

We also like the fact that this tour includes towels, so you don’t need to worry about bringing your own. Just make sure to wear clothing that can get wet and closed-toed shoes.

This 5-hour tour is suitable for ages 12 and up, and children need to be accompanied by adults. You’ll also need to be in pretty good physical condition to take part. It costs $85 USD per person, although if you’re not staying in central La Fortuna, you’ll need to pay an extra $40 USD for hotel pickup and drop-off. You can book this whitewater rafting experience here.

A group paddle over a rapid while white water rafting in La Fortuna
A group paddles over a rapid while whitewater rafting in La Fortuna

Balsa River Whitewater Rafting Class 2 and 3

If this is going to be your first time whitewater rafting, then you might be seeking a gentler experience. Fortunately, as we mentioned, the Rio Balsa is also home to some Class II rapids, which are much calmer.

This tour takes you rafting on the Class II and III rapids along the Rio Balsa. You’ll travel about 6 miles (10 kilometers) in total, and since you’re moving slower, you can check out all the wildlife you pass. It’s still a lot of fun and super exciting, but it’s perfect for beginners and families (with kids over 5) because it’s a bit easier than the previous two tours we mentioned. 

The tour begins around 9 am and lasts for 5 hours in total, but this also includes a traditional casado lunch at a local restaurant. It also includes bottled water and towels, as well as hotel pickup and drop-off in central La Fortuna or pick up from a meeting point.

You can book this tour for $68 USD per person. If you’re staying further out, then you’ll have to drive yourself or pay $40 USD extra per person for pickup. There’s also free parking at the tour office if you are planning on driving yourself!

I also like that you can purchase photos of your experience afterward if you like. It’s not easy to take photos on the water, so it’s nice to have this option!

If you’re looking for a gentler intro to rafting – or just want a calmer day on the water – book this tour right here!

Full Day Class II-III Rafting and Zipline Tour

As well as its world-class whitewater rafting, La Fortuna is also an awesome place to go ziplining, thanks to its abundant rainforest. If both activities sound exciting, you can combine the two with this tour!

Be prepared for an early start, as you’ll be picked up at the rafting company in La Fortuna at around 7:30 am. But trust me, the early morning is well worth it since you’ll soon be gliding high above the treetops!

We love ziplining and think it’s a must while you’re in town, especially since La Fortuna is a great place to go ziplining in Costa Rica! You’ll reach speeds of up to 70 kph (40 mph) as you zoom along ziplines that are up to 980 meters (3,200 feet) long, spotting wildlife as you go. 

Then, you’ll head to the Balsa River to tackle the class II and III rapids. These low and mid-grade rapids mean that no experience is necessary, but they’re still a lot of fun! 

Lunch is also included at the end of this tour, as you will certainly have worked up an appetite by now. But don’t worry, fruit snacks are provided along the way in case you get hungry. 

All in all, we think that this is the perfect adventure-filled day out in La Fortuna. It makes everything so easy for you, and the guides are also great at helping you spot unique plants and animals along the way.

This tour costs $136 USD per person, including roundtrip transport, both activities, snacks, bottled water, and lunch. It’s a full-day experience, lasting about 9 hours. You’ll be back in town by the late afternoon, so you can still enjoy dinner at one of the best restaurants in La Fortuna.

For a full day of outdoor fun, book this whitewater rafting and zipline experience here.

Related Read: For more zipline adventures, read our guide to the best zipline tours in Jaco.

Sarapiqui River Whitewater Rafting Class IV

If this is not your first rodeo, then this rafting tour on the Sarapiqui River is sure to be a thrilling experience. You’ll tackle Class III and IV rapids on the Sarapiqui River and learn all about its history from your guide. 

This is an all-inclusive tour, so towels, snacks, drinks, lunch, and transport from La Fortuna hotels are covered. However, if you’re staying more than 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) away from the tour office, you’ll have to drive yourself. Tours leave from the Arenal Rafting office at 8:15 am and head directly to the Sarapiqui River.

Here, you’ll zoom through the jungle, tackling the incredible rapids. Costa Rica is known for having the best whitewater rapids in the whole of Central America, so if you love rafting, you can’t miss the chance to get out and experience some of the most exciting ones that La Fortuna has to offer! 

I love that you can also go swimming on this tour. After rafting for a couple of hours, it’s nice to cool off. Luckily, the guides lead you into a safe area where you can jump in and swim around if you wish. We definitely did!

The tour costs $85 USD per person, which we think is a good deal since it’s all-inclusive and covers everything we mentioned. It lasts roughly 6 hours, so expect to return around 2:30 pm.

This tour is definitely one for the thrill-seekers out there. If that’s you, book the Sarapiqui River Whitewater Rafting experience here.

Waves splash over the side of a raft while white water rafting in Costa Rica
The class IV rapids are wild!

Whitewater rafting Class II and III

This 6-hour tour not only includes an exciting whitewater rafting experience, but you’ll also go to an organic farm to learn how two of Costa Rica’s most famous exports are made. Yup, we’re talking about coffee and chocolate! Two of my favorite things!

You can request pick up or join your group at the meeting point for a 9 am start. Once you hit the river, you’ll enjoy rafting through the jungle across class II and III rapids. It’s beginner-friendly but still thrilling, especially since you’re likely to spot sloths, iguanas, monkeys, and more along the way. The crew will make sure you don’t miss anything, and they’ll also have you laughing the entire time.

Then, you’ll go to a coffee and chocolate plantation where you’ll learn about agriculture and try lots of exotic fruit. Your group will also take a hike through this organic farm while enjoying the beautiful scenery. I love chocolate tours in La Fortuna – and coffee tours in Costa Rica are an absolute must. With this experience, you get it all conveniently rolled into one.

This tour is family-friendly, but adults will even get to try some local moonshine here, which is a fun experience. It was intense, but we embraced it! Afterward, you’ll enjoy lunch as a group before heading back to La Fortuna.

This option is also great value for money at $65 USD per person because it includes all of your activities, food, and drink, plus a visit to a coffee plantation. At that price, we think that it’s one of the best deals around. 

If you want to try rafting AND learn about the local exports (with yummy samples), this is the tour for you. Reserve your spot on this tour right here.

Related Read: While you’re in town, take a tour of La Fortuna Waterfall! It’s a gorgeous excursion and one of the most popular activities here.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here!

4. Do you need to book a La Fortuna whitewater rafting tour in advance?

White water rafting Costa Rica
So much fun!

Yes, you should. The tour companies need time to organize everything, so you can’t just turn up on the day. It’s always best to book at least a day or two in advance. During the busy season, you will need to secure your spot further ahead of time. 

Peak season is between December and April, which is one of the best times to visit Costa Rica. This means the best tours always book up well in advance during this time. If this is when you’re visiting La Fortuna, we’d recommend reserving your tour at least a week in advance.

5. Is whitewater rafting in La Fortuna suitable for children?

Yes, as long as they’re older than 5. The Class II and III rapids tours are suitable for kids aged 5 and older, while the ones that visit Grade IV rapids have a slightly older age requirement of 7. Meanwhile, the ziplining and rafting tour has a minimum age of 8. 

They take safety in Costa Rica seriously, so you can trust that these age limits are appropriate. However, if you’re worried, you can book this Peñas Blancas tour instead. This one doesn’t involve rapids, and instead, you just float gently down the river spotting sloths and monkeys, and only using your paddles every now and then.

The Peñas Blancas tour costs $65 USD per adult and $35 USD for children as young as 3, including pickup/dropoff from centrally located hotels. The experience lasts for around 5 hours, and you can go in the morning or afternoon. If this sounds more like your speed, you can book this tour online.

Alternatively, you can really make a day of it with this 3-in-1 combo tour, which also includes a visit to La Fortuna Waterfall and a hike around the base of the Arenal Volcano.

It costs $210 USD for adults and $138 USD for kids (ages 5 and up). Prices cover roundtrip transport from centrally located hotels, lunch, all activities, and national park fees. It’s a full day of fun, starting at 7:30 am and lasting roughly 9.5 hours. If you have the time, I say why not make a day of it! Book this family-friendly combo tour online.

6. Is whitewater rafting in La Fortuna safe?

white water rafting Costa Rica (2)
Yes!

No outdoor activity is ever 100% safe, but you can feel confident going whitewater rafting in Costa Rica. Tourism is incredibly important to the country’s economy, so safety is taken very seriously on these outings. You’ll be accompanied by expert guides, have good quality safety equipment, and get a briefing before each tour so you’re not just thrown in at the deep end! 

7. When is the best time to go whitewater rafting in Costa Rica?

Whitewater rafting in Costa Rica is a year-round activity. A lot of travelers do prefer the “green season,” which is from May – November. This is when Costa Rica receives the most rainfall, so the rainforest you’ll be rafting through will look even more lush and impressive. The water levels are also higher, which can mean a more thrilling experience. 

However, plenty of tourists enjoy whitewater rafting in the dry season, which is from December to April, since this is the busiest time of year in La Fortuna!

8. What should you wear while whitewater rafting in Costa Rica?

Three rafts float down a river in Costa Rica
Three rafts float down a river in Costa Rica

We recommend activewear. You just need comfy clothes that you can move around in and don’t mind getting wet! 

Most tour companies also stipulate that you must wear closed-toe shoes. Waterproof shoes are best if you have them with you. However, we just wore our running shoes and used a blow dryer to dry them out back at our hotel after the tour. It took 15 minutes and was really no trouble, so don’t worry too much if you don’t have waterproof shoes.

Other Things to do While You’re in La Fortuna

Traditional coffee brewer in Monteverde
Traditional coffee brewer in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Of course, going whitewater rafting is one of the best experiences, but there are so many other things to do in La Fortuna you won’t want to miss! These are just a few of our top picks:

  • Hot springs – If your tour doesn’t include hot springs, we definitely suggest visiting some! The Free Natural Hot Spring River is a public river running through the Tabacon Hot Springs Resort. It’s only 15 minutes outside La Fortuna and feels amazing after a day of hiking! If you don’t mind paying for a soak, there are tons of other amazing hot springs in La Fortuna to choose from too.
  • Go on a night walk – Since rafting is a daytime thing, go on this night walk and dinner tour for a fun evening experience. Guides lead you on an easy hike through the rainforest, spotting all the critters that come out after dark. To finish it off, you’ll enjoy a traditional Costa Rican dinner prepared on a wood-burning stove.
  • Visit a rope swing – El Salto, or “the rope swing,” is a hidden paradise with a swimming hole, waterfalls, and a local vibe – you’ll actually get a sneak peek as you drive by here on the whitewater rafting tours. This is one of the best free things to do in La Fortuna! You can easily walk to El Salto and swing into the refreshing waters – or ask the locals where it’s safe to jump!
  • Hanging bridges – Make sure to walk among the treetops! The Mistico Hanging Bridges are some of the best around here. There are 14 total bridges here, with 6 of them being hanging bridges. It’s a fantastic place to spot wildlife, especially if you join this guided tour
  • Arenal Volcano – Arenal Volcano is the centerpiece of La Fortuna! You can wander the trails at Arenal Volcano National Park on your own or as part of a hiking tour. For more unique volcano views, take to the sky aboard the Sky Tram, fly by on an ATV ride, or take a leisurely sunset cruise on Lake Arenal.

Related Read: If you’re flying into San Jose, read our guide on how to get from San Jose to La Fortuna.

Where to Stay in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Bailey in a spa at Casa Luna Hotel, La Fortuna
Bailey at Casa Luna!
View from Balcony at Casa Luna La Fortuna
The view from our balcony at Casa Luna!

Because La Fortuna is such a big tourist town, there are a ton of amazing places to stay. We even wrote an entire blog about the best hotels in La Fortuna. However, to make it super easy, we’ve narrowed it down to our top places for each price point. So keep reading to find one that suits your needs (and budget!).

The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal – $$$

For arguably the most luxurious hotel in La Fortuna, check out The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal. While the rooms don’t come cheap ($600 USD+), it’s a bucket list place to stay that’s perfect for visiting Costa Rica on a honeymoon!

You’ll find 28 hot spring pools here, making the resort the perfect place if you really want to relax. There’s also a resort-style pool, a fitness center, a swim-up bar, hot tubs, and a spa and wellness center. You can reserve a room at The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal on Booking.com.

Casa Luna Hotel & Spa – $$

Those with a medium budget should check out Casa Luna Hotel & Spa. I stayed here on my first visit to La Fortuna and loved it. The property is beautiful, with a large pool and four hot tubs surrounded by nature. You can also enjoy the tropical botanic garden at the hotel.

Casa Luna Hotel & Spa is near Arenal Volcano National Park, and all the rooms have views of the volcano and the rainforest. The hotel also includes a delicious breakfast, and rooms run about $200 USD a night. Casa Luna is located a short drive from town, and you can reserve a room online on Booking.com here.

Selina La Fortuna – $

One of the go-to budget options is Selina La Fortuna. I’ve stayed in Selina hostels around the world and this is a great one. It has a fun party atmosphere and a great co-working space where we spend a lot of time.

Selina Fortuna is located right in the middle of town, so you have easy access to great bars and restaurants nearby. Rates begin at $26 USD for a one-night stay in a dorm and $124 USD for a one-night stay in a private room. You can check availability and book on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.com.

Getting Around Costa Rica

Bailey with our rental car near Rio Celeste Costa Rica
Our rental car!

How you choose to get around Costa Rica is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make when planning your holiday here! How you do it depends on your budget, travel style, and comfort level. 

Renting a Car

Without a doubt, the number one way to explore Costa Rica is in a rental car. We book rental cars on the Discover Cars website as we have had good experiences with them in the past.

One of the things you need to watch for when renting a car in Costa Rica is the mandatory insurance that the government requires you to have. There are a lot of very cheap rentals that don’t include this mandatory insurance (TPL) in the original booking price, but there are also ones that do. To avoid additional surprise charges when you pick up your rental car, be sure to rent a car that includes the mandatory insurance when you book.

Thankfully, on Discover Cars it’s easy to tell apart the companies that include the mandatory insurance and those that don’t. The trick is you can’t pick any car on their website. In the picture below, you can see this rental car, with pick up in Jaco, includes the TPL. That means the mandatory insurance is included in the price. Any cover you get above that is extra.

Of course, I still suggest getting the full coverage offered by Discover Cars, which covers you even more.

You can browse cars on Discover Cars here.

TPL Cover Costa Rica
TPL Cover Costa Rica

Book Shuttles

If renting a car isn’t in your budget, you don’t feel comfortable driving in Costa Rica, or you just don’t like driving, shuttles are the next best option. There are hundreds of shuttle routes available all over the country, and they are very affordable.

Shuttles in Costa Rica are specifically for tourists and often include pick up and drop off at your selected hotels and airports. The drivers also speak some English, and the vehicles have air conditioning. You’ll also be guaranteed a seat when you book a shuttle (which isn’t the case with the public bus system.)

To get the best price, use the website Bookaway. They compare all the offers and prices of shuttle companies in Costa Rica so you get the best price! Honestly, we have saved so much money using Bookaway! 

You can search for shuttles online on Bookaway here.

Public Bus

Lastly, you can use the public bus system. On short journeys, such as from San Jose to La Fortuna or Uvita to Manuel Antonio, this system is great. However, the longer the journey the more hassle and time spent on a bus. It’s undoubtedly best to save the public bus in Costa Rica for short and straightforward trips!  

The public buses are definitely the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica, but they are not always very reliable and schedules often change without notice and delays are to be expected. The buses can also be very crowded and hot – so just be prepared!

It’s also good to speak some Spanish if you plan on riding the public bus since most drivers and ticket booth operators don’t speak English.

Invest in Travel Insurance

Paying out of pocket for trip interruptions or medical treatment will add to what might already be a stressful situation. We always travel with SafetyWing travel medical insurance.

The best part is that it costs only a fraction of what most insurance policies charge, which makes it perfect for digital nomads, long-term travelers (like us), and budget travelers. It only costs $45 USD per 4 weeks!

To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country. We usually purchase it as soon as we land at the airport.

Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada from Colombia before the border closed!

You can click here to get a quote and read all the details!

Pura Vida!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie while white water rafting in Costa Rica
Thanks for reading!

Going whitewater rafting in La Fortuna is such a fun adventure! However, it’s the type of thing that definitely requires planning ahead by booking a tour, which is why we’ve provided this list with a variety of options. All of these tours will let you enjoy the experience while also ensuring that you’re on the water with a reliable company.

Hopefully, you found a tour that looks just right for you! We always have an amazing time whitewater rafting in Costa Rica, and we want you to as well. Before your trip, make sure to check out our full blog on Costa Rica. We have lots of tips and advice to make your vacation the best one yet.

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