Pacuare River

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Costa Rica

Pacuare River Rafting Guide

The Pacuare River is what made rafting famous in Costa Rica. Beautiful, cascading waterfalls, too many rapids to count, a jungle setting, and year-round access make it an idyllic spot. The Pacuare is segmented out by the Upper Upper, the Upper, and the Lower Pacuare. Our guidebook covers the Lower Pacuare which is the commercially rafted section. The other two are popular with kayakers and will be mapped in early 2024.

Pacuare Outdoor Center is the leading outfitter on the Pacuare River. They offer two, three, and four day trips on the Pacuare River. Learn more about Pacuare Outdoor Center.

About this guide

This guide outlines the Lower Pacuare run from the Multi-Day Put In to Siquirres. This is considered the commercial run.

River info

People describe the Pacuare as having 50+ plus rapids. They’re more or less correct as there are tons of Class II/III rapids and whitewater features on this river. The Lower Pacuare is primarily a pool-drop run with most of the rapids being read and run. It’s a beautiful stretch as the river is remote and you’ll raft in and out of canyons and thick jungle with creeks cascading into the river seemingly at every corner. The Pacuare is a free flowing jungle river that is most commonly run near the town of Tres Equis through Siquirres. There are other sections though, which are upstream of the start of this guidebook. These are called the Upper and Upper Upper. Both feature more challenging whitewater and are typically kayaked rather than rafted.

Safety

Being a free flowing river with many tributaries, the Pacuare river flows can ramp quickly. It is important to not be on the water if it is rising fast or if it is high. Additionally, the river and rapids are in constant flux and change often. What was once a Class II rapid can shift with a flood and be Class IV overnight. Channels close off while others open up. You should be a competent Class IV paddler if you are considering tagging along on a trip in your own kayak. If you are a commercial guest, then no previous rafting experience is necessary.

Joining a trip

We recommend joining a trip to learn the river as there are no flow gauges, the Pacuare can spike quickly, and the rapids change often. Pacuare Outdoor Center offers trips that run often and they are open to kayakers tagging along but you should expect to pay for meals and lodging as their trips are two days long.

Pacuare River Shuttle

Like most rivers in Costa Rica, you’ll need a four wheel drive vehicle to access the Pacuare. While it is certainly easier to join a Pacuare commercial trip and use their shuttles/logistics, if you need your vehicle at the put-in, then you’ll want to hire someone to shuttle it to Siquirres. Get in touch with Pacuare Outdoor Center to have it arranged.

Pacuare River Flows

There’s no automated flow gauge for the Pacuare River. Located in a rain forest with many tributaries the river can very quickly flood, so paying attention to the forecast and going with someone that knows the river and canyon is a must.

The only “gauge” is a visual marker located near the Rios Tropicales Lodge, painted on a rock on river left. This is labeled in our guide as the Water Level Indicator. The different colors are described in the guidebook in relation to flow. As recommended elsewhere in this guidebook, you should paddle with Pacuare Outdoor Center as you learn the river to make sure you are in good flows and follow the correct lines.

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Lower Pacuare – Class II, III & IV+

This guide outlines the main waypoints for the Lower stretch of the Pacuare River, from the multi-day put-in to the Siquirres takeout. Many of the Class II and III rapids are straightforward read and run at normal to low flows. If the water is up, or at the Class IV rapids at any flows, you will need to be with someone that knows the river well.

KM 0.00 – San Martin Put-in:

River Left. This is the put-in currently used for multi-day trips. Previously, there was another option further upstream but the road has become rutted and slightly washed out. This alternate access point requires the landowner’s permission as there is a gate. If you plan on using this access point you will need to get in touch with Pacuare Outdoor Center. (listed as our preferred partner).

II
KM 0.26 – Bienvenidos:

Class II+. This is a tight right turn with waves towards the bottom.

II
KM 0.5 – Unnamed Rapids:

Class II/III. There are over a dozen unnamed Class II and III rapids and features throughout the next 6 kilometers, with some named whitewater sprinkled in.

II
KM 3.00 – Temible Wave:

Class II+. At medium flows the bottom wave in this wave train is big, breaking, and clean to hit.

KM 3.18 – Temible Creek:

River Right. The Temible Creek meets the Pacuare here on river right. Spanish for “fearsome”. If you hike up this confluence approximately fifty meters there’s a small but nice swimming hole. A short ways past this is another, deeper swimming hole.

KM 3.23 – Tres Equis Farm Put-in:

River Left. This is a put-in option for one day trips.

II
KM 3.33 – Bienvenidos Rapid:

Class II+. Another rapid named Bienvenidos due to a river access point. Read and run.

KM 3.77 – Cartago to Limon Province Border:

You cross from Cartago Province into Limon Province at this point.

KM 4.14 – Linda Vista Put In:

River Left. This is the best put-in option for the Lower Pacuare. The road is good and there are pit toilets here.

III
KM 4.33 – Linda Vista Rapid:

Class III. Keep your eyes out for a rock mid channel that’s easy to pass on the left. Then the river makes a jarring right hand turn, and work your way right to stay off the right wall.

KM 4.89 – Jump Rock:

River Right. As far as jump rocks go, this is a very small but fun one.

KM 4.95 – Congo Creek:

River Left. This creek has a large swimming hole if you hike up approximately 100 meters. The cobblebar on the downstream side of this creek is a popular lunch spot for rafting companies.

KM 5.24 – Cable Cart & Beginning of Lodge Section:

A cable cart crosses the river here for access to the Ju Tsiöbata eco-lodge, which you can’t spot from the river. This marks the beginning of the lodge section, which continues until Rio Tropicales, ~5 kilometers downstream.

II
KM 5.5 – Pyramid Rock:

Class II. The river divides into two channels, take the left channel. It’s normal for this to be shallow. The rapid name comes from a rock that was shaped like a pyramid but then it rolled in 2006.

III
KM 7.22 – Pele el Ojo:

Class III. Spanish for Watch Out. Start in the center and once you see the big rocks on the left start moving right. There are lots of large boulders on the left you need to avoid.

III
KM 7.46 – Costa Rica Rios Rapid:

Class III. Straight forward wave train. Right down the center.

II
KM 8.04 – Crying Rock Rapid:

Class II. The river bends to the left. Start in the middle, and then run between the wall on the right and the hole. It’s going to be tight.

KM 8.08 – Crying Rock:

River Right. Look right for a rock with water seeping over it.

KM 9.58 – Rios Tropicales Lodge:

River Right. This is where Rios Tropicales is located and marks the end of the lodge section.

II
KM 9.5 – Rio Tropicales Rapid:

Class II. This is a two part rapid. The first part, go down the middle avoiding the hydraulics on the sides. The second section, go far right avoiding the hydraulics on the left.

III
KM 9.75 – Entrance to the Gorge Rapid:

Class III.

KM 9.82 – Footbridge:

A footbridge crosses the river here.

KM 9.88 – Creek.:

River Right. A creek enters on river right here.

III
KM 10.11 – Rio’s Bend:

Class III. There’s a big hole right in the middle.

KM 10.4 – Bobito Falls:

River Right. A creek cascades into the river in this tiered waterfall.

II
KM 10.93 – Bobito:

Class II. This is a small drop located just below Fer-De-Lance Falls.

KM 10.96 – Fer De Lance Creek:

River Left. If you need to exit the canyon (emergency, rising water, etc) there is a really steep trail here that leads to a road.

III
KM 11.18 – Rodeo Rapid:

Class III. Enter left of center and then ferry to the right tucking in behind the middle rock.

III
KM 11.65 – Palomitas Rapid:

Class III. Small Class III with bouncy waves that ends at the creek and waterfall below.

KM 11.75 – Waterfall:

River Right. A gorgeous waterfall drops into the river here.

KM 12.23 – Cold Creek:

River Right. If you hike up this a shortways (careful, it is very slippery) there is a tiered waterfall that drops into a swimming hole.

III
KM 12.32 – Double Drop:

Class III. At lower water this is Class III. Run this either left of center or right of center. Lots of holes in this one. At high water there are really big holes toward the bottom.

IV
KM 12.85 – Upper Huacas:

Class IV. At low water, you will want to enter center and then work right to get right of the bottom rock (the first one). At medium flows, enter left and stay left. At high flows, it’s the same as medium water with an enter left and stay left line, but pay attention to the right as the features are large here.

IV
KM 13.33 – Lower Huacas:

Class IV. Scout this from the right if you’ve never seen it. At normal flows and higher there is a chicken line far right avoiding most of the nastiness. The others lines are to start center and run the right side of the drop. After that stick to the middle while working right to avoid the undercut on the left.

KM 13.86 – Calm Pool:

There aren’t many long sections of calm water on the Pacuare. This is one of them.

III
KM 14.18 – Upper Pinball:

Class III. Read and run with a sharp right at the bottom.

III
KM 14.4 – Lower Pinball:

Class III. Just below Upper is Lower Pinball. There are two rocks in the middle of the river that you need to slalom between. The first rock, go to the right of it, the second rock, get to the left.

KM 14.46 – Hut:

River Right. Look right and you’ll see some huts.

III
KM 14.72 – Guatemala Rapid:

Class III. Fun wave train with a hole towards the bottom that you can play in.

KM 14.91 – Creek:

River Right. A small waterfall tumbles into the river here.

KM 16.09 – Creek:

River Right. An unnamed creek enters the river here.

KM 16.85 – Creek:

River Right. Another unnamed creek meets the Pacuare.

II
KM 17.04 – Cimarrones:

Class II. Enter left and work to the right. Cimarrones is the bravest bull on the farm.

II
KM 17.56 – La Cimmarones Bend:

Class II. The river bends to the right. Occsaionally at high water this will push you to the left which can have a big hole.

II
KM 17.78 – Sobaco del Diablo:

Class II. Spanish for the devil’s armpit. The name comes from a sulphur smell that is near here. Enter middle and work left.

KM 19.37 – Brain Rock:

This used to be in the center of the river, but after the 2021 floods it is no longer on the left bank. It’s called Brain Rock because, well, it looks like a brain.

KM 19.51 – Boundary Creek:

River Right. This creek marks the boundary between indigenous land and Barbilla National Park.

III
KM 19.71 – Los Indios:

Class III. This rapid used to be much bigger but has mellowed out significantly over the years. Rapids changing and getting smaller, larger, appearing or disappearing is nothing new on the Pacuare.

II
KM 21.09 – Magnetic Rock:

Class II. Enter left of center and then work to the right.

IV
KM 22.34 – The Wall of Sorrow:

Class IV. You’re going to want to scout this one. You can scout it easily from the left cobble bar. This wasn’t much of anything until the flooding in 2021. Most of the water enters a right channel and then slams into a rock slide coming off the right wall. This rockslide has undercuts, so it is important you make the move back left. The move is easy to spot, but can be challenging to make. Hopefully over time the rapid settles and an easier route to the left appears.

IV
KM 22.67 – Dos Montanas Rapid:

Class IV. The first part is Class III, start in the middle and work to the left. For the second part, take the drop on the left and after the drop work center to be on the right side of the rocks. Once clear, work hard back to the left.

II
KM 24.5 – Las Ranitas:

Class II. Spanish for the little frog. Start left of center and then work to the right. There’s a hydraulic on the left you should avoid.

KM 25 – Jump Rock:

River Right. There’s a small but fun jump rock here on river right. If you pass by the four powerlines you’ve gone too far.

III
KM 25.17 – Graduation:

Class III. Go down the center, and skirt the middle rock/hole by going just to the left of it. After that move towards the right. The visual marker for this rapid is the power lines overhead.

KM 25.63 – Train Bridge:

This bridge marks the beginning of Siquirres. The train used to run from Siquirres to Limon but was shut down in 1990 due to disrepair after 100 years of service. Occasionally you’ll see kids jumping from this bridge.

KM 26.01 – Highway Bridge:

Highway 32 crosses the river here. You’re likely to see people fishing in this area.

KM 26.23 – Siquirres Take Out:

River Left. There are a number of takeout options in this area, but the most common one is the cobble bar just past the Highway 32 bridge.