I first heard stories about Costa Rica from my aunt when I was about 10 years old. Stories of this tropical country impressed me a lot and I found myself browsing my old Atlas book quite often, hoping one day I will manage to see this place. Last October my mind was set, tickets were bought and together with Blaž Stan we were on our way to Costa Rica.
This Central American country is bordering Northern Pacific Ocean to the east and Caribbean Sea to the west. It shares its borders with Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north. This small patch of land between the two oceans is divided by two mountain ranges, Cordillera Central to the north and Talamanca mountains to the south. On its thinnest point it is not more than 100 km wide but because of its jungle covered mountains it is a challenge to explore what this country has to offer. The climate differs a lot within the country from cold mountains, rainy Caribbean coast and of course hot Pacific beaches.
It would be hard to describe what type of rivers could be found there since you find very different styles to paddle. Depending on the conditions, you can paddle larger rivers, steep creeks or waterfalls. Although water levels are always a bit of a mystery, with patience and some local tips, you can find your way around.
We spent majority of our time in Central Valley, in a town of Turrialba, kayaking and working as raft guides. Turrialba is a small town at the base of Talamanca mountains, famous for its coffee production and a good base for anyone coming to paddle the Costa Rican classics. Rio Pacuare, Rio Reventazon and the infamous Chirripo Atlantico, the deepest canyon in Central America, are at its doorstep.
Turrialba region could be a challenging one to paddle. Although all the runs can be done in one day, some are quite remote and hard to get to. Our favorite two runs in the region were definitely Upper Pacuare, and Rio Orosi. Very different between each other, where Upper Pacuare is a full day mission with about 4 hours of paddling and Orosi on the other hand, fun short creaky run where you can do laps.
Further to the northwest from Turrialba, lies the valley of Rio Sarapiqui. Commonly known for being a rainy place where dry season is not so dry sometimes. Here we were lucky enough to catch good water level on Poza Azul, the classical stretch for waterfalling in Costa Rica.
What came as a nice surprise in the region was running the Bijagual waterfall. This hidden waterfall, discovered only couple of years ago, is despite good access not being ran often. It was a great feeling to be able to put myself in front of such a challenge but it was even better to see the happy faces of others after completing one of the best drops in the country.
After Rio Sarapiqui valley we are heading south to the Pacific coast, to the town of Quepos, the outpost for the Rio Naranjo, Savegre, Coto Brus and further up in the mountains, Chirripo Pacifico.
All originating in the Talamanca mountains and later draining into Pacific Ocean, going in slow pace through the oil palm trees plantations in the flatlands. In this area we didn’t paddle as many rivers as we hoped, but the ones we did, turned out to be true gems. First we paddled Chirripo Pacifico which is a steep, about 5 km long, bouldergarden style run. We did this run twice and always been lucky with water level since at lower flows this run can become quite a bony one. Our second river was Rio Naranjo, the only significant bedrock river in the country.
This river came as a big surprise, since after reading the guidebook I did not expect a lot, but it turned out quite opposite. In the rainy season it offers a big variety in paddling due to the constant changes of waterlevel because of the intense rain fall.
Some stretches can be done at high water in the unpredictable rainy season and for one you have to wait for the sunny dry season. In the dry season the Diamantes section of Rio Naranjo is next to Chirripo Atlantico your best option to keep you busy in your kayak.
It was the longest section for us in Costa Rica and in my opinion also the most demanding one. Most of the run is in a narrow canyon with very few options of escaping out. It consists of mostly class 4 rapids which will keep you busy for a couple of hours. According to the locals this stretch hasn’t been ran for couple of years and therefore we were thrilled to be a part of this mission.
Our four months in Costa Rica passed by fast. We returned back home with new ideas for the future, new knowledge and most importantly with new friends. Special thanks to Alpin Action and everyone who went kayaking with us or helped us with information. Hopefully we see each other soon in the Tico’s paradise.
Urban Rejc. Alpin Action Team