Make your trip to Costa Rica one to remember! From a whitewater rafting adventure along miles of tropical scenery on the Pacuare River to an excursion to one of the country's top surf spots, this short and sweet itinerary is jam-packed with thrilling aquatic experiences.


  • Brave the Pacuare River over class II, III, and IV rapids.
  • Stay at an eco-lodge nestled within virgin rainforests
  • Ride some waves at the Caribbean surf haven of Puerto Viejo
  • Visit a wildlife sanctuary and get up close and personal with exotic animals 

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Renowned the world over as a premium whitewater rafting site, the Pacuare River flows for about 70 miles (108 km) from Costa Rica's central highlands down towards the Caribbean Sea. It boasts many class III-IV rapids, which makes it an exciting destination for rafting pros and newbies alike. Then there's the village of Puerto Viejo, on the southern Caribbean coast. It's a surf destination globally famous for its colossal waves at the famed and intimidating beach of Salsa Brava.

These two locales share more than a country—they are two of the greatest destinations for aquatic adventure anywhere in Latin America. In this itinerary you'll experience both of them, starting in the capital of San Jose, moving on to the Pacuare, and ending at Puerto Viejo. Although this itinerary is focused on water activities, there will be plenty of opportunity for wildlife spotting along the way.

Brief Itinerary

Day Destination Overnight Activities
Day 1 San José (Arrival) San José City Tour
Day 2 Pacuare River Pacuare River Lodge Rafting 6mi (10km), 3 meals included
Day 3 Pacuare River/Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo Rafting 16mi (25km), lunch included
Day 4 Puerto Viejo/San Jose San José Surfing
Day 5 San José (Departure)    

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Costa Rica

San Jose's National Theatre
San Jose's National Theatre

Welcome to Costa Rica! A local representative will meet you at the airport and escort you to your comfortable hotel in San José, the country's capital. Make sure to get plenty of rest for the upcoming adventure. If you do arrive early enough, consider a stroll through downtown, walking among the city's many plazas and visiting top cultural sites like the National Theatre and National Museum, the latter of which features exhibits detailing the history of the country from Pre-Columbian times to present day. 

For more travel advice, check out 24 Hours in San José and look over our list of the best hotels in San José.

Day 2: Pacuare River - Rafting (Class II-III Rapids) 

Braving the Pacuare
Braving the Pacuare

Today you'll wake up early, meet your guide, and begin the 2.5-hour drive out of the city towards the Pacuare River. Stop en route for a classic Costa Rican breakfast before you arrive at the river put-in, where you will start your rafting excursion.

After a guided orientation, you'll embark on an exciting 1-1.5-hour river rafting trip over class II-III rapids. Paddle past impressive tropical scenery through rushing rapids all the way to a riverside eco-lodge. You will check into your accommodation and have the rest of the day to explore the surrounding area with your guide.

Learn more about the best active experiences in Costa Rica.

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Day 3: Pacuare River - Rafting (Class III-IV Rapids) - Puerto Viejo

Rafting through a canyon on the Pacuare River
Rafting through a canyon on the Pacuare River

Depart after breakfast and brace yourself for a whitewater rafting experience that lasts 3.5 hours over class III-IV rapids. Once you travel further down the Pacuare, you'll encounter canyons, waterfalls, and virgin rainforests hugging both sides of the riverbanks. During the calmer stretches, be on the lookout for various species of birds, like herons and ospreys, and other wildlife that roams the region, including river otters and capuchin monkeys.

Around noon, your rafting journey will come to an end. Eat a deli-style lunch, change into dry clothes, then hop on a minibus. Now you're off to the Caribbean coast and your final destination: the village of Puerto Viejo. You will have the evening to explore this town. Don't forget to try to local creole style rice and beans, cooked with coconut milk and served with fresh fish. It's something you won't find anywhere else in Costa Rica.

For more ideas and inspiration, read Best Things to Do in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Day 4: Puerto Viejo - Surfing and return to San José

Surfer near the beaches of Puerto Viejo
Surfer near the beaches of Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is well known for its principal surf beach of Salsa Brava, but only the most experienced of surfers can tame the waves there. If you don't want to risk leaving with a broken board, try visiting the beaches of Playa Cocles, Playa Negra, Cahuita, or Manzanillo, which are ideal for surfers of all levels. The smooth sandy bottoms of Playa Cocles and Playa Negra make these two beaches particularly ideal for beginner and intermediate surfers.

If surfing isn't on your radar, there are plenty of other activities here. You can go on a guided hike, snorkel in Cahuita National Park, scuba dive at nearby reefs, visit the waterfalls of the Kekoldi Indian Reserve, go horseback riding, or visit the Sloth Sanctuary. Know that this area is rich in culture—both Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous Bribri influences are present in Puerto Viejo, and many locals speak Patois (pronounced “patua”), a creole language derived from Afro-Caribbean English, Spanish, and French. A rewarding activity unto itself is simply immersing yourself in this rich, local heritage. 

In the evening, head back to San José and overnight in the city. You can read about our top restaurant recommendations in San José here.

Day 5: Departure

Ride the last wave
Ride the last wave

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica. A local representative will pick you up and transfer you to the airport for your departing flight. 

Looking for Other Ideas for Costa Rica?

Looking for other ideas for your trip to Costa Rica? We have some great ideas for how to spend 5 days in Costa Rica, plus a list of family-friendly 6-day itineraries. Read more about the best time of year to visit here.

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Map of Costa Rica Adventure: Whitewater Rafting and Surfing - 5 Days
Map of Costa Rica Adventure: Whitewater Rafting and Surfing - 5 Days