San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Raft In, Raft Out: River Adventures Deluxe at Pacuare Jungle Lodge

Offering an unforgettable white-water experience, the PacuareRiver is perhaps the wildest, most scenic in Costa Rica, and one of the top rafting rivers in the world. It meanders through calm stretches past virgin rain forest, tumbles over Class III and IV rapids and then plunges through a series of spectacular canyons with near vertical forested walls towering hundreds of meters above. As you hurtle headlong into the Class IV rapids, your raft pitches, lurches and tosses you about, giving you the thrill of a lifetime.

Outfitter Aventuras Naturales offers much more than the excitement of the rapids. A two- or three-day adventure with an overnight or two-night stay at the Pacuare Lodge will give you an amazing tropical wilderness experience.

The lodge is 20 miles from the Caribbean-slope town of Siquirres, deep inside the Pacuare Protected Zone. It’s accessible only by raft or four-wheel-drive vehicle. Three options exist: you can raft both ways; take the 4×4 transport one way, either in or out; or, if rafting doesn’t appeal to you, take the land transport both ways. Safety on the river (see sidebar) and guest comfort and enjoyment at the lodge are paramount, as is the minimal environmental impact on the natural paradise that surrounds it.

Costa Rican owners Roberto Fernández and his wife Luz Caceres have designed and constructed the lodge to blend with the surrounding environment.

“We are recognized by the World Tourism Organization as one of only 65 examples in the world of good practices in sustainability and ecotourism,” boasted the charming Fernández.

All supplies at the lodge are rafted in, including food, drinks, construction materials and furnishings, as well as clean and dirty linens, both ways.

“Garbage is separated and biodegradable waste is processed on site. We recycle everything we can and any leftovers are rafted out,” Fernández said.

There is no electricity at the lodge, only a small generator for kitchen appliances.

When night falls, more than a hundred candles are lit in the main lodge, and flickering candlelight in the bungalows make this Tarzan and Jane paradise one of the most romantic getaways in Costa Rica.

Stone pathways lead to the all-wood bungalows with palm-thatched roofs, which are scattered around the colorful, landscaped tropical garden. Designed by architect Francisco Rojas, they offer simplistic luxury and absolute privacy.

The new, open-sided, completely screened River-View Suites are stunning; the king-size canopy beds with Beautyrest mattresses must be the most comfortable you’ll ever find.

These and other bamboo furnishings were designed by bamboo artist and furniture maker Brian Erickson out of his workshop on the Río Blanco, near Guápiles (TT, Jan. 19).

Interior designer Rocío Quesada chose white as the dominant color, and the sparkling white linens, fluffy towels and flimsy drapes appear somewhat incongruous in the middle of the jungle, yet are a perfect addition to the spacious, hardwood-floored interior.

Taking a shower presents a dilemma: which bathroom to use? The spacious, fully tiled one with burnished copper fixtures, or the alfresco one open to the heavens? Both have solarheated showers, but remember to leave your electric shaver and hair dryer behind.

A hardwood deck overlooks the river and towering banks of verdant rain forest beyond. The large terrace with hammock and bamboo and rattan furnishings is perfect for relaxing or sipping your morning coffee, delivered by one of the attentive staff.

The only things missing are a closet for hanging clothes and a clothesline for drying garments wet from the river.

The older, also secluded Garden Bungalows are smaller and have the same canopy beds, a futon couch, private terrace and nice bathrooms with solar-heated showers.

The Honeymoon Suite is undergoing renovations at present, but offers total privacy and tranquility. An extensive front deck, thatched-roof rancho and a hanging bridge to a private lookout among the treetops, as well as a small pool, make this a magical place for any couple.

The main lodge, a palm-thatched, twostory structure, offers panoramic views of the river and rain forest. An appetizing full breakfast is served on the expansive deck and includes fresh fruit, delicious homemade bread and granola. Lunch and dinner are served in the open-air, first-floor restaurant.

A simple, tasty lunch menu consisting of a pasta, rice or couscous dish is accompanied by a crisp salad and fresh fruit. The candlelit dinner, a gourmet jungle feast, offers a choice of meat, chicken, fish or a vegetarian dish on request.

Upstairs, the spacious, open-sided lounge and bar is a delightful place where guests congregate for cocktail hour and chat about their adventures.

The two-day package gives you time to enjoy a beautiful but easy hike to a nearby waterfall. The Canopy Adventure ($40) takes you soaring through the treetops along a series of transverse cables, and throws in a thrilling rappel and rope swing to the forest floor. A soothing Therapeutic Rainforest Massage ($40) is also available.

The three-day package allows time for a strenuous hike to a Cabécar indigenous village ($30) or a horseback ride to the small, nearby village of Bajo del Tigre ($50).

Many happy guests have said that a PacuareRiver and Pacuare Lodge adventure has been the highlight of their stay in Costa Rica, thanks to the excellent service, friendly staff and safety-conscious guides.

Rates depend on choice of accommodation. Two-day, one-night packages range from $289 to $329 per person, double occupancy, while three-day, two-night packages are $419 to $449. The Honeymoon Suite ranges from $339 to $519 per person for three days. Package rates include transportation from and to San José, PacuareRiver rafting tour with professional guides and equipment (with option of ground transportation to lodge for non-rafters), all meals and lodging.

For more information, visit or call 225-3939.

Rafting and More, A Personal Experience

On a recent two-day PacuareRiver and Jungle Lodge Adventure, my companion and I were picked up by a comfortable minibus in San José. We met Tito, our charming, gregarious guide, who pointed out places of interest and regaled us with Costa Rican anecdotes and historical tidbits.

“I speak very good Spanglish,” he chuckled. However, nobody seemed to have a problem understanding his nonstop humorous chatter. A breakfast stop en route gave us an opportunity to get to know our fellow passengers.

When we reached the bank of the Pacuare, Tito gave us a briefing about safety procedures and explained that the lodge is very aware of these at all times. They don’t hesitate to cancel a trip when the river is too high. If this occurs, a refund or the opportunity to return another day is available.

Our backpacks and cameras were put into waterproof bags and secured on the transport raft, while we passengers donned lifejackets and helmets. We clambered aboard our rafts and were on our way, paddling down the easy section of the river, offering only the thrills of Class II and III rapids. We stopped at a picture-perfect waterfall for an invigorating swim before continuing on our way.

An hour later we arrived at the lodge, had lunch and opted to go on the waterfall hike. Tito led us down a well-maintained, fairly easy jungle trail, pointing out flora along the way. As darkness fell, we congregated around the candlelit bar, then enjoyed an excellent dinner and socializing with our traveling companions.

After a wonderful night’s sleep, the brave among us went on the Canopy Tour, which was described as “fantastic.”

Not liking heights, I took a leisurely amble along the river and spotted a variety of birds, including toucans, hummingbirds and kingfishers.

After breakfast, our intrepid fellow travelers set off to conquer the most thrilling part of the river, where rafts squeeze between boulders and race down the powerful Class IV rapids.

Our choice, out of curiosity, was to take the land transport out. After an early lunch and a short hike along the river, we arrived at a hub of activity. A gondola big enough to carry two passengers was being loaded with supplies for the lodge. It swings across on a cable high above the river, and is then pulled to safety on the other side. A four-wheel-drive vehicle was waiting to drive us along a seven-kilometer, muddy, steep, virtually impassable track. All this was an exciting experience in itself.

On the main road, a minibus was waiting to drive us to the river take-out in Siquirres, where we had more than an hour to wait for the dripping-wet rafters, who wanted to use the changing facilities and watch the video of their breathtaking journey before our return drive to San José.

The land transport is an alternative for those who want to stay at the lodge but not run the rapids, or who have young children (minimum age for rafting is 12). However, if you want to experience the mighty Pacuare at its most awesome, it’s better to drive in and raft out.

Aventuras Naturales offers a one-day white-water rafting adventure, but you picnic by the river and never get to see Pacuare Lodge. For information, visit or call 225-3939.


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