Upper Upper Pacuare. Photo credit: Emily Shanblatt

Upper Upper Pacuare. Photo credit: Emily Shanblatt

By: Charli Kerns

To many people, Costa Rica is the definition of exotic: trees ripe with bananas and mango, howler monkeys swinging through jungle canopies and active volcanoes punctuating a pristine landscape. To boaters, it is simply paradise.

From blue waters and classic rapids on the Pacuare River to the exploding waves of the Reventazon, Costa Rica offers something for every paddler. Canoe & Kayak online editor Charli Kerns is just back from a week-long whitewater safari with Turrialba-based adventure outfitter Esprit. Here are her tips for your next trip to paddling paradise.

Bring your own helmet, PFD and, if possible, paddle.
Even a company that has everything will not have gear that specifically fits you. When it comes to boat or spray skirt, that's not too big a deal. However, having your own helmet and paddle will bring familiarity, boosting confidence in otherwise foreign conditions.

Be open to surprises.
Dams don't release; rivers are raging; creek beds run too low. What could be a one-hour drive to the put-in of Class IV high whitewater could turn into a four-hour trek to find a Class III trickle. That's just life—it happens at home, and it's likely to happen on your paid vacation to Costa Rica. Sorry—Mother Nature doesn't take bribes for good boating.

Pack light.
It's not a matter of "being away from technology" or finding yourself out in nature. The more you pack, the more you carry from place to place. Also, though Costa Rica is a very safe place theft is always a possibility, and leaving a lot of expensive stuff in a bus or at camp offers more opportunity for it to go missing. Leave it behind and enjoy the river.

Push yourself, but know your limits.
Our Esprit guides were incredibly good about accommodating everyone's abilities, so there was no need to feel bored or scared on the river. A guided trip is a great environment to push your limits, but also keep in mind that other people who paid for the trip don't want to babysit you if you are in over your head. Just like any other time you run a river, paddling in Costa Rica requires a good assessment of your current skills and goals.

Drink a Coke or take a shot.
We drank soda or had rum waiting for us in the bus after every run. Could be an old wives tale, but those who drank the rum stayed healthy, and those who didn't, well . . .