Costa Rica is based on a class system of 1-6 when it comes to whitewater rapids. The 1 being the calmest and the 6 being the most intense.

Commercial rafting in Costa Rica is only run on rapids classes 1 - 4. Here in this section we hope to explain the difference in the level of rapids to give you a better idea of what you might be looking for in your rafting adventure when visiting Costa Rica.

Class I

Class I rapids are for anyone who does not mind sitting in pool and floating with a current. Class I rapids can be found all over Costa Rica and are most common in the lowland areas where it is flat. There are many long stretches of class I sections in the northern area of Costa Rica on rivers like Cano Negro or on the Caribbean side in the area of Tortuguero. A class I rapid can be found in almost all rivers of Costa Rica including the famous Pacuare River. A class I rapid is still a current that is moving relatively quickly. Lifevests should be worn at all times when taking part in any class rapids. A class I rapid can be maneuvered by anyone in an inner-tube, a duckie, or a raft. Moments of class I sections are good for looking for animals in the nearby trees and learning a little bit about the rivers of Costa Rica.

Class II

If you have no rafting experience it is time to have a guide in the boat. Even though a class II rapid is for all ages and very little chance of falling out of the boat the current picks up quite a bit in a class II. When arriving to a class II rapid you can see from the start the line you will take, you can see how the middle of the rapid will be, and you can also see the end of the rapid giving you an easy look and mental layout of where you need to go for a smooth ride down a class II. A class II rapid if you are looking for a little fun can be run in a duckie and you can do the guiding if you have a few days experience and are accompanied by a profesional river guide. There are also sections where you use our special river rafting inner-tubes by NRS for this adventure. This has to be done in a section of class II rapids that is approved by people who know the river on a daily basis and scout the rapids before you make your des cend.

The chances of falling out of a class II are very slim and if grandma is begging for you to take her on a rafting trip in Costa Rica then you will probably be best running some class II sections. It is also a great way to get the little kids on the river ages 4 +.

Class III

The class III rapids is where your guiding will be done by a profesional river guide at all times in the raft. A class III section is on a steeper gradient than the class II\'s. This means that when arriving to the rapid you have a little bit of a tougher time judging the distance of the rapid and there might be small sections that are difficult to make out. For a first time rafter this will seem like a very large rapid and it will look like a cluster of water and rocks in many parts of Costa Rica. If you get out of the raft and stand on the edge of a class III rapid you are able to see clearly the line. Looking at it from the side located in a middle section of the rapid allows you to see the layout very clearly and notice that a Class III might look and feel like a lot from the entrance but it really is not much.

The class III rapids can be run by kids ages 8 and up. The adventures you can enjoy in a class III rapid might include, rafting or using a duckie with a guide or after some experience taking your own duckie down a class III rapid after looking at it from the side to get your line. The inner-tubes are probably best to do without in a class three as your chance of topsiding in an inner-tube would be pretty high.

Class IV

This is the part of the rafting trip when you notice that the voice of your river guide goes from joking around to a tone that is just a little bit more serious. The class IV rapids are to be run strictly guided by profesionals. The class IV rapids can be found all over Costa Rica.

When you are arriving to a class IV the gradient is even more steep than a class III. This means that when you are arriving there is a large section of the rapid that you cannot see. You might be able to see the pool after the rapid but you cannot see some of the obstacles that might be in the center of the rapid such as waves, rocks, or holes. Here in the class IV section you will always have as safety kayaker. In Costa Rica the rivers are considered very technical and not big water rivers. This means that the class IV sections being technical require a lot of maneuvering not only entering the rapid but while in the rapid. For this reason, it is important that your river guides know the class IV section they are running before the trip. They should not only be familiar with the rapid but know the line they will be taking that will be marked out by the safety kayaker. Our river guides have years of experience and handle the class IV\'s at a very proffesional level.

The class IV rapid is the highest level of rapid that is run commercially in Costa Rica. If you are looking for the maximum adventure then the class IV is for you. When running rivers in Costa Rica during dry months much of the adrenaline is taking out of the class IV rapids. They are still big and you will still get soaked but the rivers run much lower and a quite a bit less waterflow makes for a slower moving raft.

Class V

The upper section of almost every river in Costa Rica has class V rapids. If you are a professional river guide and decide to have the day out with your friends you can do class V rapids in Costa Rica. A class V rapid is very difficult to read as a guide. This rapid usually is very long and consist of a number of vertical drops. When you deal with vertical drops you are dealing with keeper holes. Also, most class V rapids are located in upper sections of rivers which mean the rivers are in narrow canyons which allow for less eddies for stopping and more under cuts.

Class V rapids should be run by a professional river guide who has years of experience and a serious spirit for adventure. The class V rapids being in upper section of rivers should be run during low water levels.

Class VI

We have a saying as rivers guides and it goes: Two things can happen if you run a class VI rapid: The first thing that can happen is that you die. The Second thing that can happen is that you become famous. With this said you can imagine that unless you are a professional kayaker looking for some serious adventure then you probably don't need to worry too much about the class VI rapids during your visit to Costa Rica.

Written by Tom Ranieri

Written by: Tom Ranieri, 11 year experienced Costa Rica River Guide, Naturalist Guide, Swift-Water Rescue Technician, Vertical Rescue Technician, WEMT, Environmentalist.