(QTRAVEL) The first thing to know about white-water rafting on the Pacuare, Costa Rica’s most scenic river, is that you should not look at the souvenir T-shirts.
These reveal the unsettling names given to its rapids, ranging from Class I to IV, and include Pinball, Rodeo — and Cemetery.
British Airways (BA.com) flies from Gatwick (LGW) to San Jose (SJO) twice a week.
The second is that the water isn’t the dangerous bit: most injuries result from being whacked with a paddle by your neighbour.
Finally, the secret of survival lies in teamwork. You will most likely be rafting with strangers, so it helps that my motley crew includes a silver-haired English couple and two young Irish honeymooners.
Both arrived the night before on the new direct BA flight from London to San Jose, the capital of this most welcoming of Central American countries. ‘We thought of going to the Maldives and flopping on a beach,’ explains the bride, ‘but I fancied doing something exciting we’ll never forget.’
This is not in doubt as we set off in a 14ft, six-passenger inflatable raft that seems woefully small for our 17-mile rollercoaster ride down this mighty river. At the first rest point, Max, our trusty guide and helmsman, makes us jump off a rock into raging water, then desperately swim to grab his paddle.
Later, we stop at a waterfall to escape the 30c heat and enjoy a natural massage in its thundering deluge. I soon become accustomed to being smashed in the face by waves, and learn not to fear our near-crashes with the oncoming rocks.
After 90 minutes of paddling for our lives, soaked and bruised but exhilarated, everything stops for time out at Pacuare Lodge, a remote and luxurious eco-hotel, where virtually every guest rafts in and out.
With its hammocks, plunge pools and exuberant nature, this blissful 18-room lodge sings of romance.
If you need more action, there’s canyoning, ziplining and strenuous hikes to visit the indigenous Cabecar people.
Costa Rica has more species of birds than the whole of Europe. As we breakfast on slices of luscious mango and papaya, squadrons of chestnut-headed oropendolas criss-cross the Pacuare like some avian Battle of Britain.
If the rain comes (and most afternoons it will), there’s a delightful riverfront spa, where therapists wearing gumboots soothe your paddle-weary muscles.
During the evening, the great frog chorus starts up, while howler monkeys bark and growl like MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions. When you head to bed, your suite is lit with more than 40 candles.
After two nights of rainforest heaven, it’s time to raft back to civilisation on a three-hour ride battling through 16 rapids.
This time, my companions include two Indian brothers and their mother, who can’t believe they made her leave her Gujarat comfort zone to face the perils of Double Drop and Devil’s Armpit. ‘I’m scared!’ wails Mama, as we don our helmets and lifejackets.
Unlike in Africa, Costa Rica doesn’t permit its rafting companies to ride the truly wild Class V rapids, which means you get the thrills without the spills — though there are hairy moments when we find ourselves pirouetting down one rapid and later get stuck on a midstream boulder.
Spliced between these adrenaline-fuelled encounters are interludes of astonishing serenity as we glide through the 300ft-high forests.
Blue morpho butterflies flutter by in the thick heat. Yellow-throated toucans flap past, weighed down by their magnificent beaks.
A machaca fish jumps, grabbing a quick lunch of purple orchid blooms floating on the tea-coloured water.
I feel like an explorer dreamily floating through an enchanted canyon of emerald trees and silvery waterfalls — until Max suddenly cries: ‘Paddle now!’ and we’re off again, bouncing around like a sock in a washing machine as the Pacuare roars and pours its way down to the Caribbean Sea. Finally, we turn a bend in the river and return to the real world.
Our brave little raft passes beneath a huge concrete bridge laden with trucks transporting the bananas, pineapples and tropical fruits for which Costa Rica is renowned.
‘Will you go white-water rafting again?’ I ask Mama. ‘Oh, yes!’ she replies with a grin as we raise our paddles in a final, jubilant high five. Me, too.
Original article by Nigel Tisdall For The Daily Mail