Skip to Content

White Water Rafting in Costa Rica: Responsible Adventure Travel!

So proud of the adventure travel of my former student, Steph!

So proud of the adventure travel of my former student, Steph!

Teaching Traveling: Curious about easy, responsible ways to do group travel or adventure travel? It’s my thrill to introduce my former student, Steph Alexandre, who just took a trip that might be a fit for you, too!

Since I was her 10th grade English teacher in 2010 in Boston, Steph has gone on to travel the world, most recently being hosted by G Adventures, an ethical group travel company that’s ideal for teachers, solo travelers, and culture-lovers. (Note: Affiliate links to G here provide a small commission upon purchase at no extra cost to you.)

Because Steph’s Costa Rica experience was 16 days long, my beloved blogging buddy, Wandering Educators, and I are publishing highlights via several articles, with the goal of presenting a fabulous global education option for readers like you.

Steph, let’s kick this off with a detailed description what it was like to go WHITE WATER RAFTING in Costa Rica!

The white water rafting begins!

The white water rafting begins!

Steph: Yes! It all started the morning I woke up in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. I was already impatient for my first white water rafting escapade.

Bathing suit and towel? Check.

Water shoes? Check.

Bravado? Check.

I got to the reception desk just as the bus was pulling up for river. The rafting company, Desafio, is a local Costa Rican company that specializes in all things exploring: canyoning, white water rafting, ziplining, and beyond!

Our CEO (Chief Experience Officer, a term coined by G Adventures), Hector Gonzalez, was already at the entrance. Hector is the most relaxed tour guide I have ever had on a trip. I think he knows this helps foster that same adventurous yet calm spirit in the group. He is an expert in the best places to eat all over Costa Rica, and has great tips about the best souvenir shops that support local artists.

With Hector, G Adventures guide extraordinaire.

With Hector, G Adventures guide extraordinaire.

We did quick introductions with the rafting guide (Hector knows everyone in Costa Rica, I’m convinced), and I got on the bus. 

We arrived at the site near the river and met the guide, Marselo, who was actually going to be on the boat with us. This was definitely happening. No turning back now. We practiced the commands:

“Forward” = Raft forward in sync with the leader on your side.

“Backward” = Raft backward in sync with leader on your side (reviving old back muscles that you thought died freshman year of college).

“Get In” = When the river fights back and your only defense is to get in the boat, and still get soaked by the rapids.

“Pura Vida” = Something you say as you each point your paddle upwards to the middle in a group huddle… because you are in Costa Rica now, and you say this all the time.

Costa Rica! Pura vida!

Costa Rica! Pura vida!

After practicing the commands on land, we were ready to hit La Balsa River! The mouth of the river was a class 3-4 rafting so we had plenty practice time since most of the river is Class 2-3. We rafted down with sporadic screams and laughs as the tumultuous beast hurled us left and right amid the falling waterThe sea (river) was angry that day, my friends. 

Halfway down the river, the rafting guides asked each boat to pick a “captain” to sit at the front of the boat for a few minutes.

“I’ll do it” I heard myself say.

‘HOLD ON TO THE ROPE” cried Marselo.

“WHAT… (splish, splash)… ROPE?” I managed to scream back.

“Just hold on, Stephane. The rope is on the boat!”

I clung to the string on the side of the boat for dear life. The rapids hurled the boat left and right, and with each hurl, my vocal chords climbed new heights.

It was enthralling. I shrieked the whole 6-8 minutes I was captain.

Screaming with delight as captain of the boat!

Screaming with delight as captain of the boat!

“THIS IS (gulp)… AWE-(gulp)-SOME!” I managed to relay back to the rowing team. Oh, I swallowed at least a liter of river water that day.

It is such an incomparable feeling plunging into a river in the rain with a wonderful group of people. Having a team is an aspect of travel that can make or break an adventure.

A challenge for me post-graduation has been finding ways to safely and easily solo travel, and to continue to invest in sustainable traveling. With this trip, I didn’t have to compromise.

G Adventures prides itself on making travel transformative for everyone involved — the traveler, the local community, and the non-profits they partner with through Planeterra.  

In a three short hours, I supported Desafio, the local travel excursion business in La Fortuna, had my first white water rafting saga… and learned that I should invest in voice coaching lessons.

Great tips on small group travel, responsible travel, and adventure travel in Costa Rica (and beyond!) via the tale of white water rafting in La Fortuna! Inspiring and fun interview. Pictured: a hummingbird.

A Costa Rican hummingbird in action!

I am also a very nervous traveler — I enjoy trekking new paths alone, but I also need a group that can pull me into new ventures when abroad. It’s easy to make excuses to not go someplace when abroad: Too tired, need to Skype home, etc. However, a small group builds collective momentum and spreads confidence, for even the most shy travelers.

I loved the community feel of my G Adventures small group trip, and it is more than worth the investment, knowing that you will meet new people who will guide you out of your comfort zone.

When white water rafting, your guide is always the captain. It is imperative to follow every order they shout and to distinguish their voice from other guides in other boats. They are trained to save your life at a moment’s notice. They know the rivers through and through.

“So, I guess I did great for my first day on the job!” Marselo joked as we dragged our boat to the rocky shore of La Balsa. Very funny! 

The sunrise in Manuel Antonio. Costa Rica was a perfect place to start the new year!

The sunrise in Manuel Antonio. Costa Rica was a perfect place to start the new year.

Soon, I was trotting out of our bus to the hostel. I needed to gather any Wi-Fi strength the universe would allow me to call my mom and let her know I was still standing. It was January 1st, and I couldn’t think of a better way to welcome in the new year!

TT: Thanks so much, Steph! Readers, what comments or questions do you have for this inspiring adventurer about her journey with G Adventures, and beyond?

Great tips on small group travel, responsible travel, and adventure travel in Costa Rica (and beyond!) via the tale of white water rafting in La Fortuna! Inspiring and fun interview.

On Pinterest? Do save and share this!

How a Passion Project Can Pay Off for a Teacher or Travel Lover!
← Read Last Post
An Irish Teacher on How Travel is the Ultimate Gift to Find Yourself
Read Next Post →


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Kirstie Saldo

Tuesday 17th of July 2018

I always tell myself that I will never go white water rafting because Im afraid I'd feel and look like Steph in that photo =) but looking at your photos makes me reconsider. This really sounds like a lot of fun! I definitely will work on my courage to do this and hopefully have an awesome picture to share, too!


Tuesday 17th of July 2018

With a good guide, we can do anything, right? Hehe.


Monday 21st of May 2018

How does one start to travel with G Adventures? I would like to be able to do it during the summer. This looks like fun!


Monday 21st of May 2018

Hi Jessica! Just click through any of the mentions of G Adventures in the article to see all their options! They're wonderful because they have trips of all types, durations, and destinations. Do let us know if you end up picking one, and how it goes. Enjoy!

A Cloud Forest in Costa Rica That’s Educational Travel Gold | Teaching Traveling

Tuesday 27th of February 2018

[…] never had heard of this spot, until my former student, Steph, (now 23 years old!) was hosted there by the environmentally-conscious small group travel company, […]


Tuesday 13th of February 2018

I'm not sure I'd remember to say "pura vida" when paddling. I'm sure I'd be too worried about falling out of the raft. Looks like a fun experience and a great way to have an adventure in Costa Rica.


Tuesday 13th of February 2018

The La Balsa river looks like a ton of fun! I'm impressed that you were the captain too. I went rafting on the Pacuare in Costa Rica but this one looks like more fun!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.