Sustainable Luxury In Costa Rica

River Rafting in Central America

By Denise May, Travel Writer

Felicity—a 20-something travel lover—has teamed up with her friends from around the world to provide readers with local, insider knowledge of today’s most awe-inspiring destinations. Through writing, photography, and video, they’ll share the best tricks and tips for experiencing a place authentically and getting off the beaten path.

Dear Felicity,

You asked me to recommend a great place in Costa Rica to have a rural adventure. I have just the place!  

Named a “Unique Lodge of the World” by National Geographic, Pacuare Lodge is in good company as one of the world’s most sustainable destinations. Having been to many environmentally-focused lodges in Costa Rica, it’s one of my all-time favorites, and I recommend it to any traveler looking for an eco-conscious, exotic, and most definitely off-the-beaten-path adventure.

Blue river rafts in front of wooden lodge

Above all else, this lodge is unique due to how guests arrive and depart from the property. By train? No. Car? Absolutely not. Your choices are helicopter or whitewater rafting down the famous Pacuare River. That’s right—you ride literal rapids to get there!

For our visit, we were picked up around 7:00am in Costa Rica’s capital city of San Jose. There are only three hotels from which Pacuare Lodge provides transportation to the river, but your Protravel advisor will arrange that for you.

Enroute to where the boats put in, we were treated to a typical Costa Rican breakfast. This included gallo pinto, a local delicacy of rice, beans, cilantro, and other goodies; homemade tortillas; eggs; and fresh fruit, all topped off with delicious local coffee. This hearty meal gave us the stamina we needed for the Level II-III rapids we were about to tackle.

Blue river raft on river near trees

After a safety lesson from our Pacuare guide, we were strapped into our life jackets and helmets before boarding the raft. Our guide gave us instructions as we floated down the river towards the various rapids. We were even able to stop in a secluded cove for a quick swim and cool off—apparently water conditions don’t always permit for this, so we felt lucky.

Plenty of screaming and laughter and waves later, we arrived at Pacuare’s magnificent property. Hidden in the jungle, the love and dedication that went into creating this one-of-a-kind lodge was apparent immediately. Our river guides stayed on throughout our time there and became our servers in the restaurant; they made delicious recommendations for every meal, and the organic (and mostly local food) was lovely. The bartender delighted us with specialty cocktails, local beers, and spirits.

Man and woman at outdoor kitchen

Pacuare’s first and foremost priority is the preservation of the natural environment, land, and culture in this protected region. As guests, we were encouraged to join a daily Sustainable Tour and experience a behind-the-scenes look at the facilities. We learned about the actions taken to minimize impacts on the environment, the conservation efforts they support, and the benefits provided to nearby communities. The onsite naturalist took us to visit the hydroelectric micro-central turbine and recycling program, and ended with a visit to Jaguar Hall where we learned about this endangered feline.

People hiking on jungle trail

Adventures at this lodge went far beyond just rafting—kayaking, hiking, canyoning, and ziplining were also available to all guests. We were quite taken with The Nest, a platform hidden in the treetops where you can zipline in, dine, then rappel down. They offer this for both lunch and dinner, but be sure to reserve!

Person zip lining through jungle

For nature lovers, the bird watching at Pacuare was spectacular, and while not for the faint of heart, we loved our hike to a local waterfall. Rest assured, there were trails and hikes to suit every level.

The suites and villas are highlights of this lodge. Each is a free-standing unit with all the amenities of home, plus those you wish you had year-round (outdoor shower in the jungle, anyone?).

Bridge to treehouse in jungle

Although this was an air conditioning-free property, the screen doors allowed us to enjoy a fresh breeze, and many of the villas had their own private plunge pool—an ideal way to finish each day, as was sleeping to the sound of the nearby river. Last year, a beautiful infinity pool was also added for all guests to enjoy.

Man in pool and woman lounging

At the end of our stay, the rafting journey out was a Level III-IV, and although we were sad to be departing, the views were unforgettable. The guides gave us the opportunity to float down river and view the surrounding gorge—it was a truly spectacular sight, and a great time for the GoPro.

River rafts on river in gorge

Once the trip was complete, we were transferred to an area where we changed our clothes, used the facilities, and boarded a bus back to San Jose. Because of the early departure and late arrival, I’d strongly recommend staying overnight in the capital, then consider continuing on to Arenal or other magical areas of this extraordinary country!

A few other useful notes:
Although families and couples alike are welcome to enjoy the property, be aware that the age minimum is 12 years-old. All of our farm-to-table meals were included, but our bar tab was not.

Have fun and all the best!



With a father who worked for an airline and a mother who worked in wholesale travel to Latin America, Denise May was born into the travel industry. She’s been to almost every country in both Central and South America and has specialized in Costa Rican travel experiences for the past 10+ years. She’s fortunate enough to have lived for two years in the land of Pura Vida and has traveled extensively throughout it. It amazes her that each time she goes back she experiences something new.

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