costa rica, whitewater rafting, upper savegre
BOOF THIS : The author at the Savegre's Arollo Quebrada waterfall (Greg Von Doersten)

A Wild New Ride

Big-water rafting on Costa Rica's Upper Savegre

costa rica, whitewater rafting, upper savegre
Greg Von Doersten

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WHITEWATER FANATICS CAN ADD a new destination river to their lust list: the Upper Savegre, in perennially popular Costa Rica. Paddlers seeking big spills and spectacular scenery can leave the better-known Pacuare and Reventazon to the turistas and head for the mountain village of El Llano de Savegre, the put-in for this gem.

costa rica, whitewater rafting, upper savegre

costa rica, whitewater rafting, upper savegre BOOF THIS : The author at the Savegre’s Arollo Quebrada waterfall

The Savegre runs through the Cordillera de Talamanca, above the central Pacific coast—the middle of nowhere, and yet just 75 miles from San José. There’s a dearth of outfitters willing to risk the investment to develop a new trip here. As a result, the 12 miles of continuous Class IV whitewater on the Upper Savegre and its tributary the Division have remained largely unpaddled—until now. As a guide on the first commercial rafting descent last July, I was awestruck when, eddied out midway through the relentless cascade, my paddle raft was overtaken by startled iguanas jumping into the river from overhanging cliffs. Even more unbelievable was a wall of whitewater, served up at the Class V rapids called Malibu (think surf city), that succeeded in flipping the lead raft. “Malibu is ugly at all kinds of levels,” remarked fellow H2O Adventures guide Roland Cervilla, 50, an expat American. “You just can’t go for it at all if you want to stay upright.”

Details: H2O Adventures (011-506-777-4092, offers two-day trips on the Upper and Lower Savegre, with an overnight at Rafiki Safari Lodge. The riverbank bush camp, surrounded by 750 acres of pristine rainforest, marks the end of the Upper Savegre and the start of the 12-mile Class II–III Lower Savegre. Cost is $250 per person, including food, lodging, gear, and transportation from El Llano and back.

From Outside Traveler 2004
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Lead Photo: Greg Von Doersten