I had been researching places to go in Costa Rica for months. I had an idea in my mind of what I was looking for. I wanted an adventure in the middle of nowhere while experiencing a new culture. I wanted to be out of my comfort zone while still being safe. I wanted a beautiful setting that was relaxing and quiet. After much searching, I stumbled upon the website for the Pacuare Lodge. I knew at once it had every quality I could have imagined. This is a trip that you definitely need to add to your bucket list.
At the time I was looking to visit in July, the Lodge had a special running since it was their Green Season. The special was buy two nights, get a night free (they are still currently running this special through the end of the year now). So you get three nights and four days. This is the perfect amount of time to visit the Lodge. Anything shorter is not enough, and anything more may be too long, since it is so secluded and there is only so much to do in a given area. At first glance, the prices may seem expensive, but really, since it is a complete package, it is more than worth the cost. The package includes transportation from San Jose, bilingual guide, typical Costa Rican breakfast in route, Pacuare River rafting tour to the lodge, professional guides and equipment, 3 exquisite daily meals, bungalow stay, hot beverages and non mixed drinks, lunch along the river, use of private installations at river take-out, and return transportation to San José with guide.
Yes, that’s right. You get to and from the Lodge by rafting. I had never been white water rafting before, so I was both excited and nervous. The rapids on the way there are class II and III. One the way back, class III and IV! Keep in mind, only ages 12 and up are allowed to raft. As for tips for rafting keep in mind: Don’t apply sunblock to the back of your legs (they will slip, making odds of falling overboard much more likely), don’t wear short shorts- I suggest at least knee length workout spandex or leggings, make sure you have croakies to hold your sunglasses, and make sure to bring your camera (waterproof or get a waterproof case), as this is one of the most scenic rivers in the world.
As far as packing, I fit everything into a carry on bag for a 7 day trip. Make sure you have water shoes such as Teva’s. They work for rafting, horseback riding, and hiking up the mountains through thick mud. Once your clothes get wet in the environment of the Pacuare, they will not dry, so make sure you bring dry clothes for the other days of your trip not in the rain forest. They will only allow a certain size bag (since it has to be transported on a raft), but you can leave the rest of your luggage in their secure warehouse if needed. I would suggest bringing a couple sets of outdoor adventure clothes and a couple sets of casual to nice clothes to wear to dinner- I took three long airy dresses that folded up nice and small. You can’t wear shoes on the deck where they serve all meals, so don’t bother bringing nice shoes for the lodge. Also, make sure you bring a watch or two. There are no clocks, and with the weird times it gets dark and light, you need to know what time it is so you don’t miss meals and aren’t late for activities.
The lodge has several different kinds of suites to choose from. I highly suggest a Riverview Suite. If you are doing this trip for your honeymoon, you may opt for a Linda Vista Suite, although it is a HIKE to get to and from your suite, especially in the complete dark after dinner. Your suite is lighted by candlelight only. While you are at your candlelight dinner, the staff lights the many candles inside and outside your suite. It is the ultimate romantic treat to come back to after a fantastic dinner. There is only electricity at the small office and the kitchen. All suites are very spaced out so you always have a lot of privacy.
So to start, it is recommended you fly into San Jose. The guide for Pacuare picks you up very early in the morning, so you must arrive the day before and stay at a hotel. I stayed at Hotel Santo Tomas and La Gioconda House and both were nice and inexpensive. San Jose is not a very clean city but has a lot of culture and beauty if you look for it. It’s not exactly a tourist destination, so don’t plan on staying for too long. Make sure you get an official taxi at the airport (usually orange or red). There are usually sketchy men trying to lure you to them and get your attention. If you get into the city early enough, take a long walk around the city to get a feel for it, then head back to your hotel before dark to enjoy dinner close by. Get lots of sleep, as your next day will be full of adventure!
Jose picked us up from our hotel early in the morning. They are very prompt, so be ready at the time they tell you. You will be on your little bus with several other couples most likely. You drive through beautiful hills, coffee and banana plantations, and past cute little towns in the countryside, and volcanoes. You then stop for breakfast at a lookout point and rest for a bit. The drive continues (total drive is about 2 1/2 hours) to the banks of the river where you learn basic safety and rafting info and get geared up. The guides are very professional, yet very silly and funny. They get rid of all of your nervousness if you have any that’s for sure. While the scenery on the rafting ride there is unbelievable, I have to say that the views and sights on the way out leaving the lodge are even better.
Once you get to the lodge, you are greeted with a yummy welcome drink and a cool towel and then escourted to your suite by a guide that carries your luggage. You then have time to relax and shower before lunch. Our Riverview Suite consisted of a large deck with a sitting area and hammock. There were sliding doors leading into the bedroom with a king size bed with canopy. A hallway off of the bedroom led down to the huge bathroom. It had both an indoor and outdoor shower. Keep in mind the entire suite is open air with screens as the walls. There are curtains in the bedroom to cover all screens if you wish.
The meals at Pacuare are absolutely amazing. Lunch and dinner are both three courses each. For dinner, you get to choose from two choices for each course. We usually got one of each so we could try everything. For breakfast, you can order every single thing on the menu- there is no limit. In the upstairs of the main lodge, is the bar. Guests would gather there before dinner to socialize. Drinks are not included in the package price, but are so good and different. Jonathan can whip up some really interesting and authentic drinks. Make sure to try the Guaro!
The staff at Pacuare is small and each person takes on many roles. They all get to know who you are and address you by name. Your guide for a hike might also be your waiter. They all are from surrounding villages and hike up and down the mountains to get to work.
There are additional activities you can pay for if you wish. You can go on a canopy tour (zip-lining), horseback riding, canyoning, hike up a mountain to meet Indians, or get a massage right in your suite. You will most likely be asked if you would like to go on a free waterfall hike or nature hike. The guides are happy to share their never ending knowledge of the land with you. I suggest taking them up on any offer they give you!
It gets dark around 6:30pm, so bring something to read or games to play if you want something to do before and after dinner. The time at Pacuare goes by very quickly and it can be as relaxing or adventurous as you want. It is both luxurious and rustic at the same time.
On the day of your departure, you will leave after breakfast on your raft. Along the way, you stop for a gourmet lunch that I swear is pulled out of nowhere. The guides quickly produce a full, beautiful meal while you look in awe at the scenery around you. Once you get back to the warehouse, you can shower and change clothes before the minibus takes you back to San Jose. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the magic of the Pacuare Lodge. It is a trip I will never forget and I look forward to going back to Costa Rica.