You’ve been paddling through Class IV rapids all morning. You’ve gotten soaked by large waves and felt your stomach drop during steep declines. Your guide has maneuvered the raft around sharp bends and even sharper rocks. While the long rapids have left you sore and out of breath. But as you look around, there isn’t anywhere you’d rather be right now.
You’re on the Río Pacuare, a 75-mile river that runs from the Talamanca Mountains to Limón and the Caribbean Sea in Costa Rica. It passes through dense rainforests and sheer-walled canyons. Ceiba trees—the national trees of nearby Guatemala—naked Indian trees, and tangled vines dangle into the fast-moving water. Jaguars and capuchin monkeys, anteaters and coral snakes call the forest home. Toucans and blue morpho butterflies do too. Plus a little ecolodge, built with the help of the local Cabécar people, sits on the edge of the riverbank.
The Pacuare Lodge is truly remote. It’s surrounded by 1.2 million acres of protected, tropical wilderness. Visits, which usually last between two and four nights, are part of a multi-day rafting tour that departs from San José. As soon as the raft brushes against the shore, you help pull it onto dry land, and you’re welcomed with an Imperial beer, you’re already wondering if you planned to stay long enough.
The lodge was built to have minimal impact on its environment. Wooden boardwalks and bridges protect the fragile terrain. Bungalows feature palm-thatched roofs, al fresco showers, and hammocks with river views. King-sized beds and candles—there’s no electricity—fill the interiors. Meals are served in the open-air dining room or in a treetop nest, 60 feet above the jungle floor. While sacred trees, barking tree frogs, dancing fireflies, and the scent of jungle blossoms surround you.
After a much-needed shower, head to the Jawa Juü Spa, which focuses on natural healing elements, to really relax. A Jackbaly massage, using hot basalt stones and long strokes, should release your tense muscles and improve your circulation. Grab a cooler full of beer from the bar and walk to a nearby waterfall after your treatment. Be sure to wear a bathing suit and keep an eye out for river otters. Then return to the lodge for a farm-to-table, make that a jungle-to-table, meal. The spinach soup is one of the best soups you’ve ever tasted, while rice and bean platters, plus freshly caught fish and grilled veggies, feel like a traditional jungle meal.
Locally grown coffee, delivered to your bungalow’s deck, seems just as traditional the next morning. As you sip the allspice-scented coffee and watch the sun rise, you try to decide how to spend the day. Ziplining, repelling, and upstream surfing sound like good possibilities. But more paddling can wait a few days.