International White Water Rafting Classifications
The rafting classification scale was created by the American Whitewater Association for the purpose of evaluating rivers and rafting sections throughout the world. The class reflects the technical difficulty and skill level required associated with the section of river.
Easy: Waters with some movement in the form of riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy. In Costa Rica these sections are ideal for nature observation, in slow paddle tours such as safari floats and canoe or kayak tours. Costa Rica Class 1 Rivers include; the lower section of Sarapiqui, Puerto Viejo, and Peñas Blancas rivers.
Novice: Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance is rarely needed. Costa Rica Class 2 Rivers include; the mid section of Sarapiqui, La Virgen, and Balsa Rivers rivers, though all of these sections have a mix of class 2 and class 3 rapids.
Intermediate: Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are avoidable. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class III+. Costa Rica Class 3 Rivers include; the mid section of Sarapiqui, La Virgen, and Balsa Rivers rivers, though all of these sections have a mix of class 2 and class 3 rapids, and Chirripo River rated Class 3+. Also the upper section of Sarapiqui, San Miguel, Pacuare, and Toro River are a combination of Class 3 and Class 4 rapids, though Toro is currently not being run due to instability of the water levels and levels of contamination.
Advanced: Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the characteristics of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must make” moves to avoid dangerous hazards. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. Whitewater rafting in Class 4 sections is recommended only for persons with experience in the sport, in excellent physical condition, and always under the supervision of a certified guide. In Costa Rica the Class 4 sections include: the upper section of Sarapiqui, San Miguel, Pacuare, and Toro River are a combination of Class 3 and Class 4 rapids, though Toro is currently not being run due to instability of the water levels.
Expert, extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. Proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential. Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV, Class V is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc. Each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. Example: increasing difficulty from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0. These sections only recommended for rafting professionals, and not recommended for tourists. There are no white water sections of Class 5 rapids currently commercialized in Costa Rica.
Extreme and Exploratory Rapids: Runs of this classification are rarely attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability, and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions.
At Aguas Bravas your safety and enjoyment are our top priorities. That is why we will never recommend a section higher that which is ideal for the ages and experience levels of your group. Our adventure specialists are standing by to answer all of your questions and to help you choose the ideal white water rafting section for your next visit to Costa Rica. This personalized attention is what has earned us 5 stars in Trip Advisor and their Certificate of Excellence for 4 years in a row, as well as a perfect safety record in over 23 years of operation.