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7 Tips for Whitewater Rafting

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Whitewater rafting along the Pacuare River in Costa Rica is a fun and challenging experience.

The first thing I need to declare is that I'm a wimp. Even though I traverse the Americas as a travel writer, I'm not the type of person that you normally see enjoying the most exotic and breathtaking forms of adventure travel. So I was naturally hesitant about going whitewater rafting in Costa Rica, where the Pacuare River offers a variety of challenging experiences.

Still, during my most recent visit I couldn't resist the opportunity (or the peer pressure) to join in one of the adventure travel experiences that has helped to make this Central American nation famous.

Good news: Whitewater rafting was amazingly fun. I loved the experience. I'd been worried that we'd be paddling furiously for four straight hours during our four-hour excursion, but we paddled only intermittently, enjoying lush scenery, dramatic canyons, lovely waterfalls as the current carried us.

The trip was punctuated by bubbling rapids that sometimes soaked us. It semed like it would be easy to fall over the side of the raft, but none of us did. Once, during a stretch of level 4 rapids, with two "get down" commands, I did very skillfully smack myself in the face with my oar, bite my lip and hurl my oar out of the boat (a replacement was in the raft so I could get back to paddling quickly). Other than my brief lack of coordination, I made the trip with flying colors.

Overall, it was bouncing excitement, physical exercise with postcard-perfect natural scenery and tranquility, followed by a deep sense of accomplishment.

The experience also gave me a chance to put together a few of my own 7 tips for whitewater rafting in Costa Rica. Here they are:

1. Wear clothes that can get wet. (I was soaked from head to toe -- but it felt great, since the air was nice and hot.)

2. Don't bring anything that's not waterproof -- or that you wouldn't mind losing overboard.

3. Wear water-friendly shoes. I wore sneakers and they got completely wet, which was fine -- but you may want to wear more appropriate shoes.

4. If you bring a camera, make sure it's waterproof and secure. Several people on my excursion had those easy-to-use Go Pro cameras, and I wished I had one too.

5. Don't bother with a hat. You'll be wearing a helmet.

6. Be clear regarding levels of difficulty. Inexperienced or fearful rafters should stick with lower levels -- I did levels 1 through 4 and survived.

7. Use lots of water-resistant sunblock, everywhere you can think of (my knees got sunburned).