The translucent rivers that pour down the Talamanca Mountain Range in the Chiriquí Highlands provide for thrilling Class III to V white-water kayaking and rafting, and gentler floats for the whole family. What's special about the Chiriquí area is that relatively few paddlers have discovered it, so rafters and kayakers have the crystalline river and pristine, tropical mountain scenery -- replete with birds and wild animals -- all to themselves. Also, the variety and number of rivers in this area provide fanatics with enough white-water options to fill a week with rafting or kayaking.
Technical rides that are 2 to 5 hours in duration with Class III to Class V conditions are principally on the Chiriquí River east of Volcán Barú and close to Boquete, and the Chiriquí Viejo River west of the volcano, near the Costa Rica border. The Chiriquí Viejo River is revered by rafters for its challenging rapids and exuberant scenery, but it is a full-day trip that requires a scenic drive to the other side of the volcano. (Visitors to Volcán or Cerro Punta are closer to the put-in site for this river.) Unfortunately, the Chiriquí Viejo is being threatened by a series of dams for a hydroelectric project -- but for now it's pristine and a lot of fun to ride. There are tamer floats, too, such as the Esti River, a Class II that is perfect for young rafters, families, and beginners; and there's the Gariche River, with Class II and III rapids that are suitable for beginners but a bit more technical and adrenaline-charged than an easy float. Many rivers can be rafted year-round, but others, like the Chiriquí and the Gariche, are rafted from July to November when the rivers are full.
Two reputable rafting companies in Boquete have years of experience and expert knowledge of the region. Chiriquí River Rafting, on Avenida Central (tel. 720-1505 or 6618-0846; www.panama-rafting.com), is run by Héctor Sanchez, a rafting pioneer in the Chiriquí Highlands, with more than 2 decades of experience and an excellent safety record. Héctor and his guides are fluent in English. Depending on the river and logistics, rafting trips cost between $85 and $150 (£43-£75), and require a minimum of four guests (a few trips require only three guests); trips include all gear, transportation, and lunch. Héctor can also plan multiple-day packages that include rafting, hiking, fishing, and more. Note that Chiriquí River Rafting offers accommodations at El Bajareque Lodge, a hostel-like spot with dynamite views, simple bunks, and communal meals; Héctor also offers more upscale rooms in his private home.
Panama Rafters (tel. 720-2712; www.panamarafters.com), with offices next to Java Juice on Avenida Central, is a young, American-owned company run by Kevin Mellinger. In addition to rafting, Panama Rafters also offers kayaking on the many rivers of the Chiriquí Highlands, and they offer beginning and intermediate kayaking instruction. Panama Rafters employs highly qualified guides that adhere to strict Canadian standards. Rafting trips cost an average of $75 (£38) for a half-day trip, $90 (£45) for a full-day trip -- which includes transportation, gear, and lunch. Check out their website or contact them for multiple-day rafting packages with outdoors camping.
Boquete Outdoor Adventures (tel. 6574-0274; www.boqueteoutdooradventures.com) specializes in whitewater kayaking trips, and offers a number of different excursions in the Chiriqui Highlands as well as the Boca Chica Region. Some of their kayak excursions include Boca Brava and the one-day whitewater kayak sampler, which serves as an introduction to whitewater kayaking. There are motorboat excursions to the Laguna de Chiriqui and the Golfo de Chiriqui. Trips range from $60 to $80 (£30-£40) per person.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.