Sun, sea and savannah traditions
The country's North Pacific, comprising the Province of Guanacaste and Peninsula of Nicoya, is a region of the country where high levels of tourism arrivals mingle with traditions and typical elements, characteristic of the Guanacaste province. Among these, the figure of the "sabanero" stands out, with his joviality and skill in handling cattle. It is for this reason that in the region's "fiestas patronales" (county fair), corridas (rodeos) and bull mounts are a must. The fairs always include a great variety of typical cuisine based mainIy on corn.
The region has a strong influence in Costa Rican history, beginning in the colonial period. Santa Rosa National Park was scenario of three important battles one of which back in 1.856, meant for the victorious Costa Ricans, the conquest of national sovereignty over the attacks of foreign invaders.
Geologically, the region harbors some of the oldest formations in the country, such as the caverns of Barra Honda National Park with its many stalactites and stalagmites. The park also protects important extensions of dry tropical forest, most of which is in regeneration. In the summer time, the decidious trees loose their foilage creating a very diverse landscape, almost dessert-like, in the months of November through May. In the months of June through October, when the rivers recover their flow these forests flourish into diverse tonalities of green. Some typical flora of the region are Guanacaste, the national tree; the savanna oak and the naked Indian tree, commonIy named due to its intense reddish colored trunk.
Some of the region's protected areas possess worldwide importance for the protection of wildlife species and constitute observation areas of great interest. This is the case of the Baula Turtle, in Playa Grander the avi-fauna in the lagoons of Palo Verde National Park; and the nesting of the Lora Turtle in the Nancite and Ostional beaches. National parks such as Volcán Rincón de la Vieja also offer unique sites with their hot mud pools and fumaroles in constant activity.
With its many beaches, the North Pacific constitutes one of Costa Rica's most important tourism areas and the presence of a diversity in tourism infrastructure that includes five star services and some of the best places to practice golf and sport fishing, combines with natural setting and a myriad of small quaint properties. Marine currents that dredge nutrients from the ocean's depths, facilitate the existence of a rich marine biodiversity, favoring the abundance of species like the swordfish, the marlin and the dorado. Near the city of Liberia one of the main access points to the different attractions of the region stands Daniel Oduber International Airport which offers direct international access to the region. The International American highway, in excellent condition also communicates this city with the country's capital.
The Coast and Nature, just a few hours away
Just a few hours away from the capital city is the Central Pacific region, the closest beach area to San José. The area offers beach amusement centers and popular places to practice surf and sport fishing, as well as tropical forests rich in wildlife species, islands full of exotic vegetation, fishing towns and endless stretches of soft sand beach, ideal for those who wish to rest. The lodging and cuisine are equally diverse, due to the existence of some of Costa Rica's best boutique hotels, as well as international hotels.
The observation of wildlife is one of the region's most attractive activities. Two hours from the capital, in Carara National Park, lies one of the country's largest populations of scarlet macaws, which can be observed at sunrise or at sunset. The park itself constitutes a biological jewel by representing a transition area between the Pacific humid forest and the dry forest. Nearby the delta of the Rio Tárcoles, has become a must stop to observe, enormous crocodiles resting beside the river banks.
Continuing along the coastal highway, its possible to observe the endless lines of African palm, whose oil is used in cosmetics and other products. These Palms show the way to one of the most visited national parks in the country: Manuel Antonio, home of numerous wildlife species such as the small Titi monkey and the capuchino monkey. (white face-monkey) The park offers the opportunity to explore its tropical humid forest, its mangroves, islands and marine life.
Many of the region's beaches are ideal to surf on, such is the case of Esterillos, Jacó, Hermosa, Boca Barranca and the beaches that skirt Puerto Caldera.
On the other hand, Puntarenas, the largest city in the region, offers visitors its port atmosphere. Puntarenas is literally a point of sand that points toward the Gulf of Nicoya and one of the main areas for the arrival of cruises and ships. The city possesses the only marine park of the country and is considered the best place in Costa Rica for the realization of international biathlons. It also has many festivities such as the carnivals, in February, and the Festival Virgin of the Sea in July.
Anchored in the Gulf of Nicoya, the Guayabo, Negritos, Pájaros and Tortuga islands offer those who navigate their proximities, a natural display in which large flocks of frigate birds, brown pelicans, and parrots and the stand out. Isla Tortuga is one of the most visited destinations due to its white sand beach and natural landscape.
After crossing the Gulf of Nicoya hidden beaches, waterfalls and wildlife preserves areas such as the Reserva Absoluta Cabo Blanco, offer the visitor a variety of activities to enjoy. In the Pacific lies an island that marks the furthest reach of the country at 535 kilometers from Cabo Blanco, rises the Coco's Island, declared by UNESCO, a Patrimony of Humanity. A former refuge for pirates and treasure legends, Coco's invaluable wealth resides in its natural life, especially the marine life that presents abundant species of great attractiveness for divers, such as hammerhead sharks, marine mammals and the coral reefs.
Large masses of humid tropical forest that harbor unique species of the planet, an abundant marine diversity, the highest peak in the country, an indigenous legacy that holds mysteries as captivating as the Pre-Colombian stone spheres and ancient cultures that still today conserve its traditions, are all part of what Costa Rica's South Pacific can offer.
Its distance from the Central Valley makes of this area one of the country's last frontiers of development, allowing the conservation of important forests such as Corcovado National Park, last haven of humid tropical forest in the Mesoamerican Pacific coast; and La Amistad International Park (Costa Rica-Panamá), declared by the UNESCO as a natural patrimony of the world.
The region also possesses the country's largest swamp extension, the wetlands of Sierpe-Térraba, of great scenic beauty; it also contains unique ecosystems, such as the glacial lakes of the Chirripó National Park, Costa Rica's highest peak at 3820 meters high (12.400 Ft); and Golfo Dulce, which scientists consider a unique true tropical fjord adding to its fauna and flora diversity.
The Osa Peninsula, covers great part of the South Pacific, and constitutes an area of great natural attraction that, together with the Talamanca mountain range, the Peninsula represents one of the first land formations that emerged in Central America. Both are places of great biological diversity. Given that the peninsula was an island in the past, it possesses unique endemic species of wildlife, in addition to those migratory species of North and South America. Its tropical forests harbor trees of up to 70 meters high, (over 200 Ft) wood species of great value, and the largest populations of endangered animals including felines and scarlet macaws. In the upper slopes of the Talamanca Mountain range, the Paramo ecosystem harbors species of great attraction such as the resplendent quetzal and others.
Osa and Talamanca are also home to the country's main indigenous tribes of Meso-American and South American influence. Indigenous vestiges such as the stone spheres are also characteristic of the region. Some of the most famous spheres are on Caño Island, near the coast of Bahia Drake, one of the country's best diving spots. Its clear waters, witness the migration of marine species like the humpback whale, spotted and bottle nose dolphins, and the green baula turtle.
The countless beaches that bathe the South Pacific coasts are surrounded by exuberant nature and their sands possess the most diverse tonalities. Some are sought after for surfing, as are Dominical Beach, near the Marino Ballena Park National, and Playa Pavones, famous for having the world's longest left-hand breaking waves. Others are solitary beaches, ideal to walk on for hours in search of solitude and communion with nature. Rivers and waterfalls supplement the natural landscape and the charm of this region.
In San José's surrounding areas, typical towns of great scenic beauty and rural landscapes offer, a glance of the former Costa Rica, with its tile roof houses, large solariums, domestic animals, "trapiches" and dairies, as well as ox carts, one of the leading rural symbols of Costa Rican. The fairs of the patron saints, as well as San José's "Festejos Populares" in December, are some of the traditional activities offered to the visitor. The great scenic beauty that is the central region of Costa Rica, a result of the Central Volcanic Mountain range that on addition to its attractive mountains, also includes impressive active volcanoes like the Poás and the Irazú. This region, due to its climate and altitude, is also the area that has the best conditions for coffee production, for which Costa Rica is famous. Other farming includes, vegetables, ferns, fruits and a great variety of ornamental plant nurseries. In some mountain sites, trout fishing is practiced and then served in succulent plates.
Another jewel of the region is the Basilica of Los Angeles: Costa Rica's Cathedral and maximum religious symbol, located in the city of Cartago, former capital of the country. More than a church, it is a sanctuary, where the faithful, devoted to the Virgin of Los Angeles carry out a pilgrimage every August 2nd, day on which her appearance to a humble native of the region is commemorated. Without a doubt, the central region means much more than the gateway, to the country.
Energy and natural beauty
This is a land of volcanoes, humid and cloud forests, enormous waterfalls and mighty rivers, surrounded with rich vegetation and wildlife. This generosity of nature has facilitated diverse activities for the visitor that include horseback riding through natural scenarios; canopy tours, water sports, hiking, mountain biking and wildlife observation. The region combines the fertile plains of Guatuso, San Carlos and Sarapiquí with the volcanic mountain ranges of Guanacaste and Tilarán.
One of the main attractions is the Arenal volcano, a perfect cone of 1633 meters of altitude (5.307 Ft), in constant activity that offers the visitor a fireworks spectacle with eruptions and lava. At its base, the Arenal reservoir, an artificial lagoon of 87 kilometers of longitude, characterized by its scenic beauty, constitutes one of the best places in the world to practice windsurfing, thanks to winds that reach 72 kilometers per hour. It is also center of other water sports activities as are boat rides and sport fishing.
The Tabacón River that runs along the vicinity of the volcano, is the source of thermal waters that, in public and private areas, offers visitors a delicious therapeutic relaxing bath. The volcano and its bordering forests have the category of National Park and trails are available that allow exploration of the surrounding areas of this colossus.
Another place of great beauty is the Cerro Chato, an extinct volcanic crater crowned by a beautiful blue green colored lagoon, which is also part of the Volcán Arenal complex. Nearby, one can also admire the 70 meters high La Fortuna waterfall. In the cloudy summits of the Tilarán Mountain range you can find the town of Monteverde, well known for its biological reserve of the same name, which protects species like the quetzal and the bell bird.
Founded by Quakers, in the early 1950's, this place is known worldwide by its conservation efforts and a way of life centered on respect for nature, reflected in its environmental educational projects, recycling efforts, eco-tourism and protection of the forests.
The north region is also characterized by its productivity. One of the main activities is dairy farming, basis of a great variety of products, among these the cheese industry. Ciudad Quesada constitutes one of the main populations, with a high level of development. The famous ''turnos" town fairs, carried out in the different towns with dances, bull mount championships and cattle auctions are characteristic of the region.
Due to the high percentage ot rainfall, the north region has humid and evergreen forests as well as fertile plains. Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, located in the plains of Guatuso, is one of the most important protected areas in the region and harbors ecosystems like lagoons, swamps and wetlands. These natural environments are true oasis for aquatic birds, reptiles and mammals and therefore, important places of interest for observers of wildlife. Rivers such as the San Carlos and Sarapiquí, are also of great importance. The latter, when join with the San Juan River, forms part of the hydrological system that feeds the Lake of Nicaragua. Areas of great biodiversity like Sarapiquí are also source of scientific investigation and the country last haven of endangered species such as the green macaw.
Tropical forests with Afro-Caribbean flavor.
In 1502 Christopher Columbus discovered Costa Rica arriving for the first time to these lands of the tropical humid forest, with its great exuberance and coral reef clear waters. Today this natural charm remains, in a region characterized by the coexistence of diverse cultures that have left their print on Costa Rican history: Caucasian's, Chinese, the Indigenous population and the Afro-caribbean. The latter, with their rich coconut flavored culinary traditions, their rhythm and their language, offering visitors a very different experience from the rest of Costa Rica's regions.
Thanks to the rich flora and fauna of the region, the variety of aquatic ecosystems and the black and white sand beaches; the region is ideal to practice activities focused on nature and sea, among them fishing Tarpon, Wahoo and the Barracuda; diving in clear waters, and surfing. Puerto Viejo constitutes one of the main locations for surfing, where the most avid surfers are attracted to conquer Salsa Brava, one of the most famous waves in the world, which surprisingly ends up reaching a height of up to 40 feet. Other prized beaches are those of playa Bonita, Westfalia and Isla Uvita. White Water Rafting is another of the region's most popular activities, thanks to the presence of the mighty Sixaola and Pacuare rivers.
The Caribbean region embraces the province of Limón with its principal towns of Guácimo, Matina, Talamanca, Pococi, Siquirres and Limón. This last one is the country's port of export. Port Limón unites with the capital, San Jose, by means of an excellent highway that takes the visitor through the mountains of Braulio Carrillo's National Park, amid exuberant landscapes continuing through tropical banana plantations and farms that produce, ornamental plants, pejibaye, heart of palm and cocoa, flowing finally into the beaches of our Caribbean Coast, skirted by infinite arrays of coconut trees.
The region possesses a humid tropical climate and presents temperature changes that oscillate from 95° F during the day and 70°F during the night. The Caribbean Rain Forests reflect the perfect idea of the tropical forest, with immense evergreen trees, adorned with lianas and plants of exuberant height. These characteristics, and the presence of species such as the rainbow-beaked toucan, the wild turkey, the spider monkey, the opossum and the tapir; are a results of the presence of a great quantity of fall throughout the year, with drier periods in the months of April and October. Coincidentaly, in October the Carnival of Limón dazzles visitors with its colorful and rhythmical parades and musical groups.
Some of the protected wildlife areas that offer the opportunity to visit the region's rain forests, as well as their diverse aquatic ecosystems are: Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Hitoy Cerere Biological Reserve, Cahuita National Park, Barra de Colorado Wildlife Refuge and Tortuguero National Park. The latter, famous for the marine turtle arribadas and the natural canals that harbor threatened species such as the manatee, the otter and the crocodile.
The Caribbean will always await the visitor with its exuberance, to explore a national park, to enjoy the main warm ocean or flavor the delicious "ricen bean" consisting of rice and beans with coconut oil.