Northern Lowlands Attractions
The area found south of the Nicaraguan border and north of the Cordillera Central is comprised of two large tropical plains. These plains (llanuras) make up the flat, tropical lowlands that characterize the northern halves of the Heredia and Alajuela provinces. The area features a wet, hot climate and mixed tropical forest vegetation. Banana plantations are common in this region.Cattle pasture has replaced a lot of the original vegetation in the region, as cattle raising is the main industry of the northern lowlands. Many of the more remote areas near the Nicaraguan border flood during the wet season and large swamplands are created. The population density is lower in this region of Costa Rica, and most visitors head to the Puerto Viejo area where there are several noteworthy rainforest lodges.
Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge
This refuge covers 9,969ha/24,623ac of land just south of the Nicaraguan border. The remote and sparsely populated area attracts many species of wildlife, and birders will be especially interested in the area. The Frío River flows through the refuge and during the wet season (May to December) the river overflows and forms an 800ha/1,976ac lake. Due to its remote location, this refuge is never crowded.Waterfowl such as spoonbills, herons, ducks, storks and Costa Rican's largest colony of cormorants can be seen in the refuge. In addition, the Caño Negro refuge is the only place in the country where the Nicaraguan grackle regularly nests. Pumas, jaguars, and tapirs and small mammals are more commonly seen here than in any other place in Costa Rica. Fishing and hiking are popular activities, as are birding and exploring the river and lake by boat.
This tiny community lies within the borders of the Caño Negro National Refuge. There are very few accommodations and dining options, but the village is a good place to find park guides, tour operators, horse rentals and arrange transportation. Interesting community projects found in Caño Negro are a turtle nursery and a butterfly garden.
Lagarto Lagoon Lodge
La Laguna del Lagarto Lodge covers 500ha/1,235ac of one of the most remote areas in Costa Rica. It is known to be one of the only places where the rare, great green macaw is frequently sighted. At least 250 species of birds have also been recorded in the area, and monkeys, frogs, caimans and other animals are seen here as well.The mostly rainforested grounds feature a lagoon, several foot trails, and horses and canoes available for use. Several excursions on foot, boat or horseback are offered from the lodge to nearby natural attractions and rivers. Many researchers have used the lodge as a base for studying the green macaw.
Los Chiles, Costa Rica
Los Chiles lies on the banks of the Frío River, just 3km/1.8mi before the Nicaraguan border. Midway between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Los Chiles is only 43m/141ft above sea level and usually has a rather hot climate. Originally, this town was built to serve the river traffic of the nearby San Juan River on the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border.Wildlife such as toucans, parrots, monkeys, sloths, lizards, turtles and many other species are all common in the area. River trips on the Frío are a common method of touring the area and observing wildlife. Many options for excursions, accommodations and dining are available.
Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, Costa Rica
Lying at the confluence of the Puerto Viejo and Sarapiquí Rivers, about 6,000 people live in this small town and the surrounding districts. Historically, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí was an important river port on the trade route to the Caribbean Sea.The vegetation in the area is premontane tropical wet forest and grassroots environmental activity is strong in the town. Local residents have been active in creating conservation programs for endangered animals and organic banana farming. Visitors should note that a dry season is virtually non-existent in the area.
MUSA Women's Herb Cooperative
This is a small farm producing herbs of all varieties. Culinary, medicinal and cosmetic herbs are all for sale. The farm is also important as it provides a local support center for women.
Upala, Costa Rica
Upala lies in the far northwestern end of the northern lowlands, just 9km/5.5mi south of the Nicaraguan border. Many travelers pass through en route to Nicaragua, however the Upala area makes for an interesting and "off-the beaten-track" experience in Costa Rica.Guatuso Indians once populated the area and a few remaining still populate the region. Upala and the surrounding districts have a population of about 10,000 people. The small town is the center for the cattle and rice industries of the area.
Colonia Virgen del Socorro, Costa Rica
Colonia Virgen del Socorro is a tiny community. The surrounding areas are a great location for birding, in particular the road leading to the village, which offers a diverse amount of species.
Fishing opportunities are found at Hule Lake, which is a remnant of a volcanic crater set amid rainforest.
San Rafael de Guatuso, Costa Rica
This village is locally known as Guatuso, and often appears only as San Rafael on maps. The small community and surrounding areas are home to about 6,000 people. San Rafael de Guatuso lies on the banks of the Frió River.