Northwestern Costa Rica Attractions
This region of Costa Rica stretches north to the Nicaraguan border. The highlands of northwestern Costa Rica are made up of two mountain chains: the Cordillera de Tilarán and the Cordillera de Guanacaste. Featuring attractive towns, forests, mountains, volcanoes and parks, this is a very scenic region of Costa Rica.Cloud forest once covered the mountains of the Cordillera de Tilarán. Today, the famous Monteverde cloud forest presents an example of this tropical environment, as well as a unique community in Costa Rica. The Arenal area, including a lake and volcano (one of the most active in the world) separates the two mountain chains.A string of lightly active or dormant volcanoes comprises the Cordillera de Guanacaste, five of which are protected within national park boundaries. West of this massif is the Santa Elena Peninsula that includes a rare tropical dry forest descending to remote beaches on the Pacific coastline.
Santa Rosa National Park is an important sea turtle nesting area, which is also home to large numbers of birds and animals, including monkeys. Some areas contain petroglyphs.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park is home an active volcano, its namesake. The abundant wildlife flourish in the variety of habitats available throughout the park. Waterfalls and hot springs appeal to visitors.
Palo Verde National Park
Palo Verde National Park is a 16,804ha/41,506ac birder's paradise. Found on the northeastern banks of the mouth of the Tempisque River, the park's position at the head of the Gulf of Nicoya attracts both resident and migrating waterfowl and forest birds. Within Palo Verde are several low, limestone hills that provide excellent lookouts for bird observation.At least 150 species of trees have been recorded in the park. Palo Verde includes several habitats ranging from swamps, mangroves, marshes, lagoons, and a variety of forests and grasslands. Large flocks of heron, spoonbills, egrets, grenes, ibis, and ducks are some of the waterfowl that can be spotted. Storks can also be seen, including the locally endangered jabiru stork.Great currasows, keel-billed toucans, scarlet macaws and parrots are some of the inland bird species that have been spotted in Palo Verde. At least 300 species of birds have been recorded in this national park. Other wildlife in the park includes crocodiles, deer, monkeys, peccaries and coatis.A huge influx of migratory and endemic birds occurs from September to March. There are several walking and hiking trails in Palo Verde, beginning at the Organization of Tropical Studies(OTS) a research station within the park. An observation tower is also nearby.
Useful tips: The camping fee is an extra US$2 per person. During the wet season large portions of the area are flooded. Binoculars or a spotting scope are recommended to see the birds. Reservations should be made for either day visits or overnight stays.
Facilities: On-site accomodations
Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve
The Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve covers 2,279ha/5,629ac of land, about 70% of which is deciduous forest. Within the forest are several species of endangered trees such as mahogany rosewood, and the local yellow cortez. There is also tropical dry forest (trees shed their leaves in the dry season) found in Lomas Barbudal as well as riparian forests along the Cabuyo River that flows within park boundaries.This reserve is also locally famous for its abundance of insect species, of which there are at least 250 species of bees alone. Other insects found in the reserve are wasps, butterflies, and moths.At least 202 species of endangered birds have been recorded in the reserve, such as the king vulture, jaibiru stork, and scarlet macaw. Mammals include coatis, white-tailed deer, howler and white-faced monkeys. A small museum is found at the reserve entrance.
White Cliffs National Wildlife Refuge
This refuge includes 2,400ha/5,928ac of land located on a steep southern arm of the Cordillera de Tilarán. Elevations within the refuge range from less than 600m/1,962ft to over 1,400m/4,592ft above sea level, hence the variation in altitude produces different types of forests. The terrain in this refuge is rather rugged, with only two hiking trails.Tropical dry forest is found in the lower southwestern sections of the refuge, semi-deciduous dry and moist forests in the middle elevations, and premontane forest in the higher northern sections. Animals are scarce due to logging in the area before the creation of the refuge.The name Peñas Blancas means "white cliffs" and refers to the deposits of the calcium remnants of diatoms (single-celled organisms) found in the reserve. The National Parks Services (SPN) administers the refuge.
Guanacaste National Park
Created on July 25, 1989 (Guanacaste Day), Guanacaste National Park covers 32,512ha/80,305ac. A variety of habitats are found in the park, hosting a large variety of wildlife. Two volcanoes, Orosí Volcano (1,487m/4,877ft) and Cacao Volcano (1,659m/5,442ft) are found within the park boundaries.This national park is an important site for biological research. Scientists note that a variety of habitats increase the chances of survival for all species. This is the reason this park and the surrounding areas have been created. Apart from research, hiking and wildlife observation are the major activities in Guanacaste National Park. This site is part of the Guanacaste Conservation Area, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Maritza Biological Station
Pitilla Biological Station
Found on the northeastern slopes of the Orosí Volcano, this station is surrounded by a type of forest more commonly found on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. There is good hiking in the area.
Cacao Biological Station
This station lies high on the slopes of the Cocao Volcano at 1,060m/3,477ft above sea level. Rough hiking trails are found here.
Quesada City, Costa Rica
Known to local residents as "San Carlos", the official name for this small city is Ciudad Quesada. Found on the northwestern slopes of the Cordillera Central, the city overlooks the San Carlos plains of central Alajuela province. This fertile plain is one of Costa Rica's most agriculturally fertile areas. San Carlos and the surrounding suburbs have a population of about 33,000.Apart from an agricultural center, San Carlos is also a cattle ranching center. Some of the most detailed leather saddles are crafted in this city and can be found in several saddle shops in the center of town. Benches and shady trees are found in the town's focal point, the large Parque Central (Central Park).
Held annually in April, this cattle fair and auction is the biggest in all of Costa Rica. The fair also features carnival rides and a horse parade.
Las Juntas, Costa Rica
This small, quiet town lies on the banks of the Abangares River. It is one of the only mountainous towns with a cool climate in the entire province of Guanacaste. The full name of the town in Las Juntas de Abangares, and it was once the gold-mining center of Costa Rica.From 1884 to 1931, the gold mines of Las Juntas attracted fortune seekers from North and South America, Europe, Asia, Russia, Lebanon and Jamaica. The multiracial background of the town's residents is also unique in the Guanacaste province.
Mines of Abangares Ecomuseum
Abangares Mine Ecomuseum displays photographs and models depicting historical mining practices. Trails around the museum lead to mine artifacts such as pieces of a railway. The walking trails offer good opportunities to spot many bird species. A children's play area and picnic spots are on the grounds as well.
Junquillal Bay National Wildlife Refuge
This 505ha/1247ac wildlife refuge offers swimming, boating, and snorkelling opportunities at the quiet bay and protected beach. There are short hiking trails within tropical dry forest and mangrove swamplands leading to a marine birding lookout.Turtles nest here in September and October, and pelicans and frigatebirds are often spotted. This site is part of the Guanacaste Conservation Area, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
Facilities are limited in this national park that includes five life zones. The Tenorio Volcano (1,191m/3,906ft) is gently active, and features smoking fumaroles, hot springs and mud pots. Virgin forest are found near the summit, where there is a lake surrounded by cloud forest. Tapirs and pumas live in the area. On the northeastern slope of the volcano is the scenic Celeste River that culminates in some attractive waterfalls.
Corobicí River Trips
Several tour companies offer excursions to the Corobicí River, which offers Class I and II waters. Since the river is rather calm and flat, the emphasis on these trips is wildlife observation. Sightings include motmots, parrots, boat-billed herons, wood storks, trogons, river otters, howler monkeys and caimans. There are good photo opportunities.
Santa Elena - Santa Elena Reserve
Created in 1989, this reserve is managed by the Santa Elena high school board. There is good hiking through the cloud forest, and several bird species can be spotted. The trails cover 12km/7.4mi and are of varying lengths and difficulty. Lookout points offer views of the exploding Arenal Volcano, however conditions are often cloudy.
Canas, Costa Rica
A small agricultural center, Cañas and the surrounding areas have a population of about 25,000 people. At only 90m/295ft above sea level, this town has a very hot climate. Like other places in the dusty Guanacaste province, Cañas is known for its cattle ranches and folk dances.
Hacienda La Pacífica
This working hacienda includes rice paddies, sorghum fields, cashew trees, other crops and cattle. The grounds of Hacienda La Pacífica cover 2,000ha/4,940ac, and 600ha/1,482ac have been left covered with forest where birds, monkeys, anteaters, armadillos and other wildlife can be spotted.Hiking and horseback riding trails are found on the grounds as well. Apart from comfortable accommodations, other facilities of the Hacienda La Pacífica include a small reference library, a swimming pool, naturalist-guided hikes and bicycle rentals.
Santa Elena, Costa Rica
Santa Elena, a small tico settlement, has been experiencing growth in tourism infrastructure due to its close proximity to Monteverde. The village offers several options for accommodations and dining.
This tranquil bay is a good spot for windsurfing. Other boating and water sports can be undertaken, and horseback riding in the area is also a popular activity.
Useful tips: Boats, horses, and windsurfing equipment are available for rental. Camping is available in nearby Puerto Soley.
Bolanos Island National Wildlife Refuge
Part of the Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG), this 25ha/62ac island is a nesting ground for several species of seabirds. The island is in the Salinas Bay on the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border. The ACG is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The rocky and mostly barren island features a nesting colony of hundreds of pelicans on the northern end of Bolaños Island, as well as hundreds of frigatebirds nesting on the southern cliffs. There are no facilities on the island, and the ACG headquarters must be contacted for a permit to land on the island. Many visitors observe the seabirds from a boat.