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The highest regions of Costa Rica
are found in the center of country
and the lowlands, which are more extensive and flat, extend to Caribbean
coast in the northeast. On the Pacific side,
the marine shelf cuts sharply into the coast forming bays, capes, cliff
faces and inlets. The Costa Rica mountain ranges form and independent group
within the Central American massif. Three of these ranges run roughly from
northwest to southeast with a fourth crossing them at the widest part of
the country and forming a huge cross.
In this Central Range lie the Central Valley (where we find the cities
of San José, Alajuela
and Heredia) and the
Guarco Valley, in the province of Cartago. Two volcanic ranges dominate
the northwest of Costa Rica. First, the Sierra Volcánica Guanacaste
with its volcanoes, Orosí, Miravalles, Tenorio
and Arenal, which offers a
breathtaking show with its night-time eruptions, plus Rincón de
la Vieja, whose volcanic activity keeps the mud in the foothills bubbling
permanently. In this area, we can also visit Lake Arenal. With a surface
area of about 85 sq. km, it is an ideal spot for water sports such as windsurfing,
water-skiing, motor boat racing and fishing. Second, in the northwest,
is the Sierra Volcánica Tilarán, formed by the hills of Abangares,
Aguacate and Cedral. In the transvers chain of the Central Highlands, the
and Turrialha are the most accessible to the visitor. All of these volcanoes
form an important part of our country's
natural and geological heritage. Finally, to the south, are Costa Rica's
highest mountains, in the non-volcanic Talamanca Range. Of these, Chirripó
is the most impressive, being the highest in the country at 3,821 mts.
Also, due to the type of landscape, composition of the soil and climatic
conditions at the summit, its vegetation is similar to that found in bleak
mountain ranges -still another facet of Costa Rica's incredible natural
The rivers of Costa Rica are of
great interest to tourists, not only for their beauty but also for the
opportunities they provide for adventure, sport and leisure activities.
On the Caribbean side lies the Reventazón-Parismina
River system, 145 km long, and the 108 km Pacuare. Both rivers are ideal
for fishing and for shooting rapids. Also on the northern Caribbean
slopes, we find the 96 km Colorado and the Sarapiquí, both of which
are perfect for outings and sporting activities. The Pacific
boasts numerous rivers such as the Corobicí, most noted for float
trips on its gentle rapids. The Corobicí and many other north Pacific
rivers empty into the great Tempisque River which stretches for 135 km
to the Gulf of Nicoya. The marshes, rivulets and estuaries of the Tempisque
Basin provide important nesting grounds for numerous native bird species
and sanctuary for many migrants.
The Caribbean coastline, stretching
for 212 km; runs from the northeast to the southeast and can be divided
into two distinct sections: Río San Juan-Limón (which extends
from the border with Nicaragua to the city
of Limón), and Limón-Réo Sixaola (from the city of
Limón to the border with Panama). The
first section consists of a long stretch of coastline which separates the
sea from a series of fresh water lakes, fed by numerous rivers. In this
region are the famous "Canales of Tortuguero", a network of more than 100
km of navigable canals and lagoons and which are the habitat of seven species
of turtles. Located at the mid-point of the Caribbean coastline of Limón,
one of the country's major ports and
birthplace of our Afro-Caribbean culture. Just offshore, to the south of
the city, lies the island of Uvita, originally named Cariari by Christopher
Columbus who stopped there on his fourth voyage to the New World.
The Pacific coast stretches over
1.200 km, from one border to the other and offers a variety of landscapes,
islands, gulfs, headlands, swamps, inlets and peninsulas. From Bahía
Salinas, in the north, to southern Punta Bunca, Costa Rica's Pacific coastline
boasts many wide beaches which are perfect for tourists to enjoy themselves.
Santa Elena, Nicoya and Osa are the main peninsulas on the Pacific side.
On the northern part of the coast is the bay of Salinas (where a small
archipelago called Murciélago affords ideal scuba diving) and the
Santa Elena Peninsula and Culebra Bay (where the "Golfo de Papagallo" tourist
complex is currently under construction). Further south the Gulf of Nicoya
also has great tourist appeal. The 'Salinero" and "Tempisque" ferries cross
its waters to the isolated beaches of the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula.
The shoreline of the gulf forms many bays and promontories and Nicoya's
waters are dotted with small islands. The largest of these are the islands
of Chira and San Lucas. Others of great natural beauty are Venado, Bejuco,
and Cedros Islands. Near the city of Puntarenas (administrative center
of the province, also called Puntarenas) is Puerto Caldera, the Pacific's
most important port. Caldera has developed into a modern port complex for
cruise ships and cargo boats. Five hundred km off the Pacific coast lies
Island, famous for its legend of hidden treasures. However, its main
riches are very beautiful and luxuriant flora and fauna, both on land and
in its surrounding waters. These natural treasures are in need of protection
from visitors to the island. Finally, the south Pacific coast is divided
into two major zones. To the southeast, is the Golfo Dulce. On the gulf,
stands the historic city of Golfito, better known today for its duty free
shopping centers. To the southwest lies the Osa Peninsula where the Osa
Conservation Area protects perhaps the most extensive and richest variety
of flora and fauna to be found in the country.
It is for the nature lover and the
conservationist, however, that Costa Rica has become a true mecca. As of
1992 Costa Rica is the world headquarters for the Earth Council, because
of its natural resource conservation activities. At present, the National
Parks Service is responsible for the care and conservation of 20 natural
parks, eight wildlife refuges and one area which has been declared a national
archaeological monument. At the same time, the Forestry Service is in charge
of 26 protected areas, nine forest reserves, seven fauna sanctuaries and
a national forest. These protected areas total 1.077.308 hectares and represent
21% of the national territory, meaning that Costa Rica has a larger percentage
of its total area set aside in Parks and Preserves than any other country
in the world. The protection of Costa Rica's natural resources has implications
beyond its borders because they encompass an incredible biodiversity, including
fauna and flora.
One of the most exotic regions in
the world, The Tortuguero National Park, also the most important nesting
grounds for the green sea turtle in the Western Caribbean. Extremely rich
flora and fauna abound in this park, as a product of the heavy annual rainfall.
The park is made up of a unique system of natural and man-made canals that
serve as waterways for transportation and exploration. Traveling through
this humid tropical rain forest, you will have a chance to admire beautiful
tropical birds, crocodiles, monkeys and marine turtles.
18,946 Terrestrial Ha
52,265 Maritime Ha
On the Atlantic coast, Limon Province,
84 Km northwest of the city of Limon.
This is the most important nesting
site in the entire western half of the Caribbean
for the green turtle. The leatherback and hawksbill also nest along these
A natural system of canals and
navigable lagoons, of great scenic beauty, cross the park from southeast
to northwest forming the habitat for seven species of land turtles, the
manatee or sea cow, and the crocodile. Also, a wide range of crustaceans
and some 30 freshwater species of fish, including the gar (a living fossil),
eel and bull shark inhabit these waterways.
This is one of the rainiest
and most biologically diverse regions in the country.
Eleven habitats have been identified in the park with the crabwood, banak,
Santa Maria, bully tree and dove wood among the many types of trees growing
National Park/Caños Island Biological Reserve
Drake Bay is located in the remote
unspoiled wilderness of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica's last frontier.
It is only 20 minutes from Corcovado National Park which is considered
to have the greatest biological diversity in Costa Rica. Canos Island Biological
Reserve is also close by and is an excellent spot for snorkeling, diving,
and fishing. It is also of archaeological importance, being the site of
a pre-Columbian cemetery.
54,039 Terrestrial Ha
2,400 Maritime Ha
Location: Puntarenas Province,
on the Pacific coast; southwestern side of
the Osa Peninsula.
The park protects major habitats
including a montane forest, which covers more than half the park; a cloud
forest, located in the highest region, richly populated by oaks and tree
ferns; swamp forests, flooded practically all year-round; a holillo forest,
predominated by palms; a mangrove swamp, located on the estuaries of the
Llorona, Corcovado and Sirena Rivers; and a freshwater
The park is home to some
500 species of trees -equivalent to a quarter of all the tree species in
Costa Rica. Some of the larger trees include the purple heart, poponjoche,
nargusta, banak, cow tree, espave and crabwood.
The park protects several endangered
species including cats and large reptiles. Moreover, it is home to several
species of birds, which are either endemic or whose distribution is very
There are 140 species of mammals,
367 birds, 117 amphibians and reptiles, 40 types of freshwater fish, and
it is estimated that there are some 6,000 types of insects.
It is common to see large
herds of white-lipped peccary, as well as howler and spider monkeys, and
squirrels. The park is sanctuary to the largest population of scarlet macaws
in the country.
Other species of birds found
here are the vulture, white hawk, short-billed pigeon, tovi
parakeet and bronze-tailed sicklebill.
The Quaker community of Monteverde
settled in this area 40 years ago because of its natural beauty and peaceful
atmosphere. Biologists discovered the amazing biological diversity in the
surrounding forest. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was created from
donations by the Quakers and the Tropical Science Center. The area is a
haven for bird watchers because of the number of species that are easily
spotted. Of particular interest is the resplendent Quetzal, which can only
be found in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and the
Three-Wattled Bellbird, difficult to spot but whose song rings clearly
throughout the forest.
de la Vieja Volcano
Rincon de la Vieja mountain range
forms the headwaters of 32 rivers and streams and 16 intermittent water-collecting
gorges. All are surrounded by exuberant mountain jungle vegetation. A most
unusual feature of this area is the odd characteristic of having pure water
with either very hot or very cold temperatures. "The Cauldrons" (small
bubbling mud volcanoes) and "The Azufrales" (thermal springs) are the zone's
main geological attractions.
Area: 14,083 Ha.
It is located on the Guanacaste
Volcanic Mountain Range; 27 Km northeast of Liberia.
The Rincón de la Vija
massif, 1,916 meters high, is a composite structure. Nine eruptive spots
have been identified on its peak.
The most recent eruptions took
place at the beginning of 1992. Today, Rincón
de la Vieja still has fumarole activity.
The areas, called Las pailas
and Las Hornillas, area at the foot of the volcano, on the south side,
stretching over some 50 hectares.
One of the major advantages of
this area is the protection afforded to the vast natural watershed system.
The park contains what is probably the largest existing growth of the national
flower_"guaria morada"(purple orchid)_found in the wild.
There are also hot springs
which give rise to very hot mountain streams; sulfuric ponds with smallmud-filled
depressions which bubble continuously; geysers releasing jets of steam,
particularly during the rainy season; and mud cones in all shapes and sizes.
A small freshwater lake lies south of the main crater.
This national park conatins diverse
habitats, produced by the differences in altitude and rainfall, the effect
of volcanic eruptions and the type of slope.
In the lower regions, trees include
the Guanacaste, freijo,
gumbo-limbo, bitter cedar and capulin. In the central region, between 1,200
and 1,400 meters, the most abundant trees are the cupey, mamwood, clabash,
jicaro danto and didymopanax.
Beginning at 1,400 meters
and continuing up to near the peak, the woods are low and the densely-branched
trees are covered with mosses and other epiphytes. The most common trees
are the cupey, didymopanax and crespon.
The peak of the volcano is covered
with ash and has very sparse vegetation. Plants include the cupey and the
poor man's umbrella. The tapir, highland tinamous, black guan and several
cat species are very numerous in this region.
Within the park, 257 species
of birds have ben sighted, including the three-wattled bellbird, great
curassow, black-faced solitaire, MOntezuma oropendola, bank swallow, emerald
toucanet, wlegant tragon, blue-throated goldentail, spectacled owl, white-fronted
amazon and guaco.
Some other mammals found here
include the red brocket deer, collared peccary, agouti, tayra, Northern
tamandua, two-toed sloth, and howler, white-faced and spider monkeys. Insects
are very numerous and include four species of the abundant and beautiful
National Marine Park
Playa Grande plays host to the giant
Leatherback turtles. These enormous sea creatures, weighing more than 600
pounds, nest each year on the beach, in front of the hotel. The Leatherback
season runs from October through March; however Playa Grande offers more
than turtles. Canoe through the Tamarindo Estuary with more than 1200 acres
of salt water jungle comprised of red, white, black and the rare tea mangrove,
an area which shelters hundreds of species of birds and animals. There
are wonderful tidal pools for snorkeling, bathing and exploration. Ride
horses on the beach with the surf at your side! Costa Rica's most consistent
surf break is at Playa Grande. Deep Sea fishing can also be arranged.
One of the most popular and beautiful
parks of the National Parks system is Manuel Antonio. It has spectacular
beaches, such as South Espadrille and Manuel Antonio Beach. Here white
sands that slope gently into calm crystal clear water are surrounded by
tropical forest, coconut palms and enormous almond trees, providing shade
for visitors to this beach paradise. Manuel Antonio is one of the best
areas to view marine birds, white -faced and squirrel monkeys and three
toed sloths. The park includes 12 islands just off the coast where numerous
dolphins can be seen as well as whales on their migratory journeys.
Castro Blanco National Park...
Juan Castro Blanco National Park
is located in the northern part of the country.
It spans 14258 hectares, most of which are covered by a primary tropical
forest. This pre-mountain to mountain vegetation is sometimes referred
to as cloud forest. The Resplendent Quetzal and other species in danger
of extinction can be found there. Mammals such as jaguars, marguay, pacas,
armadillos among others are seen in this park.
Volcano National Park
Located in the Guanacaste Mountain
Range, and situated at the confluence of climatic influences from both
coasts, Tenorio Volcano National Park is extremely rich in natural diversity.
You could find climatic conditions ranging from tropically humid to very
humid areas. From high above the volcano, there is an impressive view of
the plains of Guatuso and San Carlos. Boiling springs come bubbling up
from the ground. Temperatures around these springs can reach a scorching
94 degrees Celsius.
Carrillo National Park
With a size of (45,899 hectares)
Braulio Carrillo is rugged, mountainous and heavily forested. This is the
park you see when driving from San Jose to Limon. In fact, it was the construction
of the road in 1978 that led to the creation of the park. Conservationists
felt the road would enable loggers and developers to move in. Illegal logging
is a major problem here, along with poaching, but without the protection
of the National Park Service, the situation would be far worse. Braulio
Carrillo is dramatic and forbidding with cloud-enshrouded virgin forest
covering volcanic mountains as far as the eye can see.
Trees groan under the weight
of ferns, mosses, vines and bromeliads. This is a wet and dripping place
and the massive leaves of poor man's umbrellas (gunnera) often come in
handy. Kinkajous, raccoons, sloths and pacas live in the area along with
ocelot and jaguar, although the forest is too dense to see much in the
way of wildlife. Birds are easier to spot and include guans, trogons and
quetzals. Hikers can choose between a tough, steep or short and easy one
(both beginning on the Guapiles highway). The park headquarters are just
20 km from San Jose, past the toll
booths. A trail leads from the Sacramento entrance to the Barva Volcano.
Rainy all year. Some camping permitted. Distance from San Jose: 20 km.
Carara Biological Reserve (4,700
hectares) is a transition zone between dry tropical forest and the wetter
regions to the south. It is laced by countless rivers, the largest being
the Tarcoles. During the rainy season, the Tarcoles floods its banks, creating
a large lagoon that quickly fills with water hyacinth. Crocodiles and caimans
are easily spotted along with plenty of wading birds. Coatimundis, peccaries,
white-face capuchin, howler and spider monkeys, and the rare-two toed sloth
can all be found here along with a great variety of plant life including
fabulous heliconias. Carara is one of the few nesting areas remaining for
the scarlet macaw. Throughout the day, the macaws can always be heard and
often seen in flight, particularly around dusk. There are two paths. One
starts at the main entrance and takes a short circular route, the other
begins 2 km away and passes the lagoon.
Easily accessible for day trips
from San Jose, but accommodation
also available locally.It is located 88 km west of San