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The Costa Rica catagories here include Topography, Rivers, Caribbean Coast, Pacific Coast, Protected Areas, Tortuguero Rain Forest, Corcovado National Park/Caños Island Biological Reserve, Monteverde Cloud ForestRincon de la Vieja, Las Baulas National Marine Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, Juan Castro Blanco National Park, Tenorio Volcano National Park, Braulio Carrillo National Park & Carara Biological Reserve...
 
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Map of Costa Rica

TOPOGRAPHY

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 volcanoes Poás, Barva, Irazú 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 heritage. 

RIVERS

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 side 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. 

CARIBBEAN COAST

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. 

PACIFIC COAST

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, Caballos, Negritos 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 Coco 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

PROTECTED AREAS

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. 

Tortuguero Rain Forest

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. 
Area:
18,946 Terrestrial Ha
52,265 Maritime Ha
Location:
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 beaches. 

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 here.

Corcovado 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.
Area:
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 herbaceous swamp. 

 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 restricted. 

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. 

Monteverde Cloud Forest

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. 

Rincon 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 morpho butterflies.

Las Baulas 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. 

Manuel Antonio National Park

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. 
Juan 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.

Tenorio 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.

Braulio 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...

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 Jose.

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