South of Puntarenas down to Quepos / ManuelAntonioNational Park, the Central Pacific Region stretches along the Pacific coast line, forming the transitional zone between tropical dry forest and evergreen humid and rain forest.
Carara National Park / Rio Tarcoles
On the Pacific coast, 25 Km southwest of Orotina, PuntarenasProvince. Carara presents a wide variety of plant life with evergreens being particularly predominant. The reserve possesses several ecosystems, including marshlands, a lagoon, and primary, secondary and gallery forests. The marshland is rich in waterfowl, wading birds, amphibians and reptiles that are usually found in these environments. The lagoon is completely covered with water hyacinths and other floating aquatic plants. The primary forests occupying most of the reserve are species-rich, multi-layered, and have an abundance of creeping vines and epiphytes. The tallest trees include such species as espave, silk cotton, wild fig, nargusta and quamwood, a very spectacular tree during the dry season when it is covered with yellow flowers. Amphibians and reptiles are abundant. Crocodiles measuring up to three meters long are widely distributed and easy to sight in the Grande de Tarcoles River. Waterfowl such as roseate spoonbills, anhingas, jacanas, pied-bellied grebes and Mexican tiger-bitterns are also in attendance. The fauna is abundant in spite of the isolated location of the reserve. Among the mammals, the four-eyed opossum, two-toed sloth, aouti, kinkajou, tayra, margay cat, collared peccary and white-tailed deer are found. A particularly conspicuous bird in Carara, notable for its beautiful bright blue, red, and yellow plumage, and the fact that it has all but disappeared from the Dry Pacific, is the scarlet macaw. Other species include the collared aracari, American egret, great tinamou, and turkey vulture.
You'll pass over the TarcolesRiver on your way to Carara. The bridge is renowned as a spot for watching alligators. From the safety of the bridge's span, you'll be able to see several good-sized ones warming up in the sun on the sandy beach along the river.
The narrow, dark sanded bay of Herradura has been one of the favorite beaches for Costa Ricans.
About 2 1/2 miles long dark sand beach stretching in a long bay. At times, dangerous currents do not allow swimming; there are warning signals on the beach. The town of Jacó has good infrastructure and is very lively with lots of restaurants, bars, discotheques and souvenir shops.
ManuelAntonioNational Park & Beaches
ManuelAntonioNational Park with an extension of almost 1,800 acres attracts the visitor with gorgeous hiking trails through abundant, tropical jungle which borders white sand beaches and turquoise waters. The evergreen fascinating forest is the home of about 100 species of mammals and 180 kinds of birds. A hiking trail through dense vegetation all around the cape enables you to catch the beautiful sight of 12 smaller islands just in front of it. A splendid combination of nature experience and beach fun.
The seas contain numerous dolphins and, at times, migrating whales are sighted. The dominant trees include black locust (an endangered timber-yielding tree), balsa, monkey comb, bastard cedar and mayflower, among others. The fauna is diverse and some 109 mammal species and 184 species of birds have been spotted. Of particular interest is the beautiful and delightful squirrel monkey, an endangered species now restricted to a very small territory. From the beach, it is possible to see two-toed sloth, raccoons white-nosed coatis, howler and white-faced monkeys, and squirrels. There is a wide range of marine flora and fauna. So far, 10 species of sponge, 19 corals, 24 crustaceans, 17 algae, and 78 fish species have been identified.
Most of the hotels are located on the road between the town of Quepos and the beaches at the national park. An hourly public bus shuttle to the beaches of Manuel Antonio (about 15 minutes) make these hotels an ideal basis for beach lovers as well as for active people (horseback riding, visit of a spice growing farm, canoeing in the nearby river delta with good opportunities to watch crocodiles, hiking and wildlife observation in the national park, etc.)
South Pacific Region
TheSouth Pacific Regionstretches betweenQuepos in the Northdown to the OsaPeninsulaand border to Panama,bordered by the Talamanca Mountain Rangewith itshighest Peak in Costa Rica, theCerro Chirripó. Main parts of this region are hardly explored for tourism and visitors mainly are focusing on DrakeBayand theCorcovadoNational Park. Coastal Vegetation is dominated by lowland rain forests reaching close to the vast and wild beaches, often interrupted by huge oil palm, banana and pineapple plantations.The average yearly precipitation in this area is about 5000 mm.
To visit the South Pacific Region, a domestic flight to Palmar Norte, Golfito or Puerto Jimenez should be taken into consideration or, interrupting the exhausting drive from San José, one or two overnights at the beautiful Valle de Dota, home of the largest Quetzal populations in Central America.
Cerro de la Muerte / Valley Of San Gerardo de Dota
The Inter-American highway winds its way through Costa Rica, it traverses a wide variety of landscapes. From less than 300 feet above sea level at the Nicaraguan border, to 11,500 feet on the slopes of the Talamanca Mountain Range, and back down again to below 200 feet, it presents the traveler with a look at several of the many ecosystems in the country. Perhaps the most dramatic stretch runs from Cartago, in the Central Valley, to San Isidro de El General, as it rises from about 5,000 feet through its highest point in Costa Rica at a spot called Cerro de la Muerte . As you wind around Cerro de la Muerte on the Interamerican Highway, you will see the lush vegetation become stunted and then diminish. The turn off for San Gerardo de Dota is on Kilometer 80, driving for 9 kilometers down on a well maintained gravel road you reach this narrow, pristine mountain valley at 2200 meters of altitude (7220 ft). San Gerardo de Dota has become a paradise for birdwatchers, hikers, and trout fishers.
ChirripoPeak is the highest mountain in the country, soaring to a height of 3,821 meters. The paramos of this elevation contains many varieties of stunted Andean-type woodland, consisting of shrubs, grasslands and perennial herbaceous plants. One of the most common species found here is the batamba. The largest trees include oak, sweet cedar, nargusta, elm, Poas magnolia, iera, cypress and manni. The fauna is astonishingly varied, with 263 species of amphibians and reptiles and about 400 types of birds observed to date. The largest concentration of tapirs in the country can be found here, plus the puma, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarondi, white-lipped peccary and cacomistle. The most noteworthy birds include the resplendent quetzal, crested eagle, red-tailed hawk, volcano hummingbird, black guan, crowned wren-thrush, elegant trogon, and acorn woodpecker.
La Amistad Biosphere
La AmistadPark is located in the Talamanca Mountain Range and extends to the Panama border. Both Amistad Pacific and Caribbean span the most biologically diverse area in Costa Rica and comprise the largest unspoiled forest in the country. An astonishing number of habitats -produced by the differences in altitude, soil, climate and topography- can be found, including paramos, marshlands, oak forests, madrono forests, fern groves and mixed forests. Amistad has an extension of more than 192,000 hectares.
San Vito / WilsonBotanical Garden
Just outside the southern pacific town of San Vito, Wilson's Botanical Gardens are part of the Las Cruces Biological Reserve, which is maintained by the OTS (Organization for Tropical Studies). The gardens were began in 1962 by Mr. Robert Wilson and have since become a tremendous facility used for research, teaching, and to help preserve numerous threatened species of local and international plant species. More than 1,000 genera in 212 plants families can be seen along trails that wind around palm-covered hillsides, through agaves and lily beds, under rain forest canopy, through banana and heliconia groves, or to strategic overlooks on the rolling grounds.
Golfito is set on the north side of the Golfo Dulce, at the foot of lush green mountains. The setting alone is enough to make this one of the most attractive cities in the country, but Golfito also has a certain charm all its own. Sure, the areas around the municipal park and public dock are kind of seedy and the "downtown" section is quite run-down, but if you go a little bit farther along the bay, you come to the old United Fruit Company housing. Here you'll find well-maintained wooden houses painted bright colors and surrounded by neatly manicured gardens. Toucans are commonly sighted. It's all very lush and green and clean--an altogether different picture from that painted by most port towns in this country. These old homes are experiencing a sort of renaissance, as they become small hotels catering to shoppers visiting the adjacent duty-free shopping center.
Esquinas Rainforest / Piedras Blancas National Park
The PiedrasBlancasNational Park, formerly called EsquinasNational Park or Corcovado Section II, was established in 1992 as an extension of the CorcovadoNational Park. The park borders the Golfito Forest Reserve in the East. In the West the park is connected with the CorcovadoNational Park by a forest corridor (Rincon) which unfortunately is highly threatened by illegal logging. The PiedrasBlancasNational Park covers 30'000 acres of undisturbed humid tropical primary rainforest and 5'000 acres of secondary forests, pasture land and rivers consisting primarily of hills of varied steepness, over one hundred stream valleys, a river plateau and coastal cliffs and beaches. A study by Austrian biologists recently revealed that the diversification of tree species counted on different areas of 10'000 sqm. each exceeds the variety of trees found in the CorcovadoNational Park which makes this area even more important to conserve. The scientific study will be publicized in 2001.
This pristine bay, lined by palm trees and named after the pirate Sir Francis Drake, is located in the north of Osa Peninsula, at about 12 miles distance from the San Pedrillo entrance to Corcovado National Park. Here, time seems to have no meaning; it is here that you are taken into a world of pure rainforest, magnificent beaches, and adventurous boat trips. The lodges in DrakeBay offer day trips to CorcovadoNational Park and CañoIsland.
Often called the “biological most intense place on earth” because of its stunning variety of flora and fauna, the park protects major habitats including a mountain 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 SirenaRivers; 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 crab wood. 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.
Isla del Caño Biological Reserve
Located in the Pacific Ocean, 15 Km offshore from CorcovadoNational Park and the port of San Pedrillo. This reserve is of major archaeological importance since it was used as a cemetery in pre-Colombian times. It is still possible today to see some almost perfectly round stone spheres, made by the Indians. It has a plateau some 90 meters high, covered by a very tall evergreen forest with trees reaching heights up to 50 meters. Other species present are the locust and wild fig. The smaller trees include wild cocoa and rubber tree. The fauna is sparse, possibly caused by the disappearance of the natural forest. The few birds that can be sighted here are the cattle egret, common black hawk, osprey, brown booby, and Northern phalarope. The four-eyed opossum, paca (introduced), boa constrictor, brown tree gorge and transparent tree frog, and a few species of rats, bats, small snakes, and lizards are also sighted here. A rich variety of marine fauna inhabits the tidal pools. In addition to a multitude of fish, there are countless brittle starfish and sea urchins. Two endangered species in the vicinity of the island are the lobster and the giant conch.
Boat trips are offered from most of the lodges in DrakeBay
Long stretched, dark sand beach, ideal for those who are looking for tranquility.
This dark sanded beach borders the Barú beach in the north and is perfect for long beach walks and surfing. At the river mouth of the Rio Barú there is great bird-watching. A good choice for an excursion on horseback are the Nauyaca waterfalls.
Playa Uvita / Playa Tortuga / Bahia Ballena
The national marine park “Ballena” protects the marine life and coastal area from Playa Uvita till Playa Piñuelas. The park includes some rock formations, small islands like “Isla Ballena” and the three sisters (Las Tres Hermanas) and some coral reefs. A perfect habitat for all kinds of marine animals and plants. You have a big chance that you will see dolphins. Even there is a possibility to observe whales (February/ March).From the river Terraba, which connects the biggest mangrove area of Central America to the sea, tons of micro organisms flow into the sea. Another big attraction for bigger and smaller fish and their predators. There are 5 species of coral in the park (from the 18 existing ones in the west Pacific ocean). The best time for snorkeling is during the dry season (December until March) when the water is very clear.