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Rainforests and Cloud Forests in Costa Rica


Northwest of the Cordillera Central, home to San José, lie two mountain chains covered in cloud forest, volcanoes and diverse flora and fauna stretching up to the Nicaraguan border. This area features excellent hiking, fishing, rafting, kayaking, windsurfing, horseback riding, and viewing spectacular wildlife.

The Cordillera de Tilarán has rolling mountains mostly covered with cloud forests. The Monteverde Reserve (10,500 hectares, 25,950 acres) is within Tilarán. This is one of the most popular destinations for nature lovers in Costa Rica. The reserve straddles the hemispheric divide. The two major towns to reach the reserve: Santa Elena and Monteverde, are reached from San José by slow, unpaved roads. The effort to get there is worth it though. Once you arrive inside this national park, you have the opportunity to observe primary cloud forest rich in birds, insects and mammals. Activities are varied and include canopy tours, zip line tours, hiking, bird watching, rafting and kayaking.

The two mountain chains are separated by the Laguna de Arenal and the Volcán Arenal, which is protected by the national park of the same name. Here, be sure to visit Fortuna, a small, but rapidly growing town that is an excellent launching point to explorations of the Arenal region. There are several tours of the area which can be purchased in San José, Fortuna or from international tour agencies. Activities here include canopy tours, hiking, bird watching and wildlife viewing.

The second mountain chain, the Cordillera Guanacaste has a spectacular string of volcanoes, some of which are also protected in national parks. West of this is the Península de Nicoya, with a rare, dry tropical forest habitat descending to remote Pacific beaches. This area is protected by the splendid and historic Parque Nacional Santa Rosa. The tico culture in this area is rich, and is most famous for their music and dancing. There are many interesting fiestas in January and February in the local villages.

South of San José along the Pan American highway, there are several excellent private reserves ideal for bird watching. While this area of the country is not as popular as its northern counterpart, it is a great escape from the tourist crowds. There are several lodges and hotels scattered throughout the region. Among the highlights in southern Costa Rica are Cerro de la Muerte, a cloud-covered 3,491 meters (11,453 feet) peak; Parque Nacional Chirripó, a national park home to Costa Rica’s highest mountains.

Osa Peninsula, also to the south, is a natural paradise of beautiful hiking trails through protected rainforest, and palm-lined beaches. See beaches for more information.

28 Nov 2006

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