Where to go

Most people arrive in San José, the capital, where you can spend a couple of days sightseeing. It's really the only place in the country with any significant cultural attractions, so if you like museums, art galleries and cerebral fodder you should allow a couple of days here. Beyond the capital, the Central Highlands are a tidy mosaic of volcanic hills dotted with towns and coffee plantations, most within reach of a national park. Typical day-trips from the capital take in the craft town of Sarchí and a steady climb up the huge crater of Volcán Poás. A tour of the scenic Orosí Valley is easily followed by a haul up to the steaming vents of Volcán Irazú. Or take a ride on a ski lift through the rainforest canopy in Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo, just 90 minutes from the capital.

North of San José, Volcán Arenal leaves onlookers trance-like on night trips as the glowing lava crashes down the mountainside. Nearby, the world-famous cloudforest of Monteverde provides a brief insight into the magnificent diversity of the highlands.

Guanacaste, to the northwest, draws visitors to its volcanic landscape and the bubbling mudpots of Rincón de la Vieja, the birder's wetland paradise of Palo Verde and the Tempisque river basin, the dry forests of Santa Rosa and the cultural landscape of the sabanero, Costa Rica's very own cowboy.

Beach lovers and surfers can pick pretty much any spot from the northern Nicoya Peninsula down the Central Pacific coastline and they will find a personally tailored version of paradise with lively resorts and quiet hideaways catering for all budgets, tastes and energy levels.

Southern Costa Rica is a tougher option. Travelling overland down the mountainous spine of the country, Chirripó Grande is the country's highest peak and a serious challenge for the trekker. Further south, on the Osa Peninsula, the pristine Parque Nacional Corcovado is a moment of magic for both the adventurer and wildlife lover.

The Caribbean divides neatly in two halves. North of Puerto Limón, the canals of Tortuguero are likely to provide quiet moments of awestruck contemplation as you encounter the wildlife and vegetation of this aquatic inland waterworld, while on the coast turtles nest on the beaches as they have for millions of years. South of Limón, the carnival capital of Costa Rica, the discerning traveller can find a blend of upmarket retreats offering top-quality service with a price to match, and quiet undeveloped beaches that are perfect for the budget traveller.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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