Regions: Northern Region
The Northern part of the country is filled with rain forests, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, caverns and world famous hot springs. The perfectly conical Arenal volcano is surrounded by a region of infinite potential and incredibly diverse flora and fauna.
The Northern Plains are made up of a rich farming countryside, covered with papaya and yuca (casava) plantations. This region surrounds the majestic Arenal volcano, but aside from this attraction, there’s a lot more to do and discover. The climate is a big part of why the area is greatly visited, since it’s varied and placid. The surroundings are great for relaxing, finding an adventure and getting in contact with nature. Visitors get to see misty cloud forest environments, verdant rolling hills, and a beautiful lake.
The landscapes are found along winding roads, and make for incredible photographs. In order to get the best view and experience, traveling is best when done by car. This way, visitors can get a true feel for the area. There’s plenty of nature for you to observe. Just think: out of the 850 birds species identified in Costa Rica, 600 are permanent residents of the Northern Plains. Don’t forget your binoculars!
Staying in La Fortuna is a great way to move around the area. The Arenal rises up out of the nearby countryside and looks upon the village and its people. This town has something for everyone. Take your pick: bathing in the hot springs of the Tabacon river; experiencing a canopy tour; walking along the trails around the Arenal volcano; tours to the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge; floating safari on the Peñas Blancas river; rafting; horseback rides; visits to butterfly farms, hanging bridges, and much more.
La Fortuna waterfalls is located 3.4 miles from the town, and is one of the major attractions. You can observe the 246 feet fall as you arrive on horse or foot. There’s also a new and exciting eco-tourism destination in the vicinity of the Arenal volcano.
The Arenal Hanging Bridges are a series of six swinging suspension bridges, some of which are 100 yards in length, nine stationary bridges, and a tunnel. They’re located within 600 acres of protected, primary neo-tropical rain forest.
By taking the 1.86 mile walking tour, visitors can get very deep into the canopy and get impressive views that aren’t common, including some breathtaking sights of the Arenal lake, a waterfall and the majestic volcano. The waterfall Bridge hangs over 197 feet from the ground, while another, The Tyra Bridge is 322 feet long. There are no steps, so people with every fitness level can visit.
Over 250 species of birds can be in this forest alone. They include the white hawk; great curassow; rufous motmot; rufous-tailed jacamar; and the black-throated trogon. There are also many reptiles, like the fer-de-lance snake; boa constrictor; basilisk lizard; glass frog and poison dart frog.
That’s not all, there are also amazing mammals like howler monkeys; spider monkeys; tyras; coatimundis; three-toed sloths and white-collared peccary, not to mention the thousands of beautiful insects.
The Arenal lake is a 26 square mile, manmade reservoir, that begins at the foot of the volcano. Twenty four miles long, it was especially created to provide hydroelectric energy and not only are the glassy waters spectacular, but so are the surrounding.
The land around the lake boasts numerous trails for both hiking and mountain biking. Trekkers will enjoy the infinite bird watching opportunities. Travelers interested in these sports can contact any of the different tour operators that works in the region.
The lake is great for fishing and boating, not to mention windsurfing. Winds have measured at up to 40 miles per hour, and this helps rank Arenal as the third best place in the world to practice this sport. The first two spots are in Hawaii.
The Arenal area is great for bird watching. Be alert and you will see kingfishers, hawks, and swallow tailed kites, as well as smaller residents like tanagers and hummingbirds.
It’s preferable to navigate along the lake in the early morning, since throughout the year this is the best time of day to move along a glassy water surface and get a full view of the volcano.
The lake also serves as a shortcurt to get to Monteverde, where more hanging bridges and a different type of canopy tour await. Not to mention a marvelous natural environment (check out the Tropical Paradise section, starting on page 109).
Another possibility are the Cuevas de Venado (Deer Caves). Moving North from the lake, they are an underground world that provide the perfect setting for the adventurous types. The formations in these caves are over six million years old. Inside, you’ll encounter stalactites, stalagmites, coral, and chimneys. Visitors must climb, wade and crawl through the different parts of the 1.5 mile system of caves, so the tour is recommended only for those with good fitness levels.
The popular Tabacon river hot springs, on both sides of the main road right before the park, offer visitors a chance to relax in many naturally heated mineral pools. They’re surrounded by lush tropical gardens and provide the perfect atmosphere to wind down and forget any trouble.
The Arenal Forest Reserve and All About Butterflies are great ways to take advantage of every minute of your stay in the Northern Plains. The reserve is a tropical rainforest with suspension bridges, natural history walks and bird watching. It’s also expected to include a canopy tour and aerial tram.
After any of the possible day trips, it’s well worth it to explore the town of La Fortuna. Here, residents are friendly and hospitable.
The small, picturesque town ao Tilaran lies on the Southwestern tip of the Arenal lake. Anyone moving from Guanacaste to the Northern Plains will pass through here and encounter a variety of hotel and restaurant options. There are plenty of things to do, like taking mountain bike trips up and down the surrounding hills.
Transportation to the Tilaran area is offered by several tour operators. However, many travelers prefer embarking on their own journey. With a map at hand, a camera and good binoculars, as not to miss anything, the trip can truly be fascinating. The roads are in generally good condition and will take you through amazing landscapes.
Tour operators, like Sunset Tours, based in La Fortuna, offer a great floating safari along the slower moving section of the Peñas Blancas river. Relaxing for two hours on a raft with no motor, allows visitors to appreciate all the incredible sights and sounds of nature as you move down the river. The knowledgeable guides describe the different flora and fauna you’ll encounter.
Along the way it is possible to see two species of sloths, three types of monkeys, three species of toucans, crocodiles, Jesus Christ lizards, caiman, different colored iguanas, mammals, and a variety of birds.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the trip is a stop for coffee and a snack at Don Pedro’s farm. For many, this is truly the highlight of the tour. This elderly man has lived here for over 65 years with no roads, electricity or running water. He’s a fascinating man and as you talk with him, his family will prepare wonderful traditional dishes with the original flavor of this amazing and unique country.
A word of advice: One thing you must not forget when visiting this area is to bring insect repellent. Also, wear comfortable shoes, since most of the attractions here involve a lot of walking. Be clear when asking your tour operator what each activity entails; this way you won’t be taken by surprise.
Varied topography: A striking characteristic of this area is the dramatic contrast in topography. The cordilleras (ranges) of Tilaran and Guanacaste set off the beauty of the Guatuso, San Carlos and Tortuguero Plains. Several small and medium-sized rivers make the Northern Plains very fertile. Fruit trees, rice paddies and cattle ranching are practiced in many corners. But another of the main attractions consists of the many protected areas found through the entire region.
Relax to the Max
One of the main reason why so many visit the Northern Plains, is the infinite possibilities for relaxing. They can find several hotels that have their own spas. Where professionals perform everything from exotic massages to facials and manicures.
This happens to be the best compliment for the surroundings. What more could one ask for, but to forget all troubles while in a lush forest, or at the foot of an active volcano.
The hot springs aren’t the only way to let go. Hotels, like the Montaña de Fuego (mountain of Fire), offers sauna, jacuzzis and a series of treatments made to suit everyone’s particular needs.
Just imagine being able to soothe your soul among magnificent vegetation and the most diverse variety of animal species. With the Arenal volcano in the backdrop, close your eyes as you receive a Swedish massage, an aromatherapy massage, or a siamese (twin) massage. You can also choose between an integral therapeutic massage or sports massage. Body and facial treatments include podal reflexology, mud body wrap, exofiliations, deep cleasing, mud masks and oxygen treatments.
Rest your body and spirit. Find the perfect way to combine adventure, hiking and physical activity with letting go and treating yourself to some well-deserved renovation. Enjoy!
Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips
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