Plains of the North
Featuring an abundance of natural attractions, including lakes, volcanoes, rivers, and waterfalls, the Northern Zone is currently upgrading its tourism services and infrastructure to better accommodate the growing number of visitors who come to discover the region’s natural wealth.
Due to frequent rainfall, the Northern Plains are an oasis of evergreen rainforests and fertile flatlands that serve as sanctuaries for waterbirds, reptiles, mammals and the prehistoric Gaspar fish.
Adventure activities and nature watching may be enjoyed on the region’s many scenic rivers including the Peñas Blancas, San Carlos, Toro, Puerto Viejo, and Sarapiquí—some of which are used as important navigational routes.
Sarapiquí, one of the most visited districts in the region, is a lush lowland area and prime scientific research site, rich in biodiversity and one of the last strongholds of endangered species such as the great green macaw.
The region is famous for turnos (outdoor parties or festivals) which are held in most small towns and feature bull riding and livestock auctions.
rustic mountain lodges, luxurious resorts, and family-owned cabins dot the region’s verdant landscape. Depending on where you choose to stay, your hotel balcony may offer you spectacular views of a fiery volcano, the deep blue waters of Costa Rica’s largest lake or perhaps the serenity of an enchanting cloud forest.
Plains of the North
The Northern Plains offer something for everyone from gliding through the treetops to windsurfing, river rafting and more. Travelers may choose from an enticing variety of quality nature and adventure options.
The region’s endless plains and panoramic views make horseback riding a favorite activity. Tourists enjoy rides in Tilarán, Fortuna, Bajo del Toro, Caño Negro, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí and other scenic areas. Several tours use this mode of transportation as their primary way of getting to different sites of interest.
From rushing rivers and diaphanous waterfalls to soothing hot springs and rumbling volcanoes, there is no limit to the variety of hikes available for observing the region’s natural attractions. Most tour operators and hotels offer visitors guided nature hikes to many of the area’s primary attractions.
Breathtaking scenery and nature-watching can be enjoyed on several of the region’s rivers, including the Frío, San Carlos, Sarapiquí and Puerto Viejo rivers.
The region offers a variety of roads and adventure or leisure sites that are ideal for touring on regular or mountain bikes. Popular destinations include La Fortuna waterfall, agricultural plantations, the Arenal Volcano and reservoir and the trail between La Fortuna and Monteverde.
The outskirts of Venado, in Guanacaste, are home to the largest and most accessible cavern system in the Northern Zone. This is a fascinating opportunity for visitors to explore and learn about stalactite and stalagmite formations as well as various other bizarre geological features.
Nature – Bird – and Butterfly Watching
Visitors can enjoy the region’s abundant natural wealth in numerous nature reserves and national parks. These include areas such as Arenal and Juan Castro Blanco National Parks; Caño Negro and Bosque Alegre Wildlife Refuges. There are also private protected sites such as the Danaus Botanical Garden, La Selva Biological Station, Selva Verde, and the Tirimbina Preserve, to name just a few.
Nature – Trail, Hanging – Bridge and Treetop Adventure
Tourism and recreation outfitters in several communities, including Fortuna, La Virgen, and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, have developed facilities for enjoying adventure activities on hanging bridges, nature trails and in the forest canopy.
The abundance of natural and cultural attractions, as well as the many scenic destinations available, makes this region highly attractive to photographers. Among the favored locations are waterfalls, rivers and volcanoes, picturesque ranches and various farms, including sugarcane, coffee, and pineapple plantations.
A visit to the Arenal Reservoir
Located in the shadow of the majestic and active Arenal Volcano, the 87.8-square-kilometer Lake Arenal is the perfect destination for those who enjoy boating, fishing, windsurfing, water skiing or simply relaxing beside white-flecked blue waters. This man-made reservoir is situated at 546 meters above sea level and boasts wind speeds of over 72 kilometers per hour, making it a world-class destination for windsurfing. There are a number of quality hotels located near the lake which offer horseback riding tours, nature hikes, fishing excursions, and windsurfing facilities and equipment.
Covering an area of 33 square kilometers, the volcano’s periodic eruptions of ash and glowing rock, accompanied by thundering blasts, offer an unforgettable experience anytime but become particularly magnificent after dark.
The volcano has experienced constant activity since July 29, 1968, when it erupted in a furious blast that killed 87 of people and buried 3 small villages. Since then, several steps have been taken to ensure the safety of the local population and visitors, among these the inclusion of a safety perimeter around the volcano and strategically placed lookout points.
Depending on where you are, Arenal may appear as a lush verdant mountain sheltering a variety of wildlife, or as a rugged moonscape with lava tracts and gray sand. This is due to the constant small eruptions that blanket its north face with ash yet leave its southern side unscathed.
The Arenal Volcano and surrounding areas boast a wide selection of activities including horseback riding, hiking, volcano viewing, hot springs, and canopy adventures. Several cozy lodges and modern hotels offer spectacular nightly views of the fiery eruptions.