The Best of Costa Rica

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              The Best of Costa Rica
F  or years, Costa Rica was the well-kept secret of a few biologists, backpackers,

and beachcombers, but that’s all changed. The secret is out. Today the country
is a major international vacation and adventure-travel destination, and tourism
has become the nation’s number-one source of income. Despite the boom in

vacationers, Costa Rica remains a place rich in natural wonders and biodiversity,
far from the madding crowds. Here you can still find unsullied beaches that
stretch for miles, small lodgings that haven’t attracted hordes of tourists, jungle

rivers for rafting and kayaking, and spectacular cloud and rainforests with ample
opportunities for bird-watching and hiking. In addition to the country’s trade-
mark eco- and adventure tourism offerings, recent years have seen the opening
of a handful of large luxury resorts and golf courses, with more on the way.
   This is my ninth year putting this book together, and the “best of ” experi-
ences keep on coming. In this chapter, I’ve selected the very best of what this
unique country has to offer. Most of these places and experiences are covered in

greater detail elsewhere in the book; this chapter is merely meant to give you an
overview of the highlights so you can start planning your own adventure.

 1 The Best of Natural Costa Rica

  • Rincón de la Vieja National                in the east): This is a prime place
    Park (northeast of Liberia, in             for an ecolodge experience. Pro-
    Guanacaste): This is an area of            tected tropical forests climb from
    rugged beauty and high volcanic            the Caribbean coastal lowlands up

    activity. The Rincón de la Vieja           into the central mountain, afford-
    Volcano rises to 1,848m (6,061             ing you a glimpse of a plethora of

    ft.), but the thermal activity is          life zones and ecosystems. Braulio
    spread out along its flanks, where         Carrillo National Park borders
    numerous geysers, vents, and               several other private reserves here,
    fumaroles let off its heat and             and there’s a variety of ecolodges

    steam. This is a great place to hire       to suit any budget. See “Puerto
    a guide and a horse for a day of           Viejo de Sarapiquí” in chapter 6.
    rugged exploration. There are            • Arenal Volcano/Tabacón Hot
    waterfalls and mud baths, hot              Springs (near La Fortuna, north-
    springs, and cool jungle swim-             west of San José): When the skies
    ming holes. You’ll pass through            are clear and the lava is flowing,
    pastureland, scrub savanna, and            Arenal Volcano provides a thrilling
    moist secondary forest; the bird-          light show accompanied by an
    watching is excellent. See p. 148.         earthshaking rumble that defies
  • The Río Sarapiquí Region (north            description. You can even see the
    of San José between Guanacaste in          show while soaking in a natural
    the west and the Caribbean coast           hot spring and having a drink at
  4           C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F C O S TA R I C A

The Best of Costa Rica
                                                                                                            Lake Nicaragua
 0                     25 mi

                               N                                   1
 0             25 km                            Golfo de             GU
                                             Santa Elena                          AN
                                                                                       AC                    4
    Airport                                                                                  AST
                                                      SANTA ROSA                                     ER
                                                                                                        ANG                                                    3
      Ferry                        Murciélagos         NATIONAL                                             E                                                 W               35
  Mountain                              Islands          PARK                      Rincón de                      RINCON DE LA VIEJA
                                                                                     la Vieja                     NATIONAL
                                                               1                                                  PARK
                                            Golfo de                          e                                                   6

                                            Papagayo                                                                                        Coter

                                                                                             Liberia                                                                  4

                                                                                                                                                        Río Frío

                                                                                         er                                     TIL         4

                                                        8                                     ic a                                    AR              Lake Arenal
                                                                                                     n H w y.                              AN

                                                                     Rí o
                                                                                                                                  142           RA
                                                                                                                                                     NG           5
                                                                                                                                                                  9 Arenal
                                                                                                       7                                                  E               Volcano
                                                  9                                                  W                                Monteverde
                                                       Tamarindo                         PALO VERDE                                                               6
                                                                                  21                                       18

                                                         160                                                                                                  1

                                                                                             OY                        160
                                                                                                            IN                                        Golfo
                                                                              10                                 SU
                                                                                                                                                       de                      Río
                                                                                                                                           160        Nicoya                  14
                      P A C I F I C                                                                                        12         13

                       O C E A N                                                                                  Cabo Blanco
                                                                                                                 Nature Reserve

 11 Isla del Coco
      (Coco Island)

THE BEST OF NATURAL COSTA RICA                                                THE BEST ADVENTURES
Arenal Volcano/Tabacón Hot Springs 5                                          Battling a Billfish off the Pacific Coast 25
Braulio Carrillo National Park 19                                             Diving off Isla del Coco 11
Manuel Antonio National Park 26                                               Hiking Mount Chirripó 23
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve 6                                             Kayaking Around Golfo Dulce 28
Osa Peninsula & Corcovado National Park 27                                    Rafting the Upper Reventazón River 17
Rincón de la Vieja National Park 2                                            Surfing & Four-Wheeling Guanacaste 8
The Río Sarapiquí Region 15                                                   Surfing Pavones 29
Tortuguero Village & Jungle Canals 16                                         Windsurfing Lake Arenal 4

THE BEST BEACHES                                                              THE BEST BIRD-WATCHING                                        W
The Beaches Around Playa Sámara 10                                            Aviarios del Caribe 21
Malpais 12                                                                    Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge 3
Manuel Antonio 26                                                             Carara Biological Reserve 14
Playa Montezuma 13                                                            Cerro de la Muerte 24
Playa Tamarindo 9                                                             La Selva Biological Station 18
Punta Uva & Manzanillo 22                                                     Parque del Este 20
Santa Rosa National Park 1                                                    Río Tempisque Basin 7
                                                                              Wilson Botanical Gardens 30
                                                                                              T H E B E S T O F N AT U R A L C O S TA R I C A                                               5

                                                                                                                                                Houston              USA
             NICARAGUA                                                                                                                          San
                                                                                                                                                                 New     Miami I S L A NA M A
                                                                                                                                                                 Orleans                DS      DOMIN
                                                                                                                                                Antonio                                         REPUB
              Río S                                                                                                                                             Gulf of        CUBA

                                                                                                                                         M EXICO                Mexico

                            n                                                                                                                                                       HAITI
                                                                                                                                        Mexico City                     BELIZE JAMAICA
                                                                                                                                                                         Caribbean Sea
                                                                                                  Colorado                                  GUATEMALA                      NICARAGUA
                                                                       BARRA DEL COLORADO                                                         EL SALVADOR

                                                                        WILDLIFE SANCTUARY                                           0            250 mi
                      Puerto Viejo                                                                     Tor
                                                                                                                                     0          250 km   COSTA RICA                COLOMBIA
                      de Sarapiquí                         15




                                             19                                                                                                 C a r i b b e a n

                                  4                                4

                                                                                       32                                                             S e a

              141                BRAULIO CARRILLO                                                                        are

                                    NATIONAL                              Turrialba                                    cu
                                                                                             Re v


                                                                          Volcano                      15
                                      PARK C E N

             135                                                   TR                                                                                       Limón
                        1                20                             AL

 34                                                                          RA

     rc   o l es/ i l l a                         SAN JOSE
Ta                                                                                     E                                                                        36
                                209                            Cartago
                                                        Cerro de                                                                                                            Punta Uva
                                                      la Muerte
               34                                                                                                                       l ire                                              22
                                                                         24                                                        Te
                       25                                              W                          23

                    Quepos              26                                                      Cerro                           MA
                                                                                              Chirrip                                NC
                                  26                           San Isidro                                                                       AR
                                       MANUEL                                                                                                      A   NG
                                       ANTONIO                                                         Inte
                                       NATIONAL                                                             ram
                                                                                                               e ri
                                         PARK                                                                              ca

                                                  MARINO BALLENA

                                                   NATIONAL PARK
                                                                                                                                2                 San Vito
                                                                                                      Sierpe                                                    30
                                                                        Drake Bay                                                                               W
                                                                                                                 Golfo   Golfito


                                                                                                       EN                            28

                                                                                             27             IN
                                                                                                                      LA        Puerto
                                                                                                                                Jiménez            26

                                P A C I F I C
                                 O C E A N
6        C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F C O S TA R I C A

      the swim-up bar at Tabacón Hot                white sand. See “Manuel Antonio
      Springs Resort & Spa (& 256-                  National Park” in chapter 7.
      1500; If the              • Osa Peninsula (in southern
      rushing torrent of volcano-heated             Costa Rica): This is Costa Rica’s
      spring water isn’t therapeutic                most remote and biologically rich
      enough, you can get a massage                 region. Corcovado National
      here at an incredibly inexpensive             Park, the largest remaining patch
      price. See “Arenal Volcano & La               of virgin lowland tropical rainfor-
      Fortuna” in chapter 6.                        est in Central America, takes up
    • Monteverde Biological Cloud                   much of the Osa Peninsula.
      Forest Reserve (in the mountains              Jaguars, crocodiles, and scarlet
      northwest of San José): There’s               macaws all call this place home.
      something both eerie and majestic             Whether you stay in a luxury
      about walking around in the early             nature lodge in Drake Bay or out-
      morning mist with the sound of                side of Puerto Jiménez, or camp in
      bird calls all around and the tow-            the park itself, you will be sur-
      ering trees hung heavy in broad               rounded by some of the most lush
      bromeliads, flowering orchids,                and most intense jungle this coun-
      and hanging moss and vines. The               try has to offer. See chapter 8.
      reserve itself has a well-maintained        • Tortuguero Village & Jungle
      network of trails, and the commu-             Canals (on the Caribbean coast,
      nity is truly involved in conserva-           north of Limón): Tortuguero Vil-
      tion. Not only that, but in and               lage is a small collection of rustic
      around Monteverde and Santa                   wooden shacks on a narrow spit of
      Elena, you’ll find a whole slew of            land between the Caribbean Sea
      related activities and attractions,           and a dense maze of jungle canals.
      including canopy tours that allow             It’s been called Costa Rica’s Venice,
      you to swing from treetop to tree-            but it actually has more in com-
      top while hanging from a skinny               mon with the South American
      cable. See p. 234.                            Amazon. You can fly into the
    • Manuel Antonio (near Quepos                   small airstrip, but it’s better to
      on the central Pacific coast):                take one of the slow boats that ply
      There’s a reason this place is so             the river and canal route. On the
      popular and renowned: monkeys!                way you’ll see a wide variety of
      The national park here is full of             herons and other water birds,
      them, even the endangered squir-              three types of monkeys, three-toed
      rel monkeys. But there’s plenty to            sloths, and huge American croco-
      see and do outside the park as                diles. If you come between June
      well. The road leading into                   and October, you might be treated
      Manuel Antonio provides numer-                to the awe-inspiring spectacle of a
      ous lookouts that consistently                green turtle nesting—the small
      produce postcard-perfect snap-                stretch of Tortuguero beach is the
      shots of steep jungle hills meeting           last remaining major nesting site
      the sea. Uninhabited islands lie              of this endangered animal. See
      just off the coast, and the beaches           “Tortuguero National Park” in
      here are perfect crescents of soft,           chapter 9.

    2 The Best Beaches
With more than 1,200km (750 miles)              Caribbean coasts, Costa Rica offers
of shoreline on its Pacific and                 beachgoers an embarrassment of riches.
                                                  THE BEST BEACHES             7

• Santa Rosa National Park: If you           tucked down a couple of dirt
  really want to get away from it all,       roads to the north. See “Playa
  the beaches here in the northwest          Sámara” in chapter 5.
  corner of Costa Rica are a good        •   Playa Montezuma: This tiny
  bet. You’ll have to four-wheel-            beach town at the southern tip of
  drive or hike 13km (8 miles) from          the Nicoya Peninsula has weath-
  the central ranger station to reach        ered fame and infamy, and yet
  the beach. And once you get there,         retains a funky sense of indi-
  you’ll find only the most basic of         viduality. European backpackers,
  camping facilities: outhouse               vegetarian yoga enthusiasts, and
  latrines and cold-water showers.           UFO seekers choose Montezuma’s
  But you will probably have the             beach over any other in Costa
  place almost to yourself. In fact,         Rica. The waterfalls are what set it
  the only time it gets crowded is in        apart from the competition, but
  October, when thousands of olive           the beach stretches for miles, with
  Ridley sea turtles nest in one of          plenty of isolated spots to plop
  their yearly arribadas (arrivals).         down your towel or mat. Nearby
  See p. 152.                                are the Cabo Blanco and Curu
• Playa Tamarindo: Although it’s             wildlife preserves. See “Playa
  on the verge of becoming a little          Montezuma” in chapter 5.
  too overdeveloped, crowded, and        •   Malpais: If you’re looking to visit
  chaotic, Tamarindo is still hanging        Costa Rica’s newest hot spot
  on to its place on this list.              before the throngs discover it,
  Tamarindo has ample lodgings to            head out to Malpais. Here you’ll
  suit every budget, as well as excel-       find miles of nearly deserted
  lent restaurants at almost every           beaches, great surf, and just a
  turn. The beach here is long and           smattering of lodges, surf camps,
  broad, with sections calm enough           and simple cabinas. If Malpais is
  for swimmers and others just right         too crowded for you, head farther
  for surfers. Located about midway          on down the road to Santa Teresa,
  along the beaches of Guanacaste            Playa Hermosa, and Manzanillo.
  province, Tamarindo makes a                See “Malpais/Santa Teresa” in
  good base for exploring other              chapter 5.
  nearby stretches of sand. There are    •   Manuel Antonio: The first beach
  plenty of surfers here, as well            destination to become popular in
  as one of the liveliest nightlife          Costa Rica, it retains its charms
  scenes on this coast. See “Playa           despite burgeoning crowds and
  Tamarindo & Playa Grande” in               mushrooming hotels. The beaches
  chapter 5.                                 inside the park are idyllic, and the
• The Beaches Around Playa                   views from the hills approaching
  Sámara: Playa Sámara itself is nice        the park are enchanting. This is
  enough, but if you venture just            one of the few remaining habitats
  slightly farther afield, you’ll find       for the endangered squirrel mon-
  some of the nicest and least devel-        key. Rooms with views tend to be
  oped beaches along the entire              a bit expensive, but many a satis-
  Guanacaste coast. Playa Carillo is         fied guest will tell you they’re
  a long, almost always deserted             worth it. See “Manuel Antonio
  crescent of palm-backed white              National Park” in chapter 7.
  sand located just south of Sámara,     •   Punta Uva & Manzanillo:
  while Playa Barrigona and Playa            Below Puerto Viejo, the beaches
  Buena Vista are two hidden gems            of Costa Rica’s eastern coast take
8        C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F C O S TA R I C A

      on true Caribbean splendor, with              the shore, providing shady respite
      turquoise waters, coral reefs, and            for those who like to spend a full
      palm-lined stretches of nearly                day on the sand, and the water is
      deserted white-sand beach. Punta              usually quite calm and good for
      Uva and Manzanillo are the                    swimming. See “Puerto Viejo” in
      two most sparkling gems of this               chapter 9.
      coastline. Tall coconut palms line

    3 The Best Adventures
    • Mountain-Biking the Back                      respectable beach and reef breaks,
      Roads of Costa Rica: The lack of              from Witch’s Rock at Playa
      infrastructure and paved roads                Naranjo near the Nicaraguan bor-
      that most folks bemoan is a huge              der to Playa Nosara more than
      boon for mountain bikers. There               100km (62 miles) away. In addi-
      are endless back roads and cattle             tion to these two prime spots, try
      paths to explore. Tours of differing          a turn at Playa Grande, Punta
      lengths and all difficulty levels are         Langosta, and playas Negra, Avel-
      available. Contact Coast to Coast             lanas, and Junquillal. Or, find
      Adventures (& 280-8054; www.                  your own secret spot. Rent a four- See p. 67.               by-four with a roof rack, pile on
    • Swinging Through the Treetops                 the boards, and explore. See chap-
      on a Canopy Tour: This unique                 ter 5.
      adventure is becoming quite the             • Battling a Billfish off the Pacific
      rage. In most cases, after a strenu-          Coast: Billfish are plentiful all
      ous climb using ascenders, you                along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast,
      strap on a harness and zip from               and boats operate from Playa del
      treetop to treetop while dangling             Coco to Playa Zancudo. Costa
      from a cable. There are canopy                Rican anglers hold world records
      tours all around Costa Rica. The              for both blue marlin and Pacific
      Original Canopy Tours (&/fax                  sailfish. Go to Quepos (just out-
      257-5149;                 side Manuel Antonio) for the best
      runs operations in locations                  après-fish scene, or head down to
      around the country. See p. 70.                Drake Bay, the Osa Peninsula, or
    • Rafting the Upper Reventazón                  Golfo Dulce, if you want some
      River (near Turrialba): The Class             isolation. Costa Rica Outdoors
      V Guayabo section of this popular             (& 800/308-3394 in the U.S., or
      river is serious white water. Only            282-6743 in Costa Rica; www.
      experienced and gutsy river run-     can help
      ners need apply. If you’re not quite          you find a good charter skipper or
      up to that, try a 2-day Pacuare               specialized fishing lodge. See chap-
      River trip, which passes through              ter 5; “Manuel Antonio National
      primary and secondary forests and             Park” in chapter 7; and chapter 8.
      a beautiful steep gorge that, sadly,        • Windsurfing Lake Arenal: With
      might be dammed soon. Get there               steady gale-force winds and stun-
      quick! Ríos Tropicales (& 233-                ning scenery, the northern end of
      6455;                 Lake Arenal has become a major
      can arrange either of these tours.            international windsurfing hot spot.
      See p. 76.                                    If you’re an avid boardsailor, be
    • Surfing & Four-Wheeling Gua-                  sure to check in with Norm at
      nacaste Province: This north-                 Rock River Lodge (&/fax 692-
      western province has dozens of                1180;
                          T H E B E S T D AY H I K E S & N AT U R E W A L K S   9

  See “Along the Shores of Lake               trees and morning frosts. See “San
  Arenal” in chapter 6.                       Isidro de El General: A Base for
• Diving off the Shores of Isla               Exploring Chirripó National
  del Coco (off the Pacific coast):           Park” in chapter 7.
  Legendary among treasure seek-            • Kayaking Around the Golfo
  ers, pirate buffs, and scuba divers,        Dulce: Slipping through the
  this small island is consistently           waters of the Golfo Dulce by
  rated one of the 10 best dive sites         kayak gets you intimately in touch
  in the world. A protected national          with the raw beauty of this under-
  park, Isla del Coco is surrounded           developed region. Spend several
  by clear Pacific waters, and its            days poking around in mangrove
  reefs are teeming with life (divers         swamps, fishing in estuaries, and
  regularly encounter large schools           watching dolphins frolic in the
  of hammerhead sharks, curious               bay. Escondido Trex (& 735-
  manta rays, and docile whale                5210;
  sharks). Because the island is so           provides multiday custom kayak-
  remote and has no overnight                 ing trips out of Puerto Jiménez on
  facilities for visitors, the most           the Osa Peninsula. See “Puerto
  popular way to visit is on 10-day           Jiménez: Gateway to Corcovado
  excursions on a live-aboard boat,           National Park” in chapter 8.
  where guests live, eat, and               • Surfing Pavones (on the southern
  sleep onboard—with nights spent             Pacific coast): Just 13km (8 miles)
  anchored in the harbor. See                 from the Panamanian border at
  p. 249.                                     the southern reaches of Costa
• Hiking Mount Chirripó (near                 Rica’s Pacific coast, Pavones is
  San Isidro de El General on the             reputed to have one of the longest
  central Pacific coast): The highest         rideable waves in the world. When
  mountain in Costa Rica, Mount               this left-point break is working,
  Chirripó is one of the few places in        surfers enjoy rides of almost a
  the world where (on a clear day)            mile in length. Much more can
  you can see both the Caribbean              be said about this experience, but
  Sea and the Pacific Ocean at the            if you’re a surfer, you’ve heard it
  same time. Hiking to Chirripó’s             all before. Contact Casa Siempre
  3,724m (12,215-ft.) summit will             Domingo (& 820-4709; www.
  take you through a number of dis- , the most
  tinct bioregions, ranging from              comfortable hotel in town, for cur-
  lowland pastures and a cloud for-           rent wave reports and other local
  est to a high-altitude páramo, a            information. See “Playa Pavones:
  tundralike landscape with stunted           A Surfer’s Mecca” in chapter 8.

4 The Best Day Hikes & Nature Walks
• Lankester Gardens: If you want a            garden to shady natural forest. See
  really pleasant but not overly chal-        p. 122.
  lenging day hike, consider a walk         • Rincón de la Vieja National
  among the hundreds of distinct              Park: This park has a number of
  species of flora on display here.           wonderful trails through a variety
  Lankester Gardens (& 552-3247)              of ecosystems and natural won-
  is just 27km (17 miles) from San            ders. My favorite hike is down to
  José and makes a wonderful day’s            the Blue Lake and Cangrejo Falls.
  expedition. The trails meander              It’s 5.1km (31⁄ 4 miles) each way,
  from areas of well-tended open              and you’ll want to spend some
10    C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F C O S TA R I C A

   time at the base of this amazing            • Monteverde Biological Cloud
   lake; plan on spending at least 5             Forest Reserve: In morning rush
   hours on the outing, and bring                of high season, when groups and
   along lunch and plenty of water.              tours line up to enter the reserve,
   You can also hike up to two craters           you’d think the sign said CROWD
   and a crater lake here, and there’s           FOREST. Still, the guides here are
   the Las Pailas loop for those seek-           some of the most professional and
   ing a less strenuous hike. This               knowledgeable in the country.
   remote volcanic national park is              Take a tour in the morning to
   located about an hour north of                familiarize yourself with the forest,
   Liberia (it’s only 25km/16 miles,             and then spend the late morning
   but the road is quite rough), or              or afternoon (your entrance ticket
   about 5 hours from San José. See              is good for the whole day) explor-
   p. 148.                                       ing the reserve. Once you get off
 • La Selva Biological Station: This             the main thoroughfares, Mon-
   combination research facility and             teverde reveals its rich mysteries
   rustic nature lodge has an exten-             with stunning regularity. Walk
   sive and well-marked network of               through the gray mist and look up
   trails. You’ll have to reserve in             at the dense tangle of epiphytes
   advance (& 766-6565) and take                 and vines. The only noises you’ll
   the guided tour if you aren’t a               hear are the rustlings of birds or
   guest at the lodge. But the hikes             monkeys and the occasional dis-
   are led by very informed natural-             tant rumble of Arenal Volcano.
   ists, so you might not mind the               The trails are well marked and
   company. The Biological Station               regularly tended. It’s about 31⁄ 2
   is located north-northeast on the             hours by bus or car to Monteverde
   Caribbean slope of Costa Rica’s               from San José. See p. 234.
   central mountain range. It’ll take          • Corcovado National Park: This
   you about 11⁄ 2 hours to drive from           large swath of dense lowland rain-
   San José via the Guápiles High-               forest is home to Costa Rica’s sec-
   way. See p. 211.                              ond-largest population of scarlet
 • Arenal National Park & Envi-                  macaws. The park has a well-
   rons: There’s great hiking all                designed network of trails, ranger
   around this area. The national                stations, and camping facilities.
   park itself has several excellent             Most of the lodges in Drake Bay
   trails that visit a variety of differ-        and Puerto Jiménez offer day
   ent ecosystems, including rainfor-            hikes through the park, but if you
   est, secondary forest, savanna,               really want to experience it, you
   and, my favorite, old lava flows.             should hike in and stay at one or
   Most of them are on the relatively            more of the campgrounds. This is
   flat flanks of the volcano, so                strenuous hiking, and you will
   there’s not too much climbing                 have to pack in some gear and
   involved. There’s also great hiking           food, but the reward is some of
   on the trails at the Arenal Obser-            Costa Rica’s most spectacular and
   vatory Lodge, and the trail down              unspoiled scenery. Because strict
   to the base of the La Fortuna                 limits are placed on the number of
   Waterfall is a fun scramble. It’s             visitors allowed into the park,
   about a 31⁄ 2-hour drive from San             you’ll always be far from the
   José to La Fortuna and Arenal                 madding crowd. See “Puerto
   National Park. See “Arenal Vol-               Jiménez: Gateway to Corcovado
   cano & La Fortuna” in chapter 6.              National Park” in chapter 8.
                                         T H E B E S T B I R D - WAT C H I N G   11

• Cahuita National Park: The                 (295 ft.) away, so you can hike out
  trails here are flat, well-                on the trail and back along the
  maintained paths through thick             beach, or vice versa. White-faced
  lowland forest. Most of the way,           and howler monkeys are quite
  they parallel the beach, which             common here, as are brightly col-
  is usually no more than 90m                ored land crabs. See p. 333.

5 The Best Bird-Watching
• Observing Oropendula & Blue-               Tropical Studies (& 240-6696;
  Crowned Motmot at Parque          or see p. 211.
  del Este: A boon for city bird-          • Sizing Up a Jabiru Stork at
  watchers, this San José park ram-          Caño Negro National Wildlife
  bles through a collection of lawns,        Refuge: Caño Negro Lake and
  planted gardens, and harvested             the Río Frío that feeds it are
  forest, but it also includes second-       incredibly rich in wildlife and a
  growth scrub and dense woodland.           major nesting and gathering site
  Oropendula and blue-crowned                for aquatic bird species. These
  motmot are common species here.            massive birds are getting less
  Take the San Ramón/Parque del              common in Costa Rica, but this is
  Este bus from Calle 9 between              still one of the best places to see
  Avenida Central and Avenida 2.             one. Caño Negro Lodge (& 471-
  See p. 123.                                1426;
• Spotting Hundreds of Marsh                 sits right on the edge of the refuge
  & Stream Birds along the Río               and makes a great base for explor-
  Tempisque Basin: Hike around               ing this region. See p. 219.
  the Palo Verde Biological Station,       • Catching a Scarlet Macaw in
  or take a boat trip down the               Flight over Carara Biological
  Bebedero River with TAM Tours              Reserve: Home to Costa Rica’s
  (& 668-1037; www.tamtravel.                largest population of scarlet
  com) or Safaris Corobici (& 669-           macaws, Carara Biological Reserve
  6191; This area           is a special place for devoted bird-
  is an important breeding ground            watchers and recent converts.
  for gallinules, jacanas, and limp-         Macaws are noisy and colorful
  kins, as well as a common habitat          birds that spend their days in the
  for numerous heron and king-               park but choose to roost in the
  fisher species. Palo Verde is about        evenings near the coast. They
  a 31⁄ 2-hour drive from San José.          arrive like clockwork every morn-
  See p. 149.                                ing and then head for the coastal
• Looking for More Than 300                  mangroves around dusk. These
  Species of Birds in La Selva Bio-          daily migrations give birders a
  logical Station: With an excellent         great chance to see these magnifi-
  trail system through a variety of          cent birds in flight. The reserve is
  habitats, from dense primary rain-         located about 2 hours from San
  forest to open pasturelands and            José along the central Pacific
  cacao plantations, this is one of          coast. See p. 255.
  the finest places for bird-watching      • Looking for a Resplendent
  in Costa Rica. With such a variety         Quetzal in the Cerro de la
  of habitats, the number of species         Muerte: Don’t let the name (Hill
  spotted runs to well over 300.             of Death) scare you away from the
  Contact the Organization for               opportunity to see this spectacular
12    C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F C O S TA R I C A

   bird, revered by the ancient Aztecs           fabulous for bird-watching. Hum-
   and Mayas. Serious bird-watchers              mingbirds and tanagers are partic-
   won’t want to leave Costa Rica                ularly plentiful, but the bounty
   without crossing this bird off their          doesn’t end there—more than
   life lists, and neophytes might be            330 different species of birds
   hooked for life after seeing one of           have been recorded here. Wilson
   these iridescent green wonders fly            Gardens is located about an hour
   overhead, flashing its brilliant red          outside the town of Golfito. See
   breast and trailing 2-foot-long tail          “Golfito: Gateway to the Golfo
   feathers. Trogon Lodge (& 293-                Dulce” in chapter 8.
   8181;                 • Taking Advantage of the
   can almost guarantee a sighting.              Caribbean’s Best Birding at
   The Cerro de la Muerte is a high              Aviarios del Caribe: In just a few
   mountain pass located along the               short years, Aviarios del Caribe
   way to San Isidro de El General               (& 750-0775) has established
   about 11⁄ 2 hours from San José.              itself as the prime bird-watching
   See “En Route to San Jose: Three              resort on the Caribbean. If it
   Places to See Quetzals in the                 flies along this coast, chances are
   Wild” in chapter 7.                           good that you’ll spot it here;
 • Spotting Hundreds of Species at               more than 310 species of birds
   Wilson Botanical Gardens: With                have been spotted so far. Located
   more than 7,000 species of tropi-             on the Caribbean coast, Aviarios
   cal plants and flowers, the well-             del Caribe is about a 3-hour drive
   tended trails and grounds of this             from San José. See p. 331.
   beautiful research facility are

 6 The Best Destinations for Families
 • San José: If you’re spending any              exploring all of the city’s sights
   time in San José, you’ll probably             and attractions. See p. 106.
   want to be outside the rough-and-           • Playa Hermosa: The protected
   tumble downtown area. The best                waters of this Pacific beach make
   place for all of you to experience            it a family favorite. However, just
   Costa Rica’s capital city (and still          because the waters are calm doesn’t
   get a decent night’s sleep) is the            mean it’s boring here. Check in at
   Meliá Cariari (& 888/956-3542                 Aqua Sport (& 672-0050), where
   in the U.S. and Canada, or                    you can rent sea kayaks, sailboards,
   239-0022;                  paddleboats, beach umbrellas, and
   With facilities that include several          bicycles. See “Playa Hermosa,
   large pools, an 18-hole golf                  Playa Panamá & Papagayo” in
   course, 11 tennis courts, and a               chapter 5.
   game room (not to mention a                 • Allegro Papagayo Resort (& 248-
   babysitting service), there’s some-           2323;
   thing here for everyone. If you’re            This large all-inclusive resort
   traveling with teens, they’ll feel            probably has the most extensive
   right at home at the new Mall                 facilities, widest array of tours and
   Cariari, which has a multiplex                activities, and best-run children’s
   theater, an indoor skating rink,              program set up in the country so
   and, of course, a food court.                 far. The hotel is located on a very
   Located just 15 minutes from                  calm section of Bahía Culebra,
   downtown, it’s well situated for              and it even has a separate “Fun
                              T H E B E S T L U X U RY H OT E L S & R E S O RT S   13

    Club” on a beautiful nearby                • Playa de Jacó: On the central
    white-sand beach. See p. 157.                Pacific coast, this is Costa Rica’s
  • Playa Tamarindo: This lively surf            liveliest and most developed beach
    town has a bit of something for              town. The streets are lined with
    everything. This is a great spot for         souvenir shops, ice-cream stands,
    teens to learn how to surf or                and inexpensive eateries; there’s
    boogie-board, and there are a host           even a miniature-golf course.
    of tours and activities to please the        Older kids can rent a surf- or
    entire family. Hotel Capitán                 boogie board, although everyone
    Suizo (& 653-0353; www.hotel                 should be careful with the rough; p. 177) has an             surf here. The Club del Mar Con-
    excellent location on a calm sec-            dominiums & Resort (& /fax
    tion of beach, spacious rooms, and           643-3194; www.clubdelmarcosta
    a great pool for kids and adults   ; p. 256) is situated at the
    alike. See “Playa Tamarindo &                calm southern end of the beach.
    Playa Grande” in chapter 5.                  The hotel has a large, free-form
  • Monteverde: Located about                    pool and some shady grounds,
    160km (99 miles) northwest of                and is accommodating to families
    San José, this area not only boasts          traveling with small children. See
    the country’s most famous cloud              “Playa de Jacó” in chapter 7.
    forest, but it also sports a wide          • Manuel Antonio: Manuel Anto-
    variety of related attractions and           nio has a little bit of everything:
    activities. After hiking through             miles of gorgeous beaches, tons of
    the reserve, you should be able to           wildlife (with almost guaranteed
    keep most kids happy and occu-               monkey sightings), and plenty of
    pied riding horses, squirming at             active tour options. There’s a load
    the local serpentarium, or visiting          of lodging options, but Hotel Sí
    the butterfly farm and humming-              Como No (& 777-0777; www.
    bird gallery. More adventurous     , with its large
    families can take a horseback ride           suites, two pools, water slide, and
    or one of the local zip-line canopy          nightly movies, is probably your
    tours. See “Monteverde” in chap-             best bet. See “Manuel Antonio
    ter 6.                                       National Park” in chapter 7.

 7 The Best Luxury Hotels & Resorts
“Luxury” is a relative term in Costa             doing the best job. Maybe that’s
Rica. Several major resorts and a cou-           just because it’s the newest, but
ple of fabulous boutique hotels have             everything is in great shape, the
done their darndest to meet the needs            service is bend-over-backward, the
of upscale travelers. With the recent            restaurants are excellent, and there
opening of a Four Seasons resort in              are all the facilities and amenities
the northern province of Guanacaste,             you could want. See p. 106.
the bar has been raised even further.          • Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica
  • Marriott Costa Rica Hotel (San               (Papagayo Peninsula; & 800/819-
    Antonio de Belén, San José                   5053 in the U.S., or 696-0098;
    area; & 800/228-9290 in the        
    U.S. and Canada, or 298-0844;                This is the first major resort to Of all the                really address the luxury market in
    contenders in the upscale urban              Costa Rica. Within its first month
    market, the Marriott seems to be             of operation, both Madonna and
14    C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F C O S TA R I C A

   Michael Jordan were notable                   is breathtaking, spread over a
   guests. A beautiful setting, won-             lushly planted hillside just steps
   derful installations, and stellar             off of Playa Santa Teresita. See
   service make this the current king            p. 203.
   of the hill in the upscale market.          • Marriott Los Sueños Ocean &
   See p. 156.                                   Golf Resort (Playa Herradura;
 • Paradisus Playa Conchal (on the               & 800/228-9290 in the U.S.,
   northern Pacific coast; & 888/                298-0844 or 630-9000; www.
   336-3542 in the U.S., or 654-        With large, luxuri-
   4123; If                   ous rooms, an 18-hole golf course,
   you’re looking for a large and lux-           tons of facilities and amenities,
   urious all-inclusive resort with all          and a large maze of a pool built to
   the trappings, including an 18-               resemble the canals of Venice, this
   hole Robert Trent Jones golf                  is one of the finest luxury resorts
   course, this place fits the bill. As a        in Costa Rica. The only real
   bonus, it’s located on one of the             downside here is the decidedly
   nicest beaches in Costa Rica, the             mediocre beach. See p. 258.
   seashell-strewn wonder of Playa             • Villa Caletas (north of Jacó;
   Conchal. See p. 167.                          & 637-0606; www.hotelvilla
 • Hotel Punta Islita (on the Pacific   Spread out over a
   coast in central Guanacaste;                  steep hillside, high above the
   & 231-6122; www.hotelpunta                    Pacific Ocean, these individual This is a great getaway.         villas have a Mediterranean feel.
   Perched on a high, flat bluff over-           The Greek Doric amphitheater
   looking the Pacific Ocean, Punta              follows the same motif. Carved
   Islita is popular with honeymoon-             into the steep hillside, the theater
   ers, and rightly so. The rooms are            frequently features evening con-
   large and comfortable, the food is            certs of jazz or classical music. The
   excellent, and the setting is stun-           “infinity pool” here was one of
   ning. If you venture beyond your              the first in Costa Rica and is still
   room and the hotel’s inviting                 the most interesting. Sitting in a
   hillside pool, there’s a long, almost         lounge chair at the pool’s edge,
   always deserted beach for you                 you’ll swear that it joins the sea
   to explore, as well as a wealth of            beyond. See p. 259.
   activities for the more adventur-           • Hotel Sí Como No (Manuel
   ous. See p. 192.                              Antonio; & 777-0777;
 • Flor Blanca Resort (Playa Santa      Although there are
   Teresita; & 640-0232; www.flor                fancier and more posh places in The individual villas            Costa Rica, the large modern
   at this intimate resort are some of           suites and villas, spectacular views,
   the largest and most luxurious in             attentive service, and first-rate
   the country. The service and food             facilities here earn this small resort
   are outstanding, and the location             a spot on this list. See p. 272.

 8 The Best Moderately Priced Hotels
 • Hotel Grano de Oro (San José;                 the luxurious accommodations
   & 255-3322; www.hotelgranode                  or professional service that can San José boasts dozens              be found at the Grano de Oro.
   of old homes that have been con-              Throughout all the guest rooms,
   verted into hotels, but few offer             you’ll find attractive hardwood
                  THE BEST ECOLODGES & WILDERNESS RESORTS                      15

    furniture, including old-fashioned     • El Sano Banano Beach Resort
    wardrobes in some rooms. When            (Playa Montezuma; & 642-0638;
    it comes time to relax, you can Isolated,
    soak in a hot tub or have a drink        private cabins with outdoor show-
    in the rooftop lounge while taking       ers set amid lush grounds a stone’s
    in the commanding view of San            throw from the Pacific Ocean add
    José. See p. 101.                        up to my idea of a tropical para-
  • Hotel Le Bergerac (San José;             dise. See p. 199.
    & 234-7850; www.bergerachotel.         • Hotel El Sapo Dorado (Mon-
    com): This classy little hotel has       teverde; & 645-5010;
    been pleasing diplomats, digni- Spacious wooden
    taries, and other discerning travel-     cabins with fireplaces and private
    ers for years. Ask for one of the        porches are spread across an open
    garden rooms, or get the old mas-        hillside planted with fruit trees
    ter bedroom with its small private       and tropical flowers. The hotel has
    balcony. See p. 103.                     an excellent restaurant and is a
  • Villa del Sueño Hotel (Playa             great place to enjoy some of the
    Hermosa; &/fax 672-0026; www.            best sunsets in town. See p. 240. It’s not right     • Cariblue Bungalows (Playa
    on the beach (you’ll have to walk        Cocles; & 750-0035; www.cari
    about 90m/295 ft.), but every-  Try to get one of the
    thing else about this place is right     private wooden bungalows here. If
    on the money, including clean,           you do, you might be so happy and
    comfortable rooms; a nice refresh-       comfortable that you won’t want
    ing pool; and an excellent restau-       to leave. Just 90m (295 ft.) or so
    rant. You can’t do better in Playa       away, however, are the warm waves
    Hermosa. See p. 159.                     of the Caribbean Sea. See p. 345.

 9 The Best Ecolodges & Wilderness Resorts
The term “ecotourism” is fast becom-         place is geared more toward
ing ubiquitous within the travel             researchers than tourists, but that
industry, particularly in Costa Rica.        (along with the surrounding rain-
Ecolodge options in Costa Rica range         forest and extensive trail system) is
from tent camps with no electricity,         what makes this one of the best
cold-water showers, and communal             ecotourism spots in the country.
buffet-style meals to some of the            See p. 211.
most luxurious accommodations in           • Arenal Observatory Lodge (near
the country. Generally, outstanding          La Fortuna; & 290-7011; www.
ecolodges and wilderness resorts are Origi-
set apart by an ongoing commitment           nally a research facility, this lodge
(financial or otherwise) to minimizing       has upgraded quite a bit over the
their effect on surrounding ecosystems       years and now features comfort-
and to supporting both conservation          able rooms with impressive views
efforts and the residents of local com-      of the Arenal Volcano. There are
munities. They should also be able to        also excellent trails to nearby lava
provide naturalist guides and plentiful      flows and a nice waterfall. Toucans
information. All of the following do.        frequent the trees near the lodge,
   • La Selva Biological Station             and howler monkeys provide the
     (south of Puerto Viejo; & 240-          wake-up calls. See p. 222.
     6696; Sure, this
16    C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F C O S TA R I C A

 • La Paloma Lodge (Drake Bay;                   operation is run by the very
   & 239-2801; www.lapaloma                      dependable and experienced Costa If your idea of the               Rica Expeditions. See p. 306.
   perfect nature lodge is one where           • Tortuga Lodge (Tortuguero;
   your front porch provides some                & 257-0766; www.costarica
   prime-time viewing of flora and      The canals of
   fauna, this place is for you. If you          Tortuguero snake through a maze
   decide to leave the comfort of                of lowland primary rainforest. The
   your porch, the Osa Peninsula’s               beaches here are major sea-turtle
   lowland rainforests are just outside          nesting sites. This is not only the
   your door. See p. 297.                        most comfortable option in the
 • Bosque del Cabo Rainforest                    area, but it’s also another of the
   Lodge (Osa Peninsula; &/fax 735-              excellent ecolodges run by Costa
   5206;                 Rica Expeditions. See p. 326.
   Large and comfortable private               • Selva Bananito Lodge (in the
   cabins perched on the edge of a               Talamanca Mountains south of
   cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean           Limón; &/fax 253-8118; www.
   and surrounded by lush rainforest    This is one of
   make this one of my favorite spots            the few lodges providing direct
   in the country. There’s plenty to             access to the southern Caribbean
   do, and there are always great                lowland rainforests. There’s no
   guides here. See p. 305.                      electricity here, but that doesn’t
 • Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp                     mean it’s not plush. Hike along a
   (Playa Carate; & 257-0766; www.               riverbed, ride horses through the Located            rainforest, climb 30m (100 ft.) up
   right on the border of Corcovado              a ceiba tree, or rappel down a jun-
   National Park, these accommoda-               gle waterfall. There’s fabulous
   tions are in spacious individual              bird-watching here, and the
   tents set within walking distance             Caribbean beaches are nearby. See
   of the crashing surf. The whole               p. 331.

 10 The Best Bed-and-Breakfasts & Small Inns
 • Finca Rosa Blanca Country Inn                 choice for those who want some-
   (Santa Bárbara de Heredia;                    thing close to the airport but have
   & 269-9392; www.fincarosa                     no need for San José. The separate If the cookie-cutter             cabins are influenced by tradi-
   rooms of international resorts                tional Japanese architecture, with
   leave you cold, then perhaps the              lots of polished woodwork and
   unique rooms of this unusual inn              plenty of light. The gardens are
   will be more your style. Square               also meticulously tended, and the
   corners seem to have been prohib-             chef is excellent. There’s a nice tile
   ited here in favor of turrets and             pool and Jacuzzi that look out
   curving walls of glass, arched win-           over a deep river canyon. See
   dows, and a semicircular built-in             p. 108.
   couch. It’s set into the lush hill-         • Sueño del Mar (Playa Tamarindo;
   sides just 20 minutes from San                & /fax 653-0284; www.sueno-
   José. See p. 105.                    You might think
 • Vista del Valle Plantation Inn                you’re dreaming here. The rooms
   (near Grecia; & 450-0800; www.                feature African dolls on the win- This is a great           dowsills, Kokopeli candleholders,
                                          T H E B E S T R E S TA U R A N T S    17

  and open-air showers with                 about chucking it all and setting up
  sculpted angelfish, hand-painted          shop in a simple house right on the
  tiles, and lush tropical plants. The      beach, you should come here and
  fabrics are from Bali and                 give it a trial run first. See p. 314.
  Guatemala. Somehow all this             • Shawandha           Lodge        (Playa
  works well together. Add in the           Chiquita; & 750-0018; www.
  requisite hammocks under shade   Spacious,
  trees right on the beach and a new        individual bungalows set amid
  small pool, and you really have           flowering gardens and thick jun-
  something. The breakfasts here are        gle make this the most comfort-
  earning local renown; yours comes         able lodge on the Caribbean
  with the price of your room. See          coast. Artistic touches abound.
  p. 177.                                   See p. 346.
• Arco Iris Lodge (Monteverde;            • Cabinas Casa Verde (Puerto
  & 645-5067; www.arcoirislodge.            Viejo; & 750-0015; www.
  com): This small lodge is right in This is my
  Santa Elena, and it’s by far the best     favorite budget lodging along the
  deal in the Monteverde area. The          Caribbean coast. The rooms are
  owners are extremely knowledge-           clean and airy, and have comfort-
  able and helpful. See p. 241.             able beds with mosquito nets. The
• Cabinas Los Cocos (Playa Zan-             owner is friendly and is always
  cudo; &/fax 776-0012; www.los             doing some work in the gardens or If you’ve ever dreamed        around the grounds. See p. 344.

11 The Best Restaurants
• Tin Jo (San José; & 221-7605):            cuisine coming out of the kitchen,
  In a city with hundreds of Chinese        makes this new place one of the top
  restaurants, this place stands head       restaurants in the city. See p. 110.
  and shoulders above the competi-        • Camarón Dorado (Playa Brasi-
  tion. In addition to an extensive         lito; & 654-4028): Simple, fresh
  selection of Szechuan and Can-            seafood served on plastic lawn
  tonese classics, there are Japanese,      furniture set in the sand just
  Thai, Indian, and Malaysian               steps from the crashing waves
  dishes on the menu. Tin Jo has the        makes this place a wonderful spot.
  most adventurous Asian cuisine in         The attentive, semiformal service
  Costa Rica. See p. 111.                   makes it even better. See p. 170.
• Grano de Oro Restaurant (San            • Lazy Wave Food Company
  José; & 255-3322): This elegant           (Tamarindo; & 653-0737): Cre-
  little hotel has a similarly elegant      ative chefs put together an eclectic
  restaurant serving delicious Conti-       daily offering of what’s fresh and
  nental dishes and decadent                what strikes their fancy. Open-air
  desserts. The open-air seating in         seating under an old shade tree,
  the lushly planted central court-         reasonable prices, and a relaxed
  yard is delightful, especially for        atmosphere all add up to make
  lunch. See p. 114.                        this my favorite restaurant on the
• Bakea (San José; & 221-1051):             Gold Coast. See p. 180.
  The elegant and varied decor of         • Playa de los Artistas (Mon-
  this rambling old colonial home,          tezuma; & 642-0920): This place
  coupled with the creative fusion          is the perfect blend of refined
18    C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F C O S TA R I C A

   cuisine and beachside funkiness.              for from a seafood restaurant in a
   There are only a few tables here,             popular port town? See p. 277.
   so make sure you get here early.            • La Pecora Nera (Puerto Viejo;
   Fresh grilled seafood is served in            & 750-0490): I’m not sure that a
   oversize ceramic bowls and on                 tiny surfer town on the remote
   large wooden slabs lined with                 Caribbean coast deserves such fine
   banana leaves. See p. 201.                    Italian food, but it’s got it. Your
 • El Gran Escape (Quepos; & 777-                best bet here is to allow yourself to
   0395): The prices are right, the              be taken on a culinary roller-
   portions are generous, and the fish           coaster ride with a mixed feast of
   is always fresh and expertly pre-             the chef ’s nightly specials and sug-
   pared. What more could you ask                gestions. See p. 349.

 12 The Best Views
 • The Summit of Irazú Volcano                   volcano. Unlike on Irazú Volcano
   (near San José): On a very clear              (see above), when this volcano
   day, you can see both the Pacific             rumbles and spews, you might
   Ocean and the Caribbean Sea                   have the urge to run for cover.
   from this vantage point. Even if              Most rooms here have spectacular
   visibility is low and this experience         views from sheltered private patios
   eludes you, you will have a view of           or balconies. See p. 221.
   the volcano’s spectacular land-             • Villa Caletas (Playa Hermosa de
   scape, the Meseta Central, and the            Jacó; & 637-0606): You’ll have a
   Orosi Valley. See “Holy Smoke!:               view over the Golfo de Nicoya
   Choosing the Volcano Trip That’s              and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
   Right for You” in chapter 4.                  Sunsets at the hotel’s outdoor
 • El Mirador Ehecatl (& 679-                    amphitheater are legendary, but
   9104): This humble little restau-             it’s beautiful here during the day
   rant holds a commanding view of               as well. See p. 259.
   Bahía Salinas. It’s not necessarily         • Hotel La Mariposa (Quepos;
   worth the drive from San José,                & 800/416-2747 or 777-0355;
   and the food is basic, at best. But  This place
   if you’re anywhere near La Cruz,              has arguably the best view in
   this is a must stop for sunset. See           Manuel Antonio, and that’s saying
   “La Cruz” in chapter 5.                       a lot. Come for breakfast or a sun-
 • Iguanazul Hotel (Playa Junqui-                set drink because, unfortunately,
   llal; & 658-8124; www.iguanazul.              I’ve had bad luck with dinner
   com): Located on a high bluff                 here. See p. 271.
   above Playa Junquillal, this hotel          • The Summit of Mount Chirripó
   has a wonderful view of the Pacific           (near San Isidro): What more can
   and the windswept coastline in                one say? At 3,724m (12,215 ft.),
   either direction. It gets best around         this is the highest spot in Costa
   sunset, and better yet if you can             Rica. On a clear day, you can see
   commandeer one of the ham-                    both the Pacific Ocean and the
   mocks set in a little palapa on the           Caribbean Sea from here. Even if
   hillside itself. See p. 182.                  it isn’t clear, you can catch some
 • Tabacón Hot Springs Resort                    pretty amazing views and scenery.
   & Spa (near Arenal Volcano;                   See “San Isidro de El General:
   & 256-1500;                 A Base for Exploring Chirripó
   It seems so close, you’ll swear               National Park” in chapter 7.
   you can reach out and touch the
                                           THE BEST AFTER-DARK FUN                 19

13 The Best After-Dark Fun
• Night Tours (countrywide): Most                north. If you head straight 500m
  Neotropical forest dwellers are                (1,640 ft.) east from the church,
  nocturnal. Animal and insect calls             you’ll come to Jazz Café (& 253-
  fill the air, and the rustling on the          8933), which, as its name indi-
  ground all around takes on new                 cates, often features live jazz. See
  meanings. Night tours are offered              “San José After Dark” in chapter 4.
  at most rain- and cloud-forest des-        •   The Big Bazaar (Tamarindo):
  tinations throughout the country.              Tamarindo is a rocking surfer
  Many use high-powered flash-                   beach town, and this is the place
  lights to catch glimpses of various            to be after dark, especially on Sat-
  animals. Some even have high-                  urday nights, when they light a
  tech night-vision goggles. Some of             big bonfire right on the beach. See
  the better spots for night tours are           p. 181.
  Monteverde, Tortuguero, and                •   Mar y Sombra (Manuel Antonio;
  the Osa Peninsula. Volcano view-               & 777-0510): Located on the
  ing in Arenal is another not-to-               beach a couple of hundred meters
  miss nighttime activity.                       from the national park entrance,
• El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte                this is the most happening spot in
  (San José; & 221-0327): This is                the Manuel Antonio area. There’s
  where San José’s young, restless,              a large, open-air dance floor and
  and beautiful congregate. From                 plenty of tables set in the sand. If
  Wednesday to Saturday, the place               the dancing gets too intense, you
  is jam-packed. Originally a gay                can always cool your feet in the
  and bohemian hangout, it is                    ocean. See “Manuel Antonio
  now decidedly mixed and leaning                National Park” in chapter 7.
  toward yuppie. There’s frequently          •   San Clemente Bar & Grill
  live music here. See p. 132.                   (Dominical; & 787-0055): This
• San Pedro (San José): This is San              is a quintessential surfers’ joint,
  José’s university district, and at             but whether you hang 10 or not,
  night its streets are filled with stu-         this is where you’ll want to hang
  dents strolling among a variety of             out in Dominical at night. The
  bars and cafes. If you’d like to join          fresh seafood and Tex-Mex spe-
  them, keep in mind that La Villa               cialties are hearty, tasty, and inex-
  (& 281-1571) caters to artists and             pensive. And there are pool,
  bohemians, Mosaikos (& 280-                    Ping-Pong, and foosball tables, as
  9541) is popular with young Tico               well as televised sporting events
  rockers, Omar Khayyam (& 253-                  and surf videos. See “Dominical”
  8455) is a great place to grab an              in chapter 7.
  outdoor table and watch the                •   Johnny’s Place (Puerto Viejo; no
  crowds walk by, and Terra U                    phone): Picture yourself sipping a
  (& 225-7249) is the quintessen-                cold beer at a candlelit table set in
  tial college bar, attracting a mix of          the sand with the Caribbean lap-
  local and foreign exchange stu-                ping at your feet. Could you ask
  dents. All of the spots listed above           for more? If so, a few steps away
  are located in a 3-block stretch               there’s a steamy dance floor that
  that begins 200m (656 ft.) east of             lets loose to loud reggae. See
  the San Pedro Church and heads                 “Puerto Viejo” in chapter 9.
20    C H A P T E R 1 . T H E B E S T O F C O S TA R I C A

 14 The Best Websites About Costa Rica
 • The Tico Times (www.ticotimes.                online maps. The site is still
   net): A selection from the English-           expanding and improving, and
   language Tico Times makes it easy             there’s a tiny bit of a learning
   for norteamericanos (and other                curve here, but this could become
   English speakers) to see what’s               a very valuable resource.
   happening in Costa Rica. It prints          • Costa Rica Living (www.costa
   the top story from its weekly print  This is the official
   edition, as well as a daily update of         home page of the best newsgroup
   news briefs, a business article,              dealing with Costa Rica. The
   regional news, a fishing column,              active newsgroup deals with a
   and travel reviews. There’s also a            wide range of issues, and its mem-
   link to current currency-exchange             bership includes many long-time
   rates.                                        residents and bona fide experts.
 • Latin America Network Infor-                  There’s plenty of good informa-
   mation Center (www.lanic.utexas.              tion in the Clipboard and Files
   edu/la/ca/cr): Hosted by the Uni-             sections.
   versity of Texas Latin American             • La Nación Digital (www.nacion.
   Studies Department, this site                 com): If you can read Spanish, this
   houses a vast collection of diverse           is a worthwhile site to browse. The
   information about Costa Rica.                 entire content of the country’s
   This is hands-down the best one-              paper of record is placed online
   stop shop for Web browsing.                   daily, and there’s also an extensive
   There are helpful links to a wide             searchable archive. It does main-
   range of tourism and general                  tain a small summary of major
   information sites.                            news items in English, although
 • Maptak ( This                 this section tends to run about a
   is the best site I’ve found for               week behind the current events.

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