Northern Plains

Northern Plains

The Northern Plains

«The Northern Plains of Costa Rica is one of the most visited regions by international tourists for nature, adventure, and ecotourism. Protected forests, lakes, lagoons, volcanoes, rivers, and waterfalls abound here. Over the last 10 years, there has been a boom in the development sites and adventure tourism services in the region. Thanks to frequent rains, the jungles and fertile plains are always lush and green. These natural sanctuaries for waterfowl, reptiles, mammals, and the prehistoric fish, the gar fish, are important sites for nature lovers.

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Volcano and Lake Arenal, Chato Volcano (Cerro Chato), Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, the Sarapiquí area, Tenorio Volcano National Park, and Braulio Carrillo National Park attract visitors from all over the world to experience their unique attributes. The region is a magnet for adventure and nature enthusiasts, with mighty rivers that are very popular for rafting and kayaking, and nature watching – including the Peñas Blancas, San Carlos, Toro, Celeste, Puerto Viejo, and Sarapiquí rivers.»

Hotel Capitán Suizo is located in Tamarindo.

The Sarapiquí area is known throughout Costa Rica for its rich biodiversity and surprises. Sarapiquí is internationally recognized for scientific research, especially for plants, insects, and birds; It is also one of the last endangered habitats for the green macaw. Famous in the area are outdoor festivals («turnos») in the towns, which include fairs, bull riding, and cattle auctions.

Common activities in Sarapiquí include: flora and fauna observation, bird and butterfly watching, horseback riding, hiking, biking, mountain biking, river boat trips, cave exploration, visiting hanging bridges, zip line canopy tours, photography, hot springs and spas, and community rural tourism activities.

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MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF THE NORTHERN PLAINS

Arenal Volcano National Park

With its perfect cone shape, Arenal Volcano is one of the most visited volcanoes in the world and a major tourist destination in Costa Rica. Located near the town of La Fortuna, Arenal is the third most active volcano in Costa Rica. The 12,016-hectare Arenal Volcano National Park features several hiking trails through the surrounding forest, and viewpoints to observe the volcano’s lava flows and craters. In fact, there is a second volcano in the national park – the extinct Chato Volcano (Cerro Chato). Chato’s crater collapsed years ago, and in its place is a beautiful emerald lake.

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Caño Negro is a spectacular site of internationally designated wetland preservation, and of vital importance for maintaining the environment of the northern region of Costa Rica. Its habitat sustains a wide variety of flora and fauna, many of which are unique or endangered species. Lying very close to the border with Nicaragua in northern Costa Rica, Caño Negro is an 800-hectare freshwater lagoon. During the dry season, the refuge is a key provider of food for thousands of migratory waterfowl arriving from the north. The wetlands are home to rare birds such as northern jacanas, ibises, jabiru storks, anhingas, cormorants, and roseate spoonbills, as well as jaguars, pumas, ocelots, giant anteaters, caimans, river turtles, iguanas, basilisks, and rare fish like the prehistoric gar fish.

Juan Castro Blanco National Park

This national park, near Ciudad Quesada, features three volcanoes – Platanar Volcano, Porvenir Volcano, and the inactive Volcán Viejo. Its grasslands and tropical forests are an excellent spot for wildlife watching and birdwatching. Species such as the Quetzal, black turkey, hawks, peacocks, monkeys, armadillos, agoutis, tapirs, and a variety of frogs, snakes, and lizards can be seen here. Approximately 50 rivers originate in the park, which also hosts some of Costa Rica’s largest waterfalls: Toro, Aguas Gatas, Sparrow, and Río Claro.

Bosque Alegre Wildlife Refuge

The dormant Congo Volcano and three beautiful lakes – Congo, Hule, and Bosque Alegre – are the main features of the Bosque Alegre National Reserve. The habitat consists of primary and secondary tropical wet forests. There is an organized ecological community that cares for the conservation of the refuge.

Tilarán Wind Energy

Famous for its winds, the area around the town of Tilarán – at the southern end of Lake Arenal – has become in recent years an important center for wind turbines generating electricity. Rows and rows of these gigantic wind towers are quite impressive. There are four particular projects in the area, in addition to the large «Tejona» wind farm, owned by the Costa Rica Electric Company (ICE).

Arenal Lake

Beautiful and picturesque, Lake Arenal is surrounded by forests and lush green meadows, while its blue waters are dotted with some islands here and there. The islands are actually ancient hills as the lake was made artificially in 1973 when the Arenal Dam was built to generate hydroelectric power. The flooded area that followed became Lake Arenal, which now spans 87.8 square kilometers. Lake Arenal is very popular for boating, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing, and fishing; Rainbow Bass and other freshwater fish are abundant. Windsurfing on Lake Arenal is world-class. The strong winds – reaching an average speed of 72 kilometers per hour – blow from November to April, attracting adventure windsurfers from around the globe to visit Costa Rica.

Costa Lake

Less than 1 km north of Lake Arenal is Lake Cote, a 3-square-kilometer, very deep lake shaped like a heart that is actually an extinct volcanic crater. It has a diameter of approximately 1 km and is a popular destination for fishing.

Tabacon River

Flowing naturally from the Arenal Volcano through a series of springs and natural thermal tributaries, the Tabacón River has become world-famous for the Thermal Resort Tabacón Grand Spa that has developed this wonderful resource. Tabacón’s hot springs are one of the main attractions in La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. The volcano-heated river, with an average temperature of 37 degrees Celsius, flows through waterfalls into steaming pools surrounded by an oasis of tropical gardens. These mineral waters will relax muscles, soothe the skin, and relieve stress. Tabacón Spa Resort is world-class and award-winning.

La Fortuna Waterfall

The stunning beauty of La Fortuna Waterfall plunges 70 meters from dense tropical jungle into a pool of bright turquoise blue. Located 5.5 km from La Fortuna, the waterfall is another notable attraction in the area. There is a steep staircase trail that leads from a viewing point to the waterfall pool and downstream river. While swimming is no longer allowed in the waterfall pool itself due to strong currents, there are many river pools downstream where you can enjoy the cool water of the tropical jungle.

Deer Cave

Just east of Arenal Volcano National Park, the Venado Caves are a unique geological wonder. These limestone caves were formed 15 to 20 million years ago and are a strange and exciting underground world of stalactites and stalagmites, caverns, rivers, fossils, and curious underground creatures. Exploring these caves on an adventure tour is a must for adventurers and nature lovers.

Maleku Indigenous Reserve

Centuries ago in Costa Rica, the Maleku tribe was divided into 23 villages. Over the last 100 years, the population has decreased, and today only the villages (called «palenques») of Sol, Margarita, and Tonjibe remain, located 6 km from the town of San Rafael de Guatuso, an hour north of La Fortuna. The current numbers on the Maleku Tribe are 600, making it one of the smallest indigenous groups left in Costa Rica. Their economy is mainly based on indigenous art: carvings, paintings, and musical instruments. Excursions are offered to one of their villages to learn more about their culture, language, and traditions.

Celeste River

The Celeste River is one of the most spectacular rivers in Costa Rica due to its unique sky-blue coloration. Nestled in the shadow of the Tenorio Volcano, an hour northwest of La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano, the Celeste River is a must-see attraction. At the confluence of two rivers, the Celeste River appears a bright sky-blue to the human eye (and cameras) due to volcanic minerals in the water reflecting sunlight. There is also a beautiful waterfall and natural hot springs in the area. Trails lead through scenic river forests.

The Marina Wildlife Rescue Center

On the road from Vara Blanca to San Miguel de Sarapiquí, the Angel Waterfall can be observed from a point along the road. You can get closer to the waterfall by following a path parallel to the Angel River on the outskirts of the Cariblanco community. The Angel Waterfall has a height of approximately 100 meters, but only its top portion is visible.

Rio Cuarto Lagoon

This lake is located about 8 km northeast of San Miguel de Sarapiquí at an altitude of 400 meters. It covers an area of 40 hectares and has a depth of approximately 75 meters, making it the deepest natural lake in Costa Rica. Scientists suggest that the lake occupies the crater of an inactive volcano. In combination with rich biodiversity, the area holds significant geological, biological, and tourism interest.

Bajo del Toro Community

Located in the valley between the Poás and Viejo volcanoes, Bajos del Toro is ideal for those who enjoy a mix of nature and rural communities. Its typical humid, rainy climate perfectly lends itself to the surrounding natural beauty and abundant wildlife. Rivers, waterfalls, hydroelectric projects, nature reserves, and agricultural landscapes give visitors to the area a unique glimpse into some of Costa Rica’s plant and animal species. Activities in Bajos del Toro include biking, trout fishing, hiking, rock climbing and waterfall rappelling, hot springs, and flora and fauna observation.

Peace Waterfalls

The La Paz Waterfall is located between the communities of Vara Blanca and Cinchona on the road to Sarapiquí. The waterfall cascades into a pool right next to the Alajuela road leading to the northern plains, and it is a favored spot for travelers to stop and take photographs. The waterfall is of extraordinary beauty, with two levels and lush tropical jungle all around. Upstream is the La Paz Waterfalls and Peace Lodge, a luxury hotel and adventure park, where you can observe different species of local fauna, as well as walk along trails past four more stunning waterfalls.

San Fernando Waterfall

The San Fernando Waterfall is a panoramic view from the road near the community of Cinchona on the route from Vara Blanca to San Miguel de Sarapiquí. A ribbon of white cascading through dense forest, part of the Braulio Carrillo National Park, the waterfall drops approximately 70 meters.

The Angel Waterfall

On the road from Vara Blanca to San Miguel de Sarapiquí, the Angel Waterfall can be observed from a point along the road. You can get closer to the waterfall by following a path parallel to the Angel River on the outskirts of the Cariblanco community. The Angel Waterfall has a height of approximately 100 meters, but only its top portion is visible.

Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí

Although traditionally the main activities of the city revolved around agricultural activities such as coffee, corn, cocoa, cardamom, citrus fruits, bananas, palms, fruit trees, and livestock, today pineapples and tourism are its main activities. Tourists are attracted to the lush nature of Sarapiquí, the forest, and the friendliness and warmth of its inhabitants. Sarapiquí is an important site for tropical scientific research and ecotourism. Adventure tours are also very popular, especially in the pristine and picturesque whitewater rapids of the Sarapiquí River. The Sarapiquí flows into the San Juan River, which is the northern border of Costa Rica in this area with Nicaragua, and eventually to Barra del Colorado and Tortuguero.

La Selva Biological Station

Located in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, at the confluence of two large rivers, La Selva Biological Station is a remarkable international Neotropical biological research station. It comprises 1,600 hectares of tropical rainforest and reclaimed lands. Created and managed by the Organization for Tropical Studies, La Selva Biological Station annually hosts over 250 scientists and researchers from 26 different countries. The area is home to an incredible array of animals. There are over 120 species of mammals, including jaguars, tapirs, agoutis, bats, and three species of monkeys. Along 57 km of trails, one can spot over 420 species of resident and migratory birds – almost half of the bird species that exist in Costa Rica. There are 500 species of butterflies, approximately 2,000 different types of vascular plants, and according to recent studies, over 400 species of ants have been found to live here. Thousands of arthropod species are currently being documented in La Selva. The area is one of the rainiest in Costa Rica, with an average of 4 meters per year.

Sarapiquí River

Many years ago, when there were no roads, the only way to start a tour through Central America was via the Sarapiquí River. The landscape along its banks is charming and very suitable for nature lovers. The Sarapiquí flows 84 km to the San Juan River, which is the border with Nicaragua, and then to Barra del Colorado and Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast. In addition to having fun rapids for an exciting whitewater rafting tour, and quieter sections for nature floating trips, the Sarapiquí River is a good place to see birds, monkeys, turtles, alligators, and otters.

RECOMMENDED PARTNERS IN THE NORTHERN PLAINS