A Taste of Costa Rica

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basic ingredients—national parks Arenal Volcano National Park: The majestic Arenal Volcano, with its perfect cone, is the largest and most active volcano in Meso-America, as well as the centerpiece of the country’s national parks system. By day, Arenal frequently puts on a noisy display of thundering explosions sending smoking cinderblocks down the slopes. By night, watch as orange-red lava streams glow in the dark. Recommend clients explore the park on guided hikes along trails over still-warm lava flows, by mountain bike and horseback, and enjoy such special attractions as aerial trams, canopy tours, canyoning and a Sky Walk for a special perspective on the rain and cloud forests. Bathing in thermal hot springs is a fringe benefit of staying in this volcanic wonderland. Arenal makes a nice vacation combination with the nearby region of Sarapiqui.

Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve: This private reserve may be the most famous patch of forest in Costa Rica. Monteverde covers some 25,000 acres of primary forest with a rich variety of flora and fauna. The most famous resident here is the resplendent quetzal that lives on high in a forested world of ferns, orchids and bromeliads. The park boasts not only a well-maintained trail system, but also some of the most experienced guides in the country. Here, nature exhibits focus on the wonderful world of bugs, butterflies, frogs and bats. Visitors should definitely take some time to explore the neighboring Santa Elena Reserve, smaller but naturally grand.

Manuel Antonio National Park: Though relatively small, Manuel Antonio is the most popular national park and supports the largest number of hotels and resorts. Activities here range from horseback riding and mountain biking, to riding the aerial tram and ziplining through the canopy, not to mention kayaking and rafting. By the sea, the park is best known for its crescents of white sand beaches, and offshore, the deep-sea fishing is world-class.

Corcovado National Park: Go south to Corcovado, located on the Osa Peninsula and sometimes called the jewel of Costa Rica’s national parks system. Its pristine and not easily accessible precincts shelter jaguar, ocelot and tapir, as well as monkeys and scarlet macaws galore, with turtles nesting on park beaches. There are excellent choices in lodgings—rustic to high-end—on the peninsula, adding such attractions as sportfishing and scuba diving.

Tortuguero National Park: Travelers here will enjoy some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful landscapes as they drive from San Jose to the Caribbean coast, cutting across mountains, and through the scenic Braulio Carrillo National Park. Half the fun of going to stay in Tortuguero National Park is the cruise through the jungled maze of canals—home to manatees and crocodiles—that lead to several spiffy riverside lodges. Other pleasures here include listening for howler monkeys, counting macaws and toucans, and kayaking the waterways on one’s own. The best time to visit is during turtle nesting season—early-March to mid-October—in particular, when the giant leatherbacks come ashore March to mid-April.

adding some spice Leave time for San Jose. It’s a capital with good museums—the Gold Museum with its 1,880-piece collection; the National Museum displaying pre-Columbian artifacts; and the Fidel Tristan Jade Museum with the largest jade collection in the Americas. Recommend a performance of anything at the National Theater, a belle epoque gem. Not to miss is a splendid meal at the Grano de Oro Restaurant (international cuisine) or a Costa Rica-style steak dinner at the popular El Chicote. Clients heading to Costa Rica in November will be there for the National Festival of the Arts.

Find a place in your client’s vacation planning to hang out in a lodge in or near Rincon de la Vieja National Park with time to plunge into waterfalls and soak in mud baths, or watch for whales along the southern Costa Ballena in Whale Marine National Park. Other must-do’s include driving up to the mountain and taking off on a Veragua rainforest adventure, and going out of one’s way (40 miles from San Vito in the southern Golfito area) to smell the spectacular flowers (7,000 species of tropical flora) and scan for birds (360 species) at the fabulous Wilson Botanical Gardens.

new products on the shelf With international air service into Liberia, the Pacific’s whitest beaches and luxury hotel resorts, the Guanacaste province has been pushed into the vacation spotlight. The newest luxury entry, RIU Guanacaste will have 701 rooms, a beachfront, a Renova Spa, two swimming pools, and a buffet restaurant, as well as three other specialty restaurants. Opening is scheduled for November. Call (888) RIU-4990 or visit riu.com.