Wild at Heart: Costa Rica

Looking for an eco-tourism escape filled with beauty and adventure? Look no further than Monteverde, Costa Rica

Glorious nature is the main reason to visit Costa Rica, known for rainforests alive with monkeys and macaws. But here are a few more: 15 to 26ºC temperatures with very little rain, a slew of family-friendly attractions, and one of the most economically and politically stable countries in Central America. Many eco-travellers beat a path to Monteverde, a mountainous area in the northwestern corner of the country. Here’s how to make the most of this tropical paradise.

FUN STUFF FOR KIDS AND PARENTS

  • Monteverde is known for its cloud forest – a rainforest at such a high altitude that clouds brush the tops of the trees. Glide through this richly verdant ecosystem with ease on a canopy tour in Selvatura Park (selvatura.com), home to one of the most extensive zip-line sites in Costa Rica (hang on tight and slide down an inclined cable, right though the forest canopy!). If that sounds too daring, in the same park you can also explore butterfly and hummingbird gardens or stroll through the forest canopy along a suspended walkway.
  • Spot howler monkeys and brilliantly red-and-green quetzal birds on a morning hike through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (monteverdeinfo.com/monteverde.htm). If you visit the nearby Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve (monteverdeinfo.com/reserve.htm) at night, enjoy a view of the Arenal volcano glowing in the distance.
  • Get up close to some of the 20 species of amphibians that live at Ranario, the Frog Pond of Monteverde (ranario.com).
  • Ride a horse along the network of trails outside the protected reserves. For a
    part-icularly memorable experience, head out at sunset. Book your steeds a day in advance at the Tree House Tourist Center in the main Monteverde town, Santa Elena (monteverdeinfo.com/horseback.htm).
  • Stop for an ice cream and watch 17 different kinds of cheese being made at La Lecheria, a cheese factory in the village of Monteverde (monteverde.net).

WHERE TO WANDER
The main place to stroll in Monteverde is the small downtown of Santa Elena, where you can jostle with squads of backpackers for a seat at one of the many restaurants and bars. Check out La Pizzeria de Johnny for casual Italian fare or Morphos for Costa Rican specialties (like casado, a traditional dish of beef, cabbage, beans, plantain and rice). Given the young crowd, central Santa Elena can be noisy at night, especially on weekends.

GET AROUND
Renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle provides the most flexibility, but roads can be bumpy and slow. To avoid the hassle of driving, book a tour with Costa Rica Expeditions (costaricaexpeditions.com), run by an expat New Yorker. Monteverde tours depart from San José and range in length from three to 12 days.

 

FIX OW-IES
Visitors have easy access to Costa Rica’s good, inexpensive health system, but there’s only a small clinic in Santa Elena. Significant medical problems may require an ambulance ride to the Hospital Monseñor Sanabria in Puntarenas, a two-hour drive from Santa Elena.

COOLEST ACCOMMODATIONS
The Quaker-run Hotel El Establo (hotelelestablo.com) is one of the more luxe hotels in this laid-back region, with a spa and a solar-heated pool. Blow the budget on a two-level suite. The Hotel Fonda Vela (fondavela.com) is eco-friendly with solar panels, recycled plastic roofing and sustainably harvested lumber. There’s even organic shampoo and conditioner in the guest rooms. Inexpensive private cabins are available at the Mirador Lodge (miradorlodge.com), nestled in the forest just north of Santa Elena. The lodge offers reasonably priced shuttles to local attractions.

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