Northern Lowlands

Costa Rica’s Northern Lowlands, heading north out of San Jose and leaving the Central Highlands behind, one enters an area that most consider the most spectacular region of Costa Rica. Bordered to the south by the volcanic mountain range of the Cordillera Central and descending into the lowlands northward to the Nicaragua border , the area offers a wide variety of land and vegetation diversity to be found anywhere in Costa Rica, thus making the Northern Lowlands, one of Costa Rica’s most popular travel destinations.

The Northern Lowlands is comprised of two main mountain ranges to the south, the Cordillera Central to the south and the Tilaran Mountain range to the to the Southwest, to the northwest separating the Northern Lowlands from the Guanacaste region lies the Cordillera de Guanacaste with all three mountain ranges providing the region with volcanoes and cloud forests. The base of the three mountain ranges gives way to two main plains extending northward to Nicaragua, to the west lies the Llanuras de los Guastusos plain and to the east the Llanura de San Carlos plain, taking in the Costa Rican provinces of Alajuela and Heredia.

Northern Lowlands Costa RicaToday, the Northern Lowlands are a popular tourist and adventure traveler destination, yet the area was mainly inaccessible until the late 50’s when Highway 126 was constructed connecting San Jose to the northern city of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui .

Sample Exploration Northern Lowlands copyTwo of the main draws to the area for travelers as well as nature lovers are the Arenal Volcano, one of the world’s 10 most active volcanoes, and the Monteverde Cloud Forest, a humid, cloudy and misty region that has become a favorite of nature lovers drawn to its high biodiversity.

Cloud forests and volcanoes are not the only draws to the region; the Northern Lowlands is also home to Lake Arenal, a large reservoir built to provide the countries electric needs has become a destination in itself for windsurfing enthusiasts as well as for the scenery surrounding the lake and its spectacular backdrop of Arenal Volcano on the lakes eastern shore. Some of Costa Rica’s premier rafting is found in the region on the Sarapiqui River. Waterfalls, hot springs, nature trails and horseback riding through out many of the areas nature parks provide a variety of opportunities for all travelers.  Cano Negro Nature Reserve is a must see when visiting the region

Costa Rica  sees a mixture of varying climates, from the cloud forest the climate is more humid and misty year round with temperatures in the high 60’s to low 70’s, descending into the plains the climate is more hot and humid, with a more pronounced dry season to the west towards the Pacific and less as you head east towards the Caribbean. The regions rainy season ranges from December to March and the dry season starts in April extending into November. If travelling to the area for the sole purpose of seeing Arenal Volcano, the best time of the year for unobstructed views is towards the end of the dry season during the months of September and October.

Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano, in the heart of Arenal Volcano National Park, is located approximately 90 kilometers northwest of San Jose, Costa Rica. Formed over 7,000 years ago, the volcano was thought to be extinct until a massive eruption occurred on July 29, 1968, which obliterated the small village of Tabacon, killing 78 residents. Arenal Volcano, measuring approximately 5,437 feet with a crater spanning 460 feet, is considered one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world, with eruptions occurring approximately 40 to 45 times per day. The perfect conical shape of the volcano offers astounding views of volcanic activity at the summit and vibrant lava flows from the crater.

Mount Arenal Volcano Costa RicaArenal Volcano National Park, spanning over 30,000 acres, is home to Lake Arenal, the largest artificial lake in Costa Rica. The lake was enlarged in 1979 during construction of the Lake Arenal Dam and development of a national water resource system, which currently provides hydroelectric power to the country. Lake Arenal has become a worldwide travel destination for water sports, including wakeboarding, boating, kayaking and fishing. The lake is one of the premier windsurfing destinations in the world, with thousands of enthusiasts partaking in the sport throughout the year.

Arenal Volcano National Park, as a natural wildlife sanctuary and rainforest, is home to over 2,000 species of plants, as well as several species of mammals and exotic birds. The area is one of the foremost bird watching sanctuaries in the world, with species including hummingbirds, kingfishers, woodpeckers, parrots and toucans. Hiking trails course through the park, all with astounding views of Lake Arenal and the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Walking tours begin in the early afternoon, reaching El Mirador, the ideal location for viewing evening volcanic eruptions.

The Arenal Butterfly Conservatory, containing exhibits of exotic butterflies, frogs and insects is a must for visitors to the park. Several atrium habitats, scientific laboratories and greenhouses are open daily, including the exotic frog sanctuary and orchid atrium. The park includes multiple volcano-heated natural hot springs, including 16 hot springs at Baldi and the multi-level hot springs at Tabacon.

A visit to Costa Rica would not be complete without a trip to Arenal Volcano National Park. Although it is only 90 kilometers from San Jose, the roads are primitive and not well marked. Travel by automobile can take up to four hours and can be frustrating. Direct bus travel and private shuttle services are available from many hotels and tourist centers in San Jose. In order to fully experience the wonder and natural beauty of the area, several days should be allocated for a visit to Arenal Volcano National Park. Lodging is available inside and surrounding the park.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve will amaze travelers with its magnificence and diverse environment. Within its grounds are rainforests with mosses, orchids, ferns, and bromeliads, and small woodlands carved out by the winds.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is in the Cordillera de Tilaran Mountain range inside the Alajuela and Puntarenas provinces of Costa Rica. Currently the preserve has over 10,000 hectares. The Preserve contains six ecological areas with more than 90% virgin forests. Within its diversity, it has 2,500 species of plants, 400 different kinds of birds, 100 mammal species over 100 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, and thousands of varieties of insects.Suspension Bridge, Moteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa RicaThe Monteverde Cloud Forest had its beginnings after a group of Quakers left the United States in the 1950s to avoid the draft for the Korean conflict. They set up farming in Monteverde and helped establish Monteverde and the Santa Elana Cloud Forests Reserves 20 years afterward. In the 1970s when local farmers tried to expand their farms in the forest, scientist George Powell and Wildford Guidon supported the development of the nature preserve. The private scientific organization, the Tropical Science Center, took up the job of owning and managing the area. The original 300 hectares was the basis of the preserve.The preserve has guided tours that lasts 2.5 hours and are in Spanish and English. Tours can be arranged at the website Visitors also have the alternative of a guided early morning bird watching tour. The cost for the tour also covers the cost of the reserve’s entrance fee.

The hours for the restaurant, art gallery and shop are 7 AM until 4PM. The park has restrooms at the entrance to the park but there are no restrooms on the trails.

Visitors can hike the trails in Monteverde. The trails are well kept. Visitors do not need rubber boots or hiking boots for a daily hike. However, hiking boots are recommended if visitors plan to stay overnight in the huts on the trails.

The park is located 3.6 miles from Santa Elana, Montverde.
Buses leave from Banco Nacional in Santa Elana at 6:15 AM, 7:20 AM, and 1:15 PM. Buses return from the reserve at 11:30 AM, 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM. The fee is $1. Travelers can get on the bus at any point along the road from St. Elena to the reserve. Taxis from Santa Elana cost $10 each way.
Travelers can reach Monteverde by bus from many Costa Rican cities: San Jose, Puntarenas, Guanacaste, Liberia, northern Costa Rica, and from the southern Pacific beaches, La Fortuna or the Arenal volcano area.

When driving by car, from San Jose, take the Pan American Highway north, continuing north through Miramar to a restaurant called Caballo Blanco where there will be signs for Monteverde. There is a turn off and follow the signs. The trip is approximately 3.5 hours. There are also directions from Arenal and Liberia.