What to do in Guanacaste

Volcanoes, rainforests, and mountains reward nature lovers visiting Costa Rica's northern zone, which features some of the best beaches in the country. This region along the Pacific coast, borders Nicaragua, located to the north.

The country's most active volcano, the looming Arenal, consistently erupts. The red hot lava snakes down the slopes of the mountain, an impressive sight at night if you can see it, as clouds frequently enshroud Arenal. Even if the fiery show eludes you, the area offers plenty of other activities equally as exciting. The challenging gravel and dirt roads ringing the volcano make for good dirt biking, a guided hike up the volcano offers views of local flora and fauna, a river float trip allows you to relax while passing by lush vegetation and wildlife, and a soak in the area's naturally heated mineral springs soothes aching muscles.

A languid float trip along the Corobici River begins in Cañas. Go in the afternoon when the sun wanes and the birds flock to their evening roosts. Then, as you glide past stands of bamboo, mango, and spiny cedar trees, keep an eye out for tiger herons, wood storks, and scores of egrets.

For the more adventurous, go windsurfing on Lake Arenal or try a canopy tour—clipped into a harness hooked to a cable, you'll glide between treetop platforms, some more than 70 feet high. Or, take in the rainforest at a slower pace by walking the paths at Arenal Hanging Bridges, where trails cut through the jungle. Cross fixed and suspended bridges, up to 150 feet, and view the troops of howler monkeys scampering branch to branch.

To reach Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve, another of Costa Rica's popular attractions, you must drive winding roads, some of which remain unpaved. It may feel daunting at times, but once you arrive at Monteverde you won't regret the six hours of bumpy roads, especially as you hike through the misty forest. Ferns, mosses, and orchids grow on the tall trees. Although such elusive critters as quetzals and jaguars live in the reserve, you're more likely to catch sight of birds, lizards, and monkeys.

Another eco-adventure hotspot in Guanacaste, Rincón de la Vieja National Park's trails loop around the volcano, in front of bubbling mud pots, and alongside fumaroles belching sulfur. Other paths wind by ficus trees as thick as VW Beetles, past hanging vines, ferns, and philodendron plants as big as elephant ears.

Not only known for its mountainous region, Guanacaste also has some of the best beaches in the country. Favorite spots for families include Playa Hermosa and the sands along the Papagayo Peninsula.

Tip: Depending on the time of year you visit, Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve can get crowded, so reserve your admission and a guide ahead of time through your lodging if you are traveling in the high season.

(www.visitcostarica.com; http://centralamerica.com/cr/)

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