Costa Rica: Central America's Eden
Costa Rica may well be the most ecologically rich and geographically diverse region of its size on the planet. A land of towering volcanoes (it has over 40), high-altitude cloud forests, black-sand beaches, raging white-water rivers, and dense tropical rainforest, Costa Rica is an ideal venue for jungle exploration. In this unique bridge between two major continents, plant and animal species from both northern and southern hemispheres thrive in an ecosystem still largely undisturbed by man. Costa Rica has set aside over four percent of its territory to wilderness preserves and a well-organized network of national parks. The abundance of animal life sustained in these protected zones has earned Costa Rica the reputation as the "wildlife sanctuary of the Americas.
Any proper Costa Rican jungle adventure should include Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica's smallest and most beautiful park. This preserve is in a transition zone between northern dry forest and southern wet forest. The closed-canopy rainforest is interspersed with ceiba trees and filled with orchids. Monkeys, sloths, opossums, and agouti are especially active in the cool mornings, as are more than 350 kinds of birds.
We recommend a visit to the coastal wilderness area of Corcovado. From there you can make day trips into the forest from a luxury tent camp, and view the rainforest canopy from a 125-foot observation platform that offers a bird's eye perspective of the rainforest environment.
If you want to observe the natural spectacle of 300-pound sea turtles laying their eggs at Tortuguero National Park, which offers, in addition to turtles, jungle river trips, white-water rafting, and visits to Arenal Volcano, Monteverde National Park, Poas Volcano and the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge.
Another recommended destination is the Carara Biological Preserve, a rich haven for both plant and animal life. While you're visiting the Costa Rican interior, don't miss an impressive geological sight, Poas, one of the deepest volcanoes in the world. Having last erupted only 12 years ago, billows of steam continue to vent from the main crater. A half-mile hike leads to a smaller crater. A clear water lake is surrounded by the dwarf trees of a cloud forest, where plants feed off the mist and every surface is alive with growth.
Although most Americans visiting Costa Rica for the first time may prefer to go with an organized tour, Costa Rica is a relatively good destination for the independent traveler. If you speak a little Spanish, and won't have a coronary if your bus arrives late, you'll find Costa Rica a great place to explore on your own. The people are friendly, the government is as stable as any in Latin America, and the country still hasn't been spoiled by tourism.
Costa Rica is an ecological wonderland. The terrain includes just about everything you can imagine, from volcanoes to coastal rainforests, and even inviting tropical beaches. In the highlands, expect mild days in the 70s and cool nights, especially in the Monteverde forests where temperatures can drop into the 50s at night. In the lowlands, it will be humid, though not unpleasantly so, with temperatures to the 90s. Rain falls heaviest along the Pacific highlands, usually in the form of afternoon thundershowers. No immunizations are required to visit Costa Rica, and malaria is not a serious worry, although taking standard precautions is advised.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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