San José is where most visitors’ Costa Rican adventures begin. Its vibrant gastro-scene and museums packed with pre-Colombian jade and gold are the perfect place to get acclimated after touching down at the airport. However, it’s only when you venture out of the capital, to the surrounding central valley, that the country’s beauty really comes into focus.
That beauty starts with volcanoes—lots and lots of volcanoes, the majority of them still active. Poás, Irazú, Turrialba: these giants offer lake-filled craters and emerald cloud forests, diverse flora and heart-stopping lookouts—as well as the ever-present chance of an eruption. Still not enough excitement? A short drive takes you to the Pacuare River, the scene of Class III and IV rapids, as well as cliffside rappelling and some of the most insane ziplines on the planet.
The central valley also has pleasures for non-adrenaline junkies. La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a frog preserve awarble with singing amphibians; there you can also see toucan feedings and one of the country’s biggest butterfly sanctuaries, all overlooking a haze of gentle cascades. Meanwhile, history aficionados will want to hit up Cartago, Costa Rica’s original capital, with its ruins of the old Santiago Apostol church and the magnificent Basilica of the Virgin of Los Angeles, shrine of the country’s patron saint.
In colonial times, settlers in Costa Rica’s central valley marveled at the fertility of its soil. Today, what visitors marvel at is the fertility of their imaginations as they venture out into this lush tropical heartland.
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