Central Highlands / Greater San José

Central Highlands Region

Parks and Reserves

Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo

Massive, raw, and presenting extensive variety, Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo covers more than 100,000 acres around Volcán Barva and Cacho Negro. Ranging in elevation more than 9,000 feet, the park is subject to a broad spectrum of climatic conditions. At the upper elevations, with an annual precipitation of approximately 11 feet, a verdant cloud forest predominates. At the lower elevations, visitors will experience soggy lowland jungles. Habitat variety is accompanied by species diversity. Braulio Carrillo provides refuge for pumas, monkeys, jaguars, and over 500 species of birds, including scarlet macaws and the elusive quetzal. The park is also a great venue to see the paca, or tepezcuintles, a giant rodent that represents the park's mascot. Within the park, there are several ranger stations and visitor centers that can provide information and guidance.

Parque Nacional Volcán Poás

By most standards, Volcán Poás is an unparalleled visual spectacle. So outstanding and majestic is this natural attraction that the 14,000-acre reserve is the most developed and commercially popular of Costa Rica's national parks. The main crater, measuring over one mile in diameter, is still sporadically active, and establishes its formidable presence with constant burps, hisses and burbles. A smaller, inactive crater, Botos, is accessed via the Botos Trail. This crater now forms a breathtaking red-colored lake.

Access to the main crater is remarkably uncomplicated. In fact, you can drive to the summit, park, and trek only 300 yards to the crater. From the viewing station there, the crater sits just 600 feet blow, bubbling and fuming with activity. Its best to arrive early in order to beat the clouds and the crowds. By midmorning, a blanket of mist makes viewing difficult, while midday and weekend crowds can be loud and disturbing. On the clearest days, you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. An informative visitor's center displays a model of the volcano, and offers audiovisual presentations on Sundays.

Parque Nacional Juan Castro Blanco

This park offers over 35,000 raw acres of montane rain forest and mist-covered cloud forest in the upper elevations. Protecting the land surrounding Volcán Platanar and Porvenir, this reserve offers superlative hiking through its web of trails, but be prepared to rough it as there are few facilities here.

Parque Nacional Volcán Irazú

Encompassing almost 6,000 acres of land, this national park centers around the daunting Volcán Irazú, an active giant, standing tall at 11,260 feet. The summit of the volcano is reached via a 22-mile road from Cartago, and a short climb will get you to its twin craters. Both craters are lakes of brilliant sage green, but the smaller of the two, Diego de la Haya, has been known to change color to a deep crimson.

There is a ranger station about a mile below the summit which offers a rest area and information about the volcano. Remember to stay on the designated paths, both for your safety and the protection of the environment.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Located on Volcán Poás's eastern slopes, this is a private reserve that offers well-maintained hiking trails and magnificent views of the multi-tiered waterfall that tumbles from over 3,000 feet above sea level. Tourists can hike the trails and suspension bridges, walk behind a cascading waterfall, and explore the park's visitor center, orchid garden and butterfly reserve.

Los Angeles Cloud Forest Reserve

At the Los Angeles Cloud Forest, ranging in elevation from 2,000 feet to 5,500 feet, visitors can scamper up and down the slopes of the valley, spotting wildlife which includes monkeys, ocelots, the occasional jaguar, and an abundance of bird species. The 2,000-acre park is best explored with Hotel Villablanca as a spring board. This rustic hotel, offering bucolic cottages with wood-burning fireplaces, sits high atop the continental divide, and offers guided strolls and a 600-foot canopy tour.

Butterfly Valley

Near Sarchí, Butterfly Valley is a 4-acre, netted park where over 45 butterfly species can be observed in their natural habitat.

Bosque de Paz

Located in a lush, hidden valley near Bajos del Toro, flanked by Volcán Poás and Porvenir, this is a 950-acre reserve which is teeming with wildlife and cloaked with emerald-green flora. A network of trails give visitors a chance to spot the fauna, including, but seldom seen, endangered spider monkeys and big cats.

Escazú Hill Sanctuary

In the coffee-draped hills above San Antonio de Escazú, this private sanctuary has good hiking trails and presents opportunities for peeping sloth, coatis, monkeys, and, if you're lucky, pumas.

The Butterfly Farm

Within many of the villages that surround Alajuela, tourists will find a host of attractions, especially those catering to the wildlife-seeking cross-section. Near Guacima to the southwest, The Butterfly Farm provides a wonderful glimpse into the world of the Lepidopteran order. Over 500 species of exotic butterfly are bred here, and about 30,000 butterflies are exported to zoos and private firms throughout the world each year. Visitors can enjoy a guided stroll through the farm which features a waterfall, a tropical garden, and the brilliance of the butterflies, all enclosed within the boundaries of the netted community.

Zoo Ave

If birds are what you fancy, Zoo Ave, located in Alajuela's western suburb of La Garita, is a 140-acre refuge for over 60 bird species. These include macaws, quetzals, toucans and cranes, among others. In addition, there are monkeys, crocodiles, deer and giant tortoises.

Flor de May

Located at Río Segundo de Alajuela, Flor De May is a 7-acre breeding center for the scarlet macaw. At the parks entrance, there is an informative education center which teaches visitors about this remarkable bird and the forces which are threatening their habitats.

El Mundo de las Serpientes

At El Mundo de Las Serpientes, along the old Alajuela Road, over 300 species of snakes are exhibited. Tours and educational programs attempt to squash people's fears of the misunderstood reptile while informing them of the vital role snakes play in web of life.



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Regional Overview

Costa Rica Maps - Parks and Reserves

Massive, raw, and presenting extensive variety, Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo covers more than 100,000 acres around Volcán Barva and Cacho Negro. Ranging in elevation more than 9,000 feet, the park is subject to a broad spectrum of climatic conditions.

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