Central America: Costa Rica

The legend on the opening page of this country's official government Web site reads, "No Artificial Ingredients." And indeed, few countries anywhere have been as successful as Costa Rica in preserving its natural heritage.

Here's a sampling of places to go and things to do:

  • Arenal National Park: The majestic Arenal Volcano with its perfect cone is the largest and most active volcano in Meso-America. By day Arenal puts on a spectacular display of thundering explosions, sending smoking cinder blocks and lava tumbling down the slopes; by night watch as orange-red lava streams glow in the night sky.
  • Manuel Antonio National Park: Near the town of Quepos, this marine park protects the country's sandy Pacific coast beaches, rocky headlands and a tropical forest that is host to thousands of birds and animals.
  • Sarchi: Sometimes called the handicraft capital of Costa Rica, Sarchi is best known for workshops that create the traditional, brightly painted ox carts that are the country's national symbol. Shops sell other hardwood products, as well as hammocks, straw and leather.
  • Turtle Territories: Santa Rosa National Park in northern Guanacaste area is the nesting ground to three species of turtles; Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean is home to the leatherbacks and hawksbill turtles.
  • Corcovado National Park: Though somewhat remote because of its location (access by air to Puerto Jimenez) on the Osa Peninsula on the southern Pacific coast, Corcovado's tropical rain forest and diverse habitats host abundant species of plant and animal life, including more than 500 species of trees, 285 species of birds and 139 species of animals. Corcovado offers the best chance in Costa Rica to see the large animals -- jaguar, tapir, ocelot and peccaries. A core of good lodges has developed in this area.
  • Water Attractions: Tell clients to go rafting on the easy flowing Corobici River to see monkeys, iguanas, parrots, herons and coatimundis; on the Reventazon River of greater difficulty in its nine-mile run; on the Pacuare for a three-day run through narrow vertical walls of a forested gorge; on the Chirripo which is considered one of the six best in the world for white-water rafting.
  • Divers and snorkelers should experience the west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula off the beaches at Ocotal. An excellent place for surfing is off the Pacific beaches of Tamarindo.

    Sample Costa Rica Package

    Turtle Tagging and Rain Forest: A seven-night package starts with three nights in Tortuguero National Park at the Mawamba Lodge, joining a tagging program supervised by the Caribbean Conservation Corp. study group. It continues with two nights at Holbrook Travel's Selva Verde Lodge and one night each coming and going in San Jose. The price is $1,380 per person, double, land only, including first class accommodations, most meals and $150 donation to the CCC. Holbrook Travel in Gainesville, Fla., (352) 371-3710 or (800) 451-7111.

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