June 16th, 2008

Area Attractions

by Don

San Jose — Founded in 1738 and the capital of Costa Rica since 1823, San Jose is the cultural center of the country and a transportation hub, connected to both coasts by a railroad and highway. The city’s mixture of Spanish and North American architecture includes colonial mansions fronted by expansive lawns and gardens. The National Museum is housed in the country’s former military headquarters which were converted into a cultural center when Jose Figueres Ferrer abolished the Army in 1948, and its exhibits include pre-Columbian pottery and artifacts, and colonial furniture and religious art. The Teatro Nacional (National Theatre) is Costa Rica’s most beautiful building, designed in the 19th-century neo-Classical style with an opulent interior of gold leaf, marble accents and murals.

Heredia – The colonial town of Heredia, founded in the 1570s, has retained much of its colonial character. Spanish-style buildings can be seen at Parque Central, north of which is a colonial fortress. East of the park is the 18th-century La Immaculada Concepcion church, which has with-stood earthquakes due to its squat design and thick walls. The colonial village of Barva, 1.6 miles north of Heredia, is an historic monument. Also in Heredia is the famous Cafe Britt coffee plantation, where daily tours are held.

Sarchi – The oxcart, one of the main means of transportation during colonial times, became an art form a century ago in the town of Sarchi when a local peasant painted his cart with bright, geometrically pat-terned colors. These gaily decorated wooden carts, called carretas, are now a national symbol and Sarchi is the place to watctı artisans at work, handcrafting multi-colored wooden carts and other ornaments.

Monteverde Cloud Forest/Santa Elena Reserve
– This biological reserve began as a watershed for the Quaker community of Monteverde and is now one of the country’s most popular rainforest hikes. The Monteverde Conservation League, formed in 1985, continues to expand the protect-ed area. in 1988, it launched the International Children’s Rainforest project, by which school groups the world över have raised funds to save rainforest lands adjacent to the reserve. Santa Elena Reserve was created in 1989 to relieve some of the visitor pressure on Monteverde.

Arenal Volcano – Northeast of Monteverde is Costa Rica’s most active volcano, Arenal, its perfect conical shape rising to 5,356 feet (1633 m), it erupted in 1968, kliring several dozen people, and contin-ues to discharge red-hot lava, its degree of activity varying from week to week. The nearby Tabacon hotsprings are popular with visitors seek-ing a quick soak in naturally heated mineral waters.

Braulio Carrillo National Park – The Puerto Limon-San Jose highway runs though this park which protects a virgin forest ranging from the Caribbean lowlands to the top of Barva Volcano. The rainfor-est aerial tram is just outside the park, its 6-person cars vhisking pas-sengers through the forest canopy for a unique view of this ecosystem.

Parque Nacional Volcan Irazu – The American astronaut Neil Armstrong önce described Irazu Volcano as a desolate landscape resembling the surface of the moon. Vapor constantly rises from one of the craters and its cool summit is often shrouded in mist. Irazu is one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes, destroying Cartago with an erup-tion in 1723 and blanketing San Jose with ash in 1963. The volcano is 11,260 feet (3,430 m) high and a paved road leads to the summit where, on a clear day, a person can see the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and Lake Nicaragua.

Carara Biological Reserve – This area of lowlands covers 11,750 acres of tropical forest where hiking trails wind beneath a canopy of giant trees. The birds and animals frequently sighted here include macaws, monkeys, coatis, iguanas and colorful butterflies.

Tarcoles River – Located near Carara Biological Reserve, the mouth of the Tarcoles River and its estuaries are home to a large colony of crocodiles and a variety of birds which live among the mangroves and tidal flats. A highly recommended tour involves boarding a covered Mawamba boat for a cruise along the shorelme while an experienced guide points out various species of bird and the odd crocodile swim-ming in the river or lying along its banks.

Rio Corobici – Costa Rica is filled with rivers spilling through nar-row gorges and jungle-clad valleys, and river rafting on the Corobici River in the province of Guanacaste is one way to view the monkeys, parakeets and other birds which live along its banks while you drift and paddle downstream in a large rubber raft.

Tortuguero – This park is situated on the Caribbean coast, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Limon, and is an important nesting site for green sea turtles which arrive from July to early October, peaking in late August. The leatherback (February to July) and hawksbill (July to October) also nest here, but in much smaller numbers. in addition to turtle, Tortuguero contains three species of monkey and över 300 species of birds. Sightings can be made on the park trails or during boat trips on the river, which is home to caimans (similar to alligators), crocodiles, basilisk lizards and freshwater turtles.

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