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Central Highlands: San Jose

The capital of Costa Rica, San Jose is located in the heart of Central Valley right in the center of Costa Rica. This central location therefore allows the capital to have direct access routes to all parts of the country and where most travelers will begin and end their journey of Costa Rica. Tourists can find a multitude of organized tours available from San Jose if interested in being based in the capital. The stunningly gorgeous San Jose Highlands is a fertile and verdant area encompassed towering volcanoes to the north and looming mountains to the south.

Activities San Jose Region

Poás Volcano National Park:  The Poas Volcano is a true symbol of the geo-thermal forces that ultimately formed the country of Costa Rica, with its rain-fed lake surrounded by the rising smoke and steam. The crater itself is approximately 1,050 feet deep and nearly one mile across, making it the largest active volcano in the world.  The Poás Volcano sits at approximately 2,700 meters above sea level and is only an hour and a half drive from downtown San Jose, making it a popular day trip destination for tourists from around the world.  Overlooking the craterlake is a visitor's center which offers a spectacular view of the volcano and is a site that should be a top priority for anyone traveling to Costa Rica on vacation. Some of the wildlife that you will find at Poás Volcano National Park are the cloud forest birds, including hummingbirds, tanagers, toucanets, the clay-colored robin and the stunning quetzal.  The road to Poás Volcano National Park is a site in and of itself, with a variety of coffee plantations along the way growing some of Costa Rica’s best coffee.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens: La Paz Waterfall Gardens is the most visited privately owned ecological attraction in Costa Rica featuring the best hiking near San José, the most famous waterfalls in Costa Rica, rescued wildlife preserve with over 100 species of animals and an environmental education program. The splendid gardens of La Paz are located on the slopes of the Poas volcano, just an hour from San Jose, in the central highlands. This area is rich in bio diversity thanks to an altitude of that varies between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, allowing for both cloud forest and rain forest to co-exist. Be prepared for a truly magical experience. Here, visitors will find the largest butterfly observatory in the world, hummingbird and bromeliad gardens, a serpentarium, frog pond, and 5 striking waterfalls.

Coffee Tours: Costa Rica is famous for its coffee! Since the middle of the 19th century, the coffee bean has played important social, economic, and even political roles for the country, with an influence that extends unquestionably into today. Plantation tours are packed with culture and history, and include visits to the coffee fields, roasters, and cafés. Take one of these tours and you’re guaranteed to learn the ins and outs of coffee production, and enjoy one of the world’s freshest cups of joe. Although coffee plantations are scattered throughout Costa Rica, the highland areas surrounding San Jose and the Tilaran Mountain range that extends to Monteverde are ideal climates for Coffee plantations.

Rainforest Ariel Tram: Rainforest Ariel Tram: A unique ecotourism and research facility in Sarapiqui, north of San Jose, The tram will take visitors on a 90-minute excursion through the rainforest canopy that cover a distance of 2.6 kilometers through the treetops of the primary rainforest at a leisurely pace of two kilometers per hour. The open-air rain forest tram gondolas with canvas awnings seat six passengers plus a naturalist guide.  Located next to the northern border of the Braulio Carrillo National Park, possesses one of the richest canopy communities in the world

Irazu Volcano National Park: One of the most frequented national parks in Costa Rica is the Irazu Volcano National Park that lies around 32 km from Cartago, the country’s former capital. Home to Costa Rica’s highest and largest active volcano Irazu stands at around 11,260 feet and extends over 500 square kilometers at its base. The volcanic ash from Irazu has made the soil in the surrounding areas very fertile, but there is not much wildlife found here due to volcanic activity. Robins, owls, porcupines, hummingbirds, foxes, rabbits and coyotes are a few of the animals that can be spotted in this national park. The landscape of the Irazu Volcano National Park is actually quite surreal, with most of the park’s forest found on the Caribbean side of the volcano. The surrounding vegetation is mostly a rainforest that has gaps of shrubs and bushes. Atop Irazu’s summit, only a few plants can be found that have acclimatized themselves to the harsh conditions and chilly winds that blow here.   A major attraction of this park is the climb to the Deigo de la Haya crater that has a 300 meter green-colored lake in the center of it.

Cartago: Situated in the verdant and lush Central Valley at the base of the Volcan Irazu, Cartago was the capital of Costa Rica until the year 1832. A 40-minute bus drive from the capital city of San Jose, this town sits amid some of the richest and greenest pieces of land in Latin America. Considered to be among the oldest towns in the country, Cartago was established in 1563 by Juan Vásquez de Coronado, a Spanish Governor and conquistador along the banks between the Rios Coris and Purires. One of the finest Spanish colonial cities in terms of architecture during its time., today it is famous for its Sunday markets, intriguing architecture and plenty of good shopping and to be explored.

Lankester Botanical Gardens: Lancaster Gardens: Located just outside of San Jose, near the country's old capital city of Cartago is the Lancaster Gardens founded in the 1950's by the British naturalist Charles H. Lankaster.  Internationally recognized for its collection of epiphytes (plants which live on other plants), of particular interest are the orchids. Approximately 11 hectares of land, countless numbers of other species are also found on the premises, including insects and other animals. Orchids are surprisingly difficult to see in the wild. Even with a qualified guide you'd be lucky to spot a dozen during a full day in the forest. The majority are epiphytic, growing high in the canopy on trunks, branches or in crotches out of sight. Additionally, many are rather mundane until they flower, and might only flower for a day or two a year. The same is true for many of the other interesting epiphytes in Costa Rica. Fortunately Lankester Gardens has a world class collection of nearly a thousand varieties displayed at eye level, and the huge number of plants means it's likely that hundreds will be blooming when you visit.

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