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Arenal, Monteverde, and the Northern Lowlands Travel Guide

  • Photo: Tony Northrup / Shutterstock

Plan Your Arenal, Monteverde, and the Northern Lowlands Vacation

The vast expanse that locals call the Zona Norte (Northern Zone) packs in a larger variety of activities than any other part of the country. You'll find almost everything in this region that Costa Rica has to offer, except beaches, of course.

Spend any amount of time here and you can partake of—take a deep breath—volcano viewing, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, rappelling,

windsurfing, kitesurfing, wildlife-viewing, bird-watching, bungee jumping, shopping, cloud and rain-forest hiking, swimming, and hot-springs soaking. The zip-line canopy tour deserves special mention. The activity was invented in Costa Rica and has spread to all corners of the planet, while zipping along cables from platform to platform high in the trees has become Costa Rica's signature adventure activity.

We'd argue that those myriad activities make the Northern Plains Costa Rica's most kid-friendly region. Young children especially will "ooh" (and "eeewwww") at various area animal exhibits devoted to bats (Monteverde), frogs (Monteverde), butterflies (Monteverde, La Fortuna), hummingbirds (Monteverde), felines (the Springs Resort in Arenal), and snakes (Monteverde). Guided nature hikes abound; shorter treks can be entertaining and cater to younger ones' shorter attention spans. Most sure-footed and confident teenagers can participate in adult activities. We especially recommend white-water rafting and canopy tours.

A few operators around here will tell you that kids older than eight can participate in canopy tours. We're skeptical of such claims, even if their brochures show children happily zipping from platform to platform. The gondola-like trams (Monteverde) are far safer ways to see the rain-forest canopy.

Most of those activities do go on rain or shine, so don't feel you have to avoid a rainy-season visit here. During the wet months, it's almost a given that you'll get a bit damp on your canopy tour, hike, or horseback ride, and most tour operators provide ponchos. But to avoid a thorough soaking, plan activities for the morning. Rains usually begin around 2 pm, like clockwork, from July through December, although they can be more prolonged in September and October. The clearest time of day is normally before 8 am.

We frequently overhear comments such as "I didn't know it would be so rainy in the rain forest." You heard it here first: that's why they call it the rain forest! During the rainy season it's not unusual for it to rain for several days straight, and even during the dry season, brief showers will come up without notice. Be sure to bring a poncho or rain jacket and waterproof footwear.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Experience a volcano When Arenal, one of the world's most active volcanoes, is not dormant, you can hear it rumbling, and, on clear nights, see plumes of gas and rock spouting from its dome.
  2. Walk down to a waterfall The reward for a tough hike down to Cataratas de la Fortuna is a magnificent series of waterfalls.
  3. Walk in a cloud Explore Monteverde's misty world on treetop walkways up to 41 meters (138 feet) off the ground.
  4. Watch wildlife Birds, monkeys, turtles, crocodiles, jaguars, and sloths abound in the 25,000-acre Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge.
  5. Windsurf Lake Arenal is one of the top windsurfing spots on earth; winds can reach 50 to 60 mph mid-November through April.

When To Go

When to Go

High Season: Mid-December to April Climate is difficult to pinpoint in this vast region. The Northern Plains link the rainier Caribbean in...

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Check historic weather for your trip dates:

Travel Tips

Arenal, Monteverde, and the Northern Lowlands Travel Tips

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