Planning Your Time
Although not centrally located, the Northern Lowlands can be easily tacked onto stays in other regions of Costa Rica. Fairly decent—decent for Costa Rica, that is—transportation links the region to San José, the Central Valley, and the North Pacific. (Monteverde is the exception, isolated and approached only by rugged roads from all directions.)
If your stay here is limited to two or three days, make La Fortuna or the surrounding Arenal area your base. Don't miss the inactive volcano, a day at the hot springs, or a trip to Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge.
Most tour operators who have volcano hikes end the day at one of the various thermal springs in the area. The most popular are Baldi, Ecotermales, Springs Resort, and Tabacon, all with cascading pools at varying temperatures and day packages that include lunch or dinner. With waterslides, buffet lines, and busloads of tourists, the larger hot springs can feel a bit like the Disneyland of relaxation. If you plan on spending a good amount of time soaking in the hot springs, opt for staying at a hotel with on-site thermal pools. There are free public hot springs past the yellow gate next to Tabacón.
"Half-day" tours to Caño Negro actually take most of a day, from around 7:30 am to 4 pm, and you'll spend about two hours each way in a bus or van.
A week is more than enough time to experience a great deal of this area—especially if you're longing to get out and get moving. Give yourself four days in La Fortuna/Arenal, a great base for exploring the region. Devote the rest of your week to Monteverde Cloud Forest.