Boat Trips -- The Río Sarapiquí was originally this region’s, if not the country’s, major transportation thoroughfare, connecting the town of Puerto Viejo with the Caribbean coast. For the adventurous, Puerto Viejo is a jumping-off point for trips down the Río Sarapiquí to Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge and Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast. A boat transfer for up to 10 people will cost you around $400 to $600 to Barra del Colorado or $500 to $700 to Tortuguero.
In addition to the longer trips, you can take shorter trips on the river for between $15 and $25 per person per hour. A trip down the Sarapiquí, even if it’s for only an hour or two, provides opportunities to spot crocodiles, caimans, monkeys, sloths, and dozens of bird species.
If you’re interested in any of the boat trips on the river, you are best off checking at your hotel, or with Oasis Nature Tours ((tel) 2766-6108; www.oasisnaturetours.com). Alternatively, you can head down to the town dock on the bank of the Sarapiquí and see if you can arrange a boat trip on your own by tagging along with another group or better yet, with a bunch of locals.
Canopy Tour & More -- Hacienda Pozo Azul ★ ((tel) 877/810-6903 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2438-2616 in Costa Rica; www.pozoazul.com; daily 8am–6pm) is an extensive ecotourism operation offering a zipline tour with 13 platforms connected by nine cables. In addition, Hacienda Pozo Azul offers whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and guided hikes. It also runs a tent camp and separate rustic lodge in deep rainforest. Several differently priced combo packages are offered.
Hiking & Guided Tours -- Anyone can take advantage of the 56km (35 miles) of well-maintained trails at La Selva ★★. If you’re not staying there, however, you’ll have to take a guided hike, led by well-informed naturalists. Half- and full-day hikes ($35 and $45, respectively) are offered daily, but you must reserve in advance ((tel) 2524-0607; www.threepaths.co.cr). Tours are at 8am and 1:30pm daily.
One good hike starts at the Cantarrana (“singing frog”) trail, which includes a boardwalk through a rainforest swamp. From here, you can join up with either the near or far circular loop trails—CCC and CCL.
For a more orderly introduction to the local flora, head to a botanical garden like the Chester’s Field Biological Gardens or the nearby Heliconia Island ((tel) 2764-5220; www.heliconiaisland.com), an interesting garden with more than 70 varieties of heliconia on a small island. This place is open daily from 8am to 5pm. Admission is $10 for a self-guided walk, or $18 for a guided tour.
A Natural History Theme Park -- The Alma Ata Archaeological Park is a small ongoing dig of a modest pre-Columbian gravesite that is attached to a local hotel, SarapiquíS Rainforest Lodge ((tel) 2761-1004; www.sarapiquis.com). So far, 12 graves, some petroglyphs, and numerous pieces of ceramic and jewelry have been unearthed. The hotel has a small museum that displays examples of the ceramics, tools, clothing, and carvings found here, as well as other natural history exhibits. Just across the hotel’s driveway, you’ll find the Chester’s Field Biological Gardens, with well-tended displays of local medicinal and ornamental plants and herbs, as well as food crops. Admission to the archaeological park and gardens costs $32, and includes lunch. If you just want to visit the museum, the cost is $18 for adults, $10 for students. Open daily, 6am to 5pm.
Just south of the SarapiquíS Rainforest Lodge is the 345-hectare (850-acre) private Tirimbina Biological Reserve ★ ((tel) 2761-0333; www.tirimbina.org), with a network of trails and several impressive suspension bridges, both over the river and through the forest canopy. A self-guided walk of the bridges and trails costs $17 per person, and a 2-hour guided tour costs $2 per person—definitely worth the extra few bucks. The center is open daily from 7:30am to 5pm, and from 7:30 to 9:30pm for night tours; specialized early morning bird-watching tours are also available.
On the Boardwalk
Located about 25 minutes’ drive from Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, Cinco Ceibas Rainforest Reserve & Adventure Park ★★ ((tel) 2476-0606; www.cincoceibas.com) offers up several wonderful excursions and activities in a lush rainforest setting. The main attraction here is the 1.5km elevated boardwalk through thick forest and wetlands. This boardwalk passes by several of the namesake ceiba trees, massive old-growth rainforest trees. Other activity options here include horseback riding, kayaking, and a traditional oxcart carriage ride. Several packages are offered, ranging from $40 to $125 per person, including lunch.
Rafting & Kayaking -- Aguas Bravas ((tel) 2292-2072; www.costaricaraftingvacation.com) and Aventuras del Sarapiquí ★ ((tel) 2766-6768; www.sarapiqui.com) offer wet and wild rides on a variety of sections of the Sarapiquí and Puerto Viejo rivers, ranging from Class I to Class IV. Trips cost between $56 and $95 per person. Aventuras del Sarapiquí also operates mountain-biking and horseback-riding tours in the area, and offers kayak rentals, lessons and trips for more experienced and/or daring river rats, plus inner-tube floats.
Snakes Under Glass --Just a few blocks west of the Centro Neotrópico SarapiquíS, you’ll find Jardín de Serpientes (Snake Garden; (tel) 2761-1059; daily 9am–5pm), a collection of over 50 snakes, both venomous and nonvenomous, and other reptiles and amphibians. There are also caiman and crocodiles. All are kept in clean, well-lit displays. Admission is $32 for adults and $22 for children for a guided tour. Night tours are offered with advance reservations.
Pineapple Production -- For a peek into the world of pineapple production, visit the Organic Paradise Tour ((tel) 2761-0706) in Chilamate. The farm has 33 hectares under cultivation. The 2-hour tour includes a trip through the plantation, explanations and demonstrations of the processes involved, and a sampling of the fruit. Mass pineapple production is notorious for its negative impact on the environment and workers’ rights, and these folks are an important model of a sustainable alternative. The cost is $40 per person for the tour.
Major Attractions En Route -- If you’re driving to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí via the Guápiles Highway, stop in at Rain Forest Adventures ★. You’ll see the entrance just east of the bridge over the Río Sucio. For more info, see “Side Trips from San José." Just up the road to the west is an entrance to Braulio Carillo National Park at Quebrada Gonzalez. Two sets of trails offer opportunities for bird-watching and introductions to the trees, orchids, and epiphytes of this very wet rainforest.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.