Guanacaste, the Coastal Plain among Costa Rica Provinces
Named for the eponymous guanacaste tree, the national tree of Costa Rica, Guanacaste Province is located in the extreme northwestern corner of the nation, along the Pacific coast. Inland, the province features a high range of quiescent volcanoes, while further towards the coast, the land drops into a plain which ends in beaches and mangrove swamps along the edge of the sea.
Since the Trade Winds blow from the east, and Guanacaste lies in the rain shadow of the central cordillera, dry tropical forest and grassland are the main vegetation types in this area. Ecotourists enjoy a variety of activities here, ranging from hiking in the volcanic mountain range in the east of the province (which affords some spectacular views as well) to lounging on the beach.
The province is warm and many flowers bloom in the dry forest from November through April, making this a popular vacation destination for those escaping the bitter embrace of the northern hemisphere winter.
The Breadbasket of Costa Rica Provinces – Alajuela
Alajuela Province is located in the north of the country, just east of Guanacaste Province. The area is quite developed with agriculture, and produces many foodstuffs both for Costa Rica itself and for exports. Just because some of its area is used for agriculture, however, does not mean that it is lacking in attractions both for the casual vacationer and the avid ecotourist.
Alajuela Province houses a number of national parks, many of them centered around the volcanoes which punctuate the landscape with their towering, conical shapes. Surrounded by rain forest and cloud forest, with elfin forest at higher altitude where metallic-feathered volcano hummingbirds can be seen buzzing from blossom to blossom, these fiery mountains offer considerable opportunities for nature hikes as well as the chance to enjoy some amazing vistas. You can also find snowy, spectacular tropical waterfalls here and there upon the volcanoes’ flanks.
Visiting the town of La Fortuna, in the shadow of the mighty Arenal Volcano, is an unforgettable experience. By day, you can enjoy the hot springs, while at night you can watch orange rivers of lava creep down the slopes of the vast cone, accompanied by rumbles and growls of subterranean thunder.
Lush Jungles and Waterfalls in Heredia, Smallest of Costa Rica Provinces
Tucked neatly between Alajuela and Limon provinces, Heredia is a province distinguished by its dense, refreshing growth of tropical rain forest. Birds, butterflies, flowers, and gleaming masses of green foliage are packed densely into this region, and larger creatures such as tapirs and mountain lions are also visible at times here. Queztal sightings are also reported here from time to time – although these spectacular birds are shy, you may be fortunate enough to see one while visiting.
Many rivers cross Heredia Province on their way down to the shores of the Caribbean, and given the rugged terrain to be found in most of the province, there are dozens if not hundreds of waterfalls for you to discover and enjoy. This area is favored by ecotourists who prefer a quieter, more tranquil setting for their vacation, amid the lush fronds of the well watered rainforest of Costa Rica.
Puntarenas, One of Two Pacific Coastal Costa Rica Provinces
Puntarenas Province stretches in a narrow strip along the whole Pacific coast of Costa Rica, from the southern edge of Guanacaste Province to the southern border of the nation. The northern sections of this province are noted for their beaches, but you can also find plenty to do inland, where there are forested mountains teeming with wildlife, and whitewater rapids descending to the ocean which are used for whitewater rafting and similar exciting sports.
Surfing is a popular pastime in Puntarenas, though you must beware of the rip currents which can endanger incautious swimmers. Coastal rainforests and mangrove forests are also found in this region, suitable for touring on foot and in a boat or kayak respectively. The beaches in the south are quieter than those in the north of the province, and are suitable for contemplative retreats, such as those sought by practitioners of yoga.
San Jose Province, Capital of the Costa Rica Provinces
Densely populated and located in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, San Jose Province houses the nation’s capital, also named San Jose, as well as close to half of the country’s total population. This is the place to go if you want to add the pleasures of the city to those of untrammeled nature. Mild temperatures are stable throughout the year, making it seem as though San Jose Province basks in a perpetual spring.
Although much of the province is either paved over by the city or given over to coffee growing, there are also some spectacular national parks very close to the city, including those where you can see everything from the brilliant scarlet macaws to ocelots, alligators, sloths, and troupes of playful monkeys. San Jose Province is a good introduction to the nation for those visiting it for the first time, with its juxtaposition of modern amenities and spectacular natural treasures.
Cartago Province, a Mountainous and Historic Member of the Costa Rica Provinces
Cartago Province is located east of San Jose Province and west of Limon Province, and is another location featuring the pleasant highland weather of the nation’s heart. Old Spanish ruins and a variety of picturesque villages are among the attractions to be found in this region of Costa Rica, as well as some forested national parks teeming with the usual overflowing cornucopia of fascinating animal and plant life.
Hikers are challenged by the ascent of the volcano Irazu, while soaring Chirripo offers an even more vigorous experience, as well as amazing views from the summit on a clear day. Chirripo is also the centerpiece of a national park which features a large area of “paramo”, a highly distinctive, currently rare habitat marked by an immensely diverse mix of shrubs, dwarf trees, and rosettes.
Most Caribbean of Costa Rica Provinces: Limon Province
Lying along the east coast of the nation, Limon Province is a thickly rainforest-covered region of Costa Rica with the highest rainfall of this very wet nation. The province is home to the country’s population of Afro-Costa Ricans, who speak both Spanish and a patois of English. The culture is Caribbean in character, as is the music and the celebrations you can participate in.
Limon Province offers many different possibilities for the visitor. There are long beaches along the Caribbean, though coastal mangroves are far less frequent than on the Pacific coast for those who enjoy exploring such forests. The thick inland rainforest is bursting with colorful tropical life just waiting to be discovered. And more of Costa Rica’s numerous mountains are found south of Puerta Limon, beckoning to hikers who want to ascend both for the exercise and for the vistas of sea, jungle, and sky – the very image of Costa Rica’s soul.