The Sarapiqui region in Costa Rica’s Northern Zone represents the contradictory nature of Costa Rica’s land and history. Costa Rica is famous for its national parks, nature preserves, and virgin rain forests. And yet, much of the virgin forest surround Costa Rica’s national parks was slashed and burned to make way for commercial plantations.
Today, the Sarapiqui region offers a clear view of both extremes, and is worth exploring for that reason alone.
Costa Rica’s Sarapiqui region offers more than a symbolic tour of contradictory vistas, however. Named for the river that drains the area, the Sarapiqui region nestles at the base of the Cordillera Central mountain range.
On the western side of the Sarapiqui region is Braulio Carillo National Park. To the east, Tortuguera National Park and Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge form the opposite boundary, and also, some of the best sport fishing in Costa Rica and the world.
In between these parks are acres and acres of banana, pineapple, and palm plantations—beautiful in their own way and definitely a major part of Costa Rican life and culture.
The Sarapiqui region is a scenic, easy drive from San Jose and makes a good day trip. For those who would rather ride, buses leave every hour on the hour for Sarapiqui from 6 in the morning through 6 in the even daily.
Catch the bus from the Gran Terminal del Caribe on Calle Central, just one block north of Avenida 11. By bus the journey takes from two to four hours depending on the route, and the fare is just $2.50 USD.
The Centro Neotropico Sarapiqui is midway through a long process of creating one of the most unique and fascinating national history attractions in Costa Rica. The preserved area, called the Alma Ata Archaeological Park contains an ongoing dig or a pre-Columbian gravesite.
So far, a variety of petroglyphs, some jewelry and pottery shards, and twelve graves have been unearthed. A small museum displays tools, clothing, and carvings, offering a rare glimpse of the culture indigenous to Sarapiqui before modern settlement, clear-cutting, and commercial farming, and the restaurant at the on site hotel makes an appealing, affordable lunch stop.
Across the street from the Alma Alta Archaeological Park are the Chester Field Biological Gardens, which feature carefully tended examples of local medicinal plants, ornamentals, and food crops. A ticket to both the Archaeological Park and the Biological Gardens runs just $19.
Just across the river from the Centro Neotropico lies the 741-acre private Tirimbina Biological Reserve. A two-hour guided tour costs just $15 and takes you over several breathtaking suspension bridges that span the river and the forest canopy, as well as through a network of winding small trails that snake around the Reserve.
If you are enjoying the Sarapiqui region as a day trip from San Jose, you’ll most likely be tired enough to head home after these adventures. If the region catches your interest though—and don’t be surprised if it does—you’ll want to stay on and explore further.
Whatever your itinerary or plans, you’ll be glad you included Sarapiqui. The Sarapiqui region may not be the Northern Zone’s star tourist attraction, but that is exactly why it is more than worth the trip.