Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui Attractions
For more than half a century, the riverside community of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui was one of the largest ports in Costa Rica. Major crops like coffee and bananas were transported from the Central Valley and Caribbean slopes to the coast via the Sarapiqui River. The scenic river originates on the Deception Depression between Barva and Poas Volcanoes and flows 53 miles into the San Juan River, which continues into Nicaragua. Today, whitewater rafters and kayakers ply the river in search of thrilling Class III-V rapids. The Sarapiqui and its sister rivers, the Sardinal and Puerto Viejo, also have Class I-II sections ideal for tranquil safari floats, allowing passengers glimpses of crocodiles, monkeys and sloths along the river banks.
San Juan River
Explore the sights and sounds of the San Juan River, which snakes along the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua. Guests will discover amazing wildlife on a boat tour through this picturesque region. Day trips can be booked with one of several tour operators in town.
Biological Stations, Gardens and Wildlife Refuges:
Aguas Silvestres Butterfly Farm
Nestled among 74 acres of pristine rainforest, Aguas Silvestres has more than ten dazzling species in their butterfly breeding farm. Visitors can hike along the farm’s self-guided trails which lead to waterfalls and natural pools. With advance reservations, guests can stay overnight in the farm’s rustic cabin or camping area. The farm is located in La Virgen de Sarapiqui, roughly 15 minutes from Puerto Viejo. Telephone: 2761-1095
Hacienda Pozo Azul
A 20-minute drive from Puerto Viejo, this 2,000-acre working ranch also doubles as the region’s ultimate adventure center. From mountain biking and whitewater rafting to canopy tours and horseback rides, Pozo Azul caters to thrill-seekers of all ages and interests. Tourists seeking an adrenaline rush can rappel down the Sarapiqui River canyon or zoom 1,000 feet across the river on a zip-line canopy tour. Hacienda Pozo Azul also offers combo-tours and lodging at their unique tent camp. The grounds at Pozo Azul feature a butterfly gallery, hiking trails complete with Indiana Jones-style suspension bridges, and a frog garden where guests can get up close and personal with the vibrantly-colored strawberry poison dart frog. La Virgen de Sarapiqui. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mon-Sun. Telephone: 2438-2616.
La Selva Biological Station
Run by the nonprofit Organization for Tropical Field Studies, La Selva is an internationally-renowned working biological station that allows scientists, students and researchers to study tropical natural resources. La Selva encompasses 3,900 acres of tropical rainforest, and is bordered by parts of Braulio Carrillo National Park. The rugged landscape is home to a staggering array of biodiversity, including over 120 mammal species and around 2,000 species of plants. Visitors can arrange a day trip or overnight stay with advance reservation. Telephone: 2766-6565.
Madronos Rain Forest
Working to conserve the environment and provide eco-educational tours, Madronos Rain Forest dazzles with its beautiful grounds and wildlife. The reserve is home to rivers and rainforest that house armadillos, tree frogs, anteaters, butterflies, and coatis, among other animals. Guided tours through the forest's rustic trails offer an excellent introduction to the region's flora and fauna. Overnight accommodations are also available at Madronos Rain Forest. $15 adults, $13 students, and $11 children; open 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday-Friday. Telephone: 8324-3223 or 8851-8757.
Rara Avis Private Reserve
This remote lodge and reserve comprises 3,300 acres of high-altitude rainforest and is accessible only by horse or tractor-pulled cart. The reserve’s tractor leaves the village of Las Horquetas (a 25-minute drive from Puerto Viejo) at 9 a.m. daily, and returns at 2 p.m.; the journey takes approximately three hours. Activities include swimming under waterfalls and guided nature walks through rugged jungle, where visitors have spotted jaguars, tapirs, ocelots, and at least 367 bird species. Rara Avis hosts a variety of research and educational pursuits, ranging from local elementary students learning about the relationship between conservation and development, to field researchers surveying plant and animal life. Telephone: 2764-1111.
Snake Garden (Serpentario)
Housing 50 species of snakes, lizards and frogs, the Snake Garden exhibits a modest collection of local and exotic species. Located on the outskirts of Puerto Viejo, the serpentario features the highly venomous coral snake as well as a massive 170-pound Burmese python. Entrance fee is $8 for adults, $6 children under 12. Open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Telephone: 2761-1059.
Established in 1986, the Sarapiqui Eco-Observatory is dedicated to reforestation and habitat restoration. The 10-acre forest reserve is home to more than 215 bird species, earning it the honor of one of the region's most species-rich attractions. There are three roofed birdwatching decks, which have bird feeders to attract hummingbirds, toucans, tanagers, parrots, woodpeckers, and other feathered visitors. The observatory also offers birdwatching tours, tree planting, and night hikes. Telephone: 2761-0801.
Tirimbina Rainforest Center and Wildlife Refuge
Tirimbina, which protects more than 890 acres of rainforest, offers a variety of nature tours (including a bat program), as well as research opportunities, internships and workshops. The nonprofit center was declared a national wildlife refuge and promotes sustainable eco-tourism with its educational tours and programs. The center also boasts one of the largest suspension bridges in Costa Rica, spanning 860 feet from the Sarapiqui River into the reserve entrance. Visitors can stay at Tirimbina’s onsite lodge or get a little closer to nature in one of their rustic field station buildings. Telephone: 2761-0055
Sarapiqui Conservation Learning Center
The Sarapiqui Conservation Learning Center, located next to Selva Verde Lodge, strives to promote community development and sustainable tourism in the region. With the help of volunteers, the nonprofit center teaches English and environmental education to community groups of all ages. The center also supports reforestation programs that work with small landowners and schools. Visitors can also sign up for cooking, art and Latin dance classes. Telephone: 2766-6482
Museums and Archeological Parks:
Centro Neotropico Sarapiquis
A combination of eco-lodge, museum, archeological park, education center and botanical gardens, the center’s mission is to integrate education, conservation and scientific research. The museum narrates the history of the rainforest and humanity’s interaction with it through a combination of videos and exhibits, focusing on the plight of Costa Rica’s indigenous tribes. Beautiful pottery, musical instruments and other indigenous artifacts are on display. Next door, the Alma Ata Archeological Park has petroglyph reproductions, ancient stone sculptures and a Pre-Columbian burial field providing insight into 15th century life in Costa Rica. (La Virgen de Sarapiqui. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon-Sun. $5 archaeological park, $8 museum for self-guided tours. 2761-1004.)
A tour de force in tropical gardening, Heliconia Island is situated 15 minutes south of Puerto Viejo. The five-acre island is verdant with more than 70 species of heliconia, as well as gingers, bromeliads and ornamental plants. The island was created by a split in the Puerto Viejo River and is only accessible via a wooden footbridge. Visitors can arrange a garden tour or stay overnight in the bed and breakfast. (Between Las Horquetas and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. 2764-5220.)