Costa Rica’s Sarapiquí region stretches around the top of Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo and west to the village of San Miguel, from where Volcán Arenal and the western lowlands are easily accessible by road. Tropical and carpeted with fruit plantations, the area bears more resemblance to the hot and dense Caribbean lowlands than the plains of the north and, despite large-scale deforestation, still shelters some of the best-preserved premontane rainforest in the country.
The largest settlement in the area, sleepy Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, attracts few visitors and is primarily a river transport hub and a place for the plantation workers to stock up on supplies, though it can make a good base for exploring the superb Estación Biológica La Selva. The region’s chief tourist attractions, however, are the rainforest lodges of Rara Avis and Selva Verde, which offer access to some of the last primary rainforest in Costa Rica.
Unsurprisingly, the region receives a lot of rain – as much as 4500mm annually, and there is no real dry season (although less rain is recorded Jan–May), so rain gear is essential. The rain also helps create a variety of white-water thrills for kayakers and rafters who flock to the area around La Virgen for runs on the Río Sarapiquí.
Until the road via Vara Blanca is repaired following the Cinchona Earthquake, the only route from San José or the Valle Central is via the Guápiles Highway through Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo, heading left at the Las Horquetas/Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí turn-off at the base of the mountain pass.