The Slopes of Barva Volcano
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Half a kilometer north of Barva, the road forks. The left fork leads via the village of Birrí to Vara Blanca on the ridge of the Continental Divide. In Birrí, a road to the right at Restaurante Las Delicias leads east steeply uphill to the hamlet of Porrosatí (also known as Paso Llano), a true alpine setting where the air is decidedly chilly.
The area below Porrosatí is known for its mountain resorts in the midst of pine forests. (The right fork at the Y-junction north of Barva also leads uphill to Porrosatí, via San José de la Montaña.)
At Porrosatí, a turnoff to the left leads via the hamlet of Sacramento to the Braulio Carrillo National Park ranger station. The Canopy Adventure (tel. 506/2266-0782, www.canopycr.com), one kilometer below Porrosatí, has 13 platforms with zip lines ($40 adults, $30 children). The longest run is 200 meters! Prefer to keep your feet on the ground? There are also trails, and two- to eight-hour guided hikes.
Centro Turístico Monte de la Cruz
Two kilometers northeast of Heredia, and two east of Barva, lies San Rafael, on the lower slopes of Volcán Barva. A medieval stonemason would be proud of the town’s Gothic church, with its buttresses and magnificent stained-glass windows.
North of San Rafael, the road begins a progressive ascent, the temperatures begin to drop, and hints of the Swiss Tyrol begin to appear, with pine and cedar forests and emerald-green pastures grazed by dairy cattle. Remnants of ancient oaks and other primary forests carpet the higher reaches.
Ticos flock on weekends and holidays to a series of recreation areas, the largest and most popular being the upscale Club Campestre El Castillo (El Castillo Country Club, tel. 506/2267-7111, www.castillocountryclub.com, $15). You need a passport.
At a Y-fork two kilometers north of El Castillo, head right to Monte de la Cruz Reserve (8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat.–Sun.). This 15-hectare private forest reserve, eight kilometers north of San Rafael, offers trails through pine forest and cloud forest great for spotting quetzals. It is often cloudy and usually cool, if not cold and wet.
The road—climbing steeply and deteriorating steadily—continues seven kilometers to the 69-hectare Cerro Dantas Wildlife Refuge (Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cerro Dantas, tel. 506/2274-1997, www.cerrodantas.co.cr), part of Braulio Carrillo National Park, and known for its tapirs. Here, the Cerro Dantas Ecological Center offers environmental study and education programs. There are trails great for bird-watching and wildlife-viewing. The rugged track is daunting, and a 4WD vehicle is essential.
The fork to the left north of El Castillo leads to the Parque Residencial del Monte, an exclusive residential area with the Hotel Chalet Tirol within the 15-hectare private Tirol Cloud Forest on the upper reaches of Barva. Horseback rides cost $50, by reservation.
The Toucan Rescue Ranch
En route to Braulio Carrillo National Park? Then divert west off Highway 32 to San Isidro de Heredia to visit this licensed wild-animal rescue facility (tel. 506/2268-4041, www.toucanrescueranch.com, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, by donation), at San Isidro de Heredia, where Lesia (a gringa) and Jorge (Tico) welcome visitors. This is a chance to see toucans, macaws, sloths, and other creatures in a farm-like setting. You can even stay at the charming colonial-era quinta (farm) with its red-tile rooms ($85 s/d, including breakfast).
The Costa Rica Music Festival (www.costaricamusic.com) is hosted at Hotel Chalet Tirol (tel. 506/2267-6222, www.hotelchaleteltirol.com) each July and August in the Salzburg Café Concert Dinner Theater, which looks like a set for The Sound of Music. The hotel offers other events throughout the year.
Buses depart Heredia for San José de la Montaña, Porrosatí, and Sacramento from Calle 1, Avenidas Central/2 at 5:25 a.m., 6:25 a.m., noon, and 4 p.m. Monday–Friday (6:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 4 p.m. Sat.–Sun.). Buses from Porrosatí depart at 7:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 5 p.m. daily.
Buses for San Rafael depart Heredia from the Mercado Central hourly 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily. Buses to El Castillo and Bosque de la Hoja depart Heredia from the Mercado Central hourly 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily. For Monte de la Cruz, take a bus departing at 9 a.m., noon, or 4 p.m. daily.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition