Guápiles, 14 kilometers east of Santa Clara, is a center for the Río Frío banana region that spreads for miles to the north. It’s the largest town in the Caribbean lowlands, but there is no reason to visit.
Artist Patricia Erickson (tel./fax 506/2711-0823, patricia_erickson [at] amerisol [dot] com, by appointment only) welcomes visitors to her Gallery at Home studio on the west bank of the Río Blanco, south of the highway, six kilometers west of town. Her vibrant paintings dance with brilliant Caribbean colors, many of them portraying her trademark faceless Limonense women of color with floating limbs.
Her husband, Brian, makes fabulously creative bamboo furniture at nearby Artistry in Bamboo (tel. 506/2710-1958, www.brieri.com , 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–noon Sat.). He offers tours of his bamboo and sculpture garden by appointment ($25 for 1–2 people).
In Buenos Aires de Guápiles, Las Cusingas Jardín Botánico (Las Cusingas Botanical Garden, tel. 506/2382-5805, $12 for one-hour guided tour), two kilometers east of Guápiles and four kilometers south by dirt road (the turn is at Soda Buenos Aires; 4WD recommended), undertakes research; raises ornamentals, medicinal plants, and fruit trees; and serves to educate visitors about tropical ecology. Trails lead into tropical forest. Horseback rides are offered. Bird-watching is excellent.
Part of the Maderas Rainforest Conservancy, La Suerte Biological Field Station Lodge (tel. 506/2710-8005, in North America tel. 305/666-9932, www.maderasrfc.org ) is at La Primavera, on the banks of the Río Suerte, near the southwestern border of Barra del Colorado and 20 kilometers inland from Tortuguero National Park . There are 10 kilometers of rainforest trails open to ecotourists ($8 pp day visit, including lunch) and teaching workshops in tropical ecology, from primate behavior to herpetology. It has rustic accommodations. A bus leaves Cariari , 15 kilometers north of Guápiles, at 6:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. daily.
West of Guápiles, the Hotel y Cabinas Lomas del Toro (tel./fax 506/2710-2934, $15 s, $20 d), overlooking the Río Toro Amarillo, about two kilometers west of Guápiles, has 48 rooms with private bath. Twenty-two have cold water only and are sparsely furnished, albeit clean. Air-conditioned rooms contain modest furnishings. All rooms have a fan and cable TV. There’s a swimming pool and restaurant.
I recommend Casa Río Blanco Ecolodge (tel./fax 506/2710-4124, www.casarioblanco.com , $52 s, $74 d including breakfast), on the banks of the Río Blanco, seven kilometers west of Guápiles and one kilometer south of the bridge (and only 12 km from the Rainforest Aerial Tram ). It has two pleasant rooms in the main lodge, plus four charming wooden cabins, all with private baths with hot water, plus orthopedic mattresses.
The cabins have one screened wall open to a spacious porch so that you can look directly into the rainforest canopy and see the river bubbling away below. They’re warmly decorated with colorful spreads and pre-Columbian pottery. The Dutch owners lead bird-watching and nature hikes. The lodge is popular with bird-watchers and offers fantastic wildlife-viewing. Vegetarian meals are served.
Beyond Casa Río Blanco Ecolodge, David and Dalia Vaughan offer four-day, three-night rainforest adventures at La Danta Salvaje (tel./fax 506/2750-0012, www.ladantasalvaje.com , 4-day packages $225 pp), a 410-hectare private reserve bordering Braulio Carrillo . Accommodations are in a rustic yet cozy wooden lodge. It’s a tough slog by 4WD vehicle, then a stiff hike to the mountainside property (helicopter transfers are also offered). It charges $210 including lodging, meals, and guided hikes.
In Guápiles, the lively Hotel & Country Club Suerre (tel. 506/2713-3000, www.suerre.com , $60 s, $75 d, $120 s/d junior suite), at the east end of town, is an elegant, modern hacienda-style property with 55 spacious air-conditioned rooms appointed with hardwoods. Each has satellite TV. The hotel features an Olympic-size pool, a restaurant, two bars and a disco, and a whirlpool tub and sauna. Day guests can use the facilities for a small fee.
The handsome Restaurante Río Danta (tel. 506/2710-2626, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. daily), five kilometers west of Guápiles, serves típico lunches and has short trails leading into the adjacent private forest reserve (good for spotting poison-dart frogs).
Empresario Guápileños (tel. 506/2222-0610) buses from San José  depart the Gran Terminal del Caribe on Calle Central, Avenidas 13/15, every hour 5:30 a.m.–7 p.m. daily ($2.50). And Transportes Caribeños (tel. 506/2221-2596) buses depart the same terminal hourly 5:30 a.m.–7 p.m., bound for Limón .
Buses depart Guápiles for Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí  seven times daily.