Irazú Volcano, Central ValleyTrapp Family Country Inn, near San JoséThe National Theatre, San JoséXandari Plantation Inn, Central Valley62San José and the Central ValleyThe capital of Costa Rica, the sprawling city of San José, is the focal point of the Central Valley and is ringed by jagged mountains and volcanoes. Due to earthquakes over the years, much of today's city is an assortment of crumbling colonial buildings huddled under a modern skyline. The city retains a good mix of museums that are of interest for those willing to get under the skin of the capital. However, it is the beautiful surrounding countryside of the Central Valley that entices most visitors on their arrival. This is characterised by coffee plantations and pockets of rain and cloudforest full of birdlife, butterflies and orchids. Spectacular volcanic craters await discovery too, in particular Irazú and Poás, together with superb rivers for rafting. Accommodation in San José and the Central ValleySan José and the Central Valley have numerous accommodation options, and we can help you choose those that best suit your preferences and budget. In the city itself we prefer the locally owned 33 room Don Carlos Hotel which represents excellent value or the 35 room Grano de Oro, which is the capital's finest boutique option. Many travellers decide to stay in the outskirts of the city, though, due to ease of access to the airports and the more relaxing environment of the countryside hotels, which often boast colourful gardens. We like the Trapp Family Country Inn (see right), the Alta and the Corteza Amarilla hotels for their location, ambience and great value. For a touch more luxury, the Finca Rosa Blanca and the Xandari Plantation Inn are fabulous options. Trapp Family Country Inn, near San JoséA long-term Audley favourite and conveniently located close to the international airport, the Trapp Family Country Inn is a lovely colonial style property of just eight comfortable rooms with private balconies. There is a pleasant swimming pool, lovely gardens and a good restaurant. It's excellent value for money and the location makes it ideal for the first or last night in the country. Coffee pickers, Central Valley
Turrialba VolcanoPuerto Viejo de Talamanca, Caribbean coastPacuare Lodge, near TurrialbaBlack-bellied hummingbird, Central ValleyRafting near Pacuare LodgeCaribbean coastBlack-cheeked woodpecker, TurrialbaHotel Le Caméléon, Caribbean coastwww.audleytravel.com/costarica l 01993 838 665 l Costa Rica 63TurrialbaThe Turrialba Valley is nestled against the Caribbean slopes of the Central Mountains, 60 kilometres east of San José. Regular rainfall maintains verdant forests and feeds the wild waters of the Reventazón and Pacuare rivers, which irrigate the valley to sustain plantations of sugar cane, coffee and macadamia. Visitors to Turrialba can enjoy good birdwatching opportunities and coffee plantation tours, but it is Costa Rica's most exciting white water rafting in nearby Pacuare that is the most popular reason to head here. The location means that this remains one of the quieter corners of the country while still being easily accessible from San José. It can also be visited en route to the Caribbean coast and Tortuguero National Park. Pacuare Lodge, near TurrialbaOne of Costa Rica's finest ecolodges, Pacuare Lodge is tucked away in a steep gorge, deep in rainforest covered mountains on the banks of the Pacuare River. Designed to blend into the surrounding environment, the 13 bungalows and 10 suites offer understated luxury; a lovely secluded honeymoon cabin even has a plunge pool and its own hanging bridge that leads to an observation platform. Horse riding and birdwatching can be organised from the lodge or you can simply sit back and enjoy the serene setting and perhaps a relaxing massage. Access is either via a bumpy road journey or, for a unique experience, it is possible to raft in or out.Caribbean coastCosta Rica's Caribbean coast, stretching from Puerto Limón to the Panama border, is a fascinating fusion of cultures and has a very different, more laid-back feel to the rest of the country. A combination of Jamaican, Italian and Chinese immigrants have created a region filled with tropical rhythms and brilliant colours, where the daily work of many of the local inhabitants is on the banana plantations. It is stunningly beautiful thanks to its sandy beaches, tropical palms and lush rainforest where toucans, sloths and monkeys are widely seen. This relatively quiet stretch of coastline is best visited between July and October when rainfall is lower and it is a great alternative when the Pacific side of the country experiences its rainy season. Hotel Le Caméléon, Caribbean coastOne of the best hotels in the region, Le Caméléon offers 22 air-conditioned rooms and one suite, each with a balcony or terrace and contemporary décor. The hotel is just steps away from the golden sands of Cocles Beach, a popular area for swimming and surfing. There is also a pool surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, an Italian restaurant and the Numu bar, which is a great spot for a relaxing cocktail.