The sweeping plains of the Northern Lowlands are home to tourism, banana plantations, and many cattle ranches. Positioned north of San Jose and the Central Valley, east of Guanacaste, and west of the Caribbean coast, the Northern Lowlands are ideally situated for a detour from the beach or city. The region contains a large number of easily accessible national parks, biological stations, and wildlife refuges- haven for any outdoor lover.
Until 1957, the region remained isolated from the country's main economic and cultural center, San Jose. Not until Highway 126 connected Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui with the capital city did the region become one of Costa Rica's most vital organs. Timber harvests throughout much of the lowlands, cleared the way for it large cattle industry. However, during the rainy season, many of these areas now flood with Costa Rica's overwhelming rainfall, creating many wet swamps and marshes.
The region's geography is composed of two main flatlands: Llanuras de los Guatusos to the west and Llanura de San Carlos to the east. Two mountain ranges border the region along its southwestern perimeter: the Tilaran Mountain Range (Cordillera de Tilaran) and the Central Volcanic Mountain Range (Cordillera Volcanica Central). Both ranges snake their way from northwest to southeast, splitting the country down its middle. To the northwest, the Guanacaste Mountain Range (Cordillera de Guanacaste) divides the Northern Lowlands from the Guanacaste Providence. All three mountain ranges are dotted with volcanoes and cloud forest. Together, they surround the region and contribute to its scenic beauty. From the mountain peaks, an intricate system of rivers and streams meanders to the lowlands, where the rivers supply nutrients to lowland fertile soil.
In order to access the destinations of La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano from San Jose, head northwest through Alajuela (46 mi, 73 km) and either continue through San Ramon, or take Hwy 141, which runs through Sarchi and Ciudad Quesada. Alternatively, pass by La Paz Waterfall, traveling north from Alajuela and turning through San Miguel and Aguas Zarcas. La Fortuna is located 75 miles (120 km) from San Jose and 16 miles (25 km) from Ciudad Quesada.
Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui can be reached by taking Highway 126 north to San Miguel. Then, head northeast on Hwy 4 through La Virgen and Chilamate until you reaching a city with the Sarapiqui River (Rio Sarapiqui). Another scenic way to drive is to take Hwy 32, the Guapiles Hwy, northeast from San Jose, which will take you through the lovely Braulio Carrillo National Park (Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo).