San Ramón, about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) due west of Naranjo and one kilometer (0.6 miles) north of Highway 1, is a gateway to the northern lowlands via a mountain road that crests the cordillera, then begins a long sinuous descent to La Tigra.
This agricultural and university town is known for its Saturday feria del agricultor (farmers market). The impressive Parroquia de San Ramón Noñato church on the main square is built of steel manufactured by the Krupp armament factory in Germany. It has a beautiful colonial tile floor and stained-glass windows. The San Ramón Museum (tel. 506/2437-7137, 9am-5pm Tues.-Sat., free) on the north side of the plaza, concentrates on local art exhibits; one room is dedicated to natural history. Curious to see a human embryo pickled in formaldehyde? It has one.
Nectandra Cloud Forest Garden
Nature lovers will thrill to hiking the trails at Nectandra Cloud Forest Garden (tel./fax 506/2445-4642, 7am-5pm Tues.-Sun., $60, includes guided tour, deposit required), 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) north of San Ramón. It’s surrounded by 104 hectares (257 acres) of forest reserve where quetzals can be seen while hiking its eight kilometers (5 miles) of superbly maintained trails. It has a visitors center and a café. Reservations are required.
The San Lorenzo Canopy Tour (tel. 506/2447-9331), 32 kilometers (20 miles) north of San Ramón, has two zip-line options: The first features 13 platforms, eight cables, and two hanging bridges spanning two guided trails; or you can take the Adventure Cable Tour by zip line using six cables, the longest 850 meters (2,800 feet). The latter has two parallel cables, so you can race your best friend. Each costs $35 for 90 minutes, or $55 for both. There’s also a canyoneering option involving a waterfall rappel ($50), plus an option to fly like Superman in a harness, guided hiking, river rafting, and a night tour.
Where to Stay
Years ago I offered a ride to Habitat for Humanity volunteers Christopher Panzer and his Peruvian wife, Luisa. “You also signed a copy of my dog-eared Moon Handbook,” he reminded me by email. The couple now operates a splendid B&B: Set on a hilltop with sensational views a few kilometers northeast of town, Casa Amanecer Bed & Breakfast (tel. 506/2445-2100, $65 s, $75 d) is a family-friendly and holistic place. Constructed of teak with glazed concrete in minimalist style, its four colorful rooms are adorned with Latin American ethnic art. All rooms have spacious walk-in showers and covered verandas with rockers for enjoying the views. Vegetarian meals are served, massages are offered, and the lounge doubles as an art gallery. Guests are made to feel like family friends.
Villablanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve (tel. 506/2461-3800, low season from $170 s/d, high season from $189 s/d) sits atop the Continental Divide on the edge of the Los Ángeles reserve. The main lodge, once a colonial farmhouse, now boasts a hip contemporary face-lift. The 35 cozy chalets, which sleep 2 to 6 people, some wheelchair-accessible, are appointed with handmade hardwood pieces, small fireplaces, and both a bathtub and huge walk-in shower and (in suites) separate whirlpool tubs big enough for a Playboy party.
The full-service spa is welcome after a day of hiking or horseback riding. The bar-lounge, with two huge hearths, flat-screen TVs, and plump leather sofas, is inviting, and there’s even a surround-sound movie theater (a nature documentary is shown at 6pm daily, followed by a top movie at 8pm). This hotel prides itself on having earned five “leaves” in the Certification for Sustainable Tourism program. The hotel’s El Sendero Restaurant serves gourmet Latin American fare in a classy ambience recalling the hotel’s farm heritage.
Getting There and Around
Buses (tel. 506/2222-0064) for San Ramón depart San José ($1.60) every 45 minutes 5:50am-10pm daily from Calle 16, Avenidas 10/12. Taxis operate from the main plaza, or call Taxis San Ramón (tel. 506/2445-5966 or 506/2445-5110).
Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.