- The Best of Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Top Spots for WIldlife
- Costa Rica’s Most Beautiful Beaches
- Costa Rica’s Best Beaches for Wildlife
- Best Surfing Beaches in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Unique Retreats & Resorts
- Surf’s Up in Costa Rica
- Off-The-Beaten-Path Eco-Adventures
- Costa Rica Family-Friendly Adventures
- Adrenaline Rush
The beauty of the Central Highlands region owes much to the juxtaposition of valley and mountain. The large, fertile central valley—sometimes called the Meseta Central (Central Plateau)—is a tectonic depression about 20 kilometers wide and 70 kilometers long. The basin is held in the cusp of verdant mountains that rise on all sides, their slopes quilted with dark green coffee and pastures as bright as fresh limes.
Volcanoes of the Cordillera Central frame the valley to the north, forming a smooth-sloped meniscus. To the south lies the massive, blunt-nosed bulk of the Cordillera Talamanca. The high peaks are generally obscured by clouds for much of the “winter” months (May–Nov.). When clear, both mountain zones offer spectacularly scenic drives, including the chance to drive to the very crest of two active volcanoes: Poás and Irazú.
The Meseta Central is really two valleys in one, divided by a low mountain ridge—the Fila de Bustamente (or Cerro de la Carpintera)—which rises immediately east of San José. West of the ridge is the larger valley of the Poás and Virilla Rivers, with flanks gradually rising from a level floor. East of the ridge the smaller Valle de Guarco (containing Cartago) is more tightly hemmed in and falls away to the east, drained by the Río Reventazón.
Almost 70 percent of the nation’s populace lives here, concentrated in the four colonial cities of San José, Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia, plus lesser urban centers that derive their livelihood from farming. Sugarcane, tobacco, and corn smother the valley floor, according to elevation and microclimate. Dairy farms rise up the slopes to more than 2,500 meters. Small coffee fincas, too, are everywhere on vale and slope. Pockets of natural vegetation remain farther up the slopes and in protected areas such as Braulio Carrillo National Park, Tapantí–Macizo de la Muerte National Park, and other havens of untamed wildlife.
Though variations exist, an invigorating and salubrious climate is universal. In the dry season, mornings are clear and the valley basks under brilliant sunshine. In the wet (“green”) season, clouds typically form over the mountains in early afternoon, bringing brief downpours. Temperatures average in the mid-20s Celsius (mid- to high 70s Fahrenheit) year-round in the valley and cool steadily as one moves into the mountains, where coniferous trees lend a distinctly alpine feel.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition