From Sarchí , at a turnoff 100 meters east of the Río Trojas, a road climbs north up the mountain slopes via Luisa and Ángeles to the saddle between Poás and Platanar Volcanoes before dropping sharply to Bajos del Toro, a tranquil Shangri-la hamlet at the head of the valley of the Río Toro.
The route is incredibly scenic, and at times daunting, as you weave along a road that clings precariously to the face of the often cloud-shrouded mountains. An alternative route is the road that begins by the church in Zarcero; it’s a 30-minute often-foggy drive with a dauntingly steep switchback.
The 400-hectare Bosque de Paz Rain/Cloud Forest Biological Reserve (tel. 506/2234-6676, www.bosquedepaz.com ), accessed via a reclusive valley west of Bajos del Toro, boasts 22 kilometers of hiking trails leading to waterfalls, a botanical garden, hummingbird gardens, and lookout points. The forests are replete with exotic wildlife, including howler, capuchin, and spider monkeys, as well as cats and—according to the owner—more bird species than anywhere else in the nation.
Bajos del Toro is also gateway to Parque Nacional Juan Castro Blanco (tel. 506/2460-5462 ranger station). Part of the Arenal Conservation Area, the 14,453-hectare park protects forested slopes of the Cordillera de Tilarán extending from 700 meters elevation to 2,267 meters. At its heart is still-active Volcán Platanar (2,183 m). It is replete with wildlife, including Baird’s tapir, and the resplendent quetzal at upper elevations. At last visit it had no tourist facilities. The entrance is two kilometers north of the plaza in Bajas del Toro.
If butterflies excite you, visit El Remanso de las Mariposas (tel. 506/2241-5840), a butterfly garden at the north end of the hamlet.
About seven kilometers north of Bajos del Toro is a 200-meter waterfall—Catarata del Toro (tel. 506/2761-0861, www.catarata-del-toro.com ). Trails lead to the cascade, the bottom of which is reached by a 500-step staircase. Rappelling and guided hikes are available. Entrance costs $35, including lunch ($79 with transportation).
There are several simple cabinas in the hamlet, including Bajos del Toro Hotel (tel. 506/2761-0284), with rooms in a modern two-story block. Catarata del Toro (tel. 506/2761-0861, www.catarata-del-toro.com , $50–60 s/d) has irresistibly charming rustic log cabins plus a restaurant (7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily).
Bosque de Paz (tel. 506/2234-6676, www.bosquedepaz.com , $147 s or $228 d standard, $125 pp superior, $150 pp junior suite, all-inclusive) has a rustic stone and log lodge with a handsome restaurant serving típico food, plus 12 cozy rooms with wrought-iron beds, terra-cotta floors, and private baths with hot water. A one-day excursion from San José  for an additional fee includes lunch. Reservations are required.
The supremely relaxing El Silencio Lodge & Spa (tel. 506/2761-0301, fax 506/2232-2183, www.elsilenciolodge.com , $365 s or $420 d low season, $385 s or $480 d high season) has a gorgeous 21st-century aesthetic. Combining eco-sensitivity with world-class accommodations, this first-rate hotel operates on an all-inclusive principle and has spacious bungalows perched on the forested slopes: All have gleaming hardwood floors, peaked rattan ceilings, soothing white and beige color schemes, cast-iron hearths, divinely comfortable king-size beds with down duvets, and a wall of glass that slides open to put you closer to Mother Nature. Travertine-clad bathrooms have huge walk-in showers, and there are whirlpool tubs on the wooden decks (which, alas, lack privacy).
Thoughtful extras range from fluffy robes and slippers to umbrellas and a fully stocked fridge on the house. A gas stove kicks on automatically at night to keep things cozy. The luxurious, domed Zen-like spa in the forest is like something out of Star Trek and has an open-air yoga dojo, while the elegant restaurant (open to nonguests at the management’s discretion), serving healthy gourmet meals, has walls of glass on three sides. I was served by the fireplace in a comfy leather chair while listening to Andrea Bocelli, Sibelius’s Finlandia, and jazz. My dinner of choice: cream of pumpkin soup and pan-grilled trout with green rice, almonds, and orange-rum sauce. All this comes at a price!
Buses run from Sarchí  (3 p.m., $1.50, one hour) and Jeep-taxis run from both Sarchí and Zarcero.