Aguas Zarcas (Blue Waters), an important agricultural town at the foot of the cordillera, 15 kilometers east of Ciudad Quesada , gets its name from the mineral hot springs that erupt from the base of the mountain. Juan Castro Blanco National Park  flanks the slopes.
The road from Ciudad Quesada continues east via Venecia (7 km east of Aguas Zarcas) to a T-junction at San Miguel, 24 kilometers east of Aguas Zarcas. The road to the right leads south to Alajuela  via Vara Blanca, nestled in the saddle of Poás and Barva Volcanoes; the road to the left leads to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí .
Two kilometers east of Venecia, a road leads two kilometers south to Recreo Verde (tel. 506/2472-2270, www.recreoverde.com , $6 adults, $4 children), a splendid centro turístico tucked riverside, deep in the thickly forested valley of the Río Toro Amarillo—a magnificent setting! Three thermal pools (and two cold-water pools) limn the river, a raging torrent to beware.
There are lush lawns with volleyball, and you can explore the “Cave of Death” with a guide, marveling at the dripstone formations. Trails lead into the forest, where there’s a canopy tour ($20 adults, $12 children).
This private zoo (tel./fax 506/2474-2202, www.zoocostarica.com , 8 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, $8 adults, $5 children), opposite the gas station three kilometers west of Aguas Zarcas, houses jaguars, tapirs, agoutis, peccaries, badgers, monkeys, and other mammal species, as well as birds from around the world. The Alfaro family has been taking in orphaned animals for three decades, and the zoo now has more than 450 species of animals and birds, many confiscated by the government from owners who lacked permits to keep them. The zoo even has two lions and successfully breeds tapirs. The zoo is nonprofit; donations are appreciated.
You can camp at Recreo Verde (tel. 506/2472-2270, www.recreoverde.com , $12 pp), which also has simple wooden cabins ($50 s/d), each with a double bed and bunks, plus private bath with hot water.
In Venecia, Hotel Torre Fuerte (tel. 506/2472-2424, http://hoteltorrefuerte.blogspot.com , $20 s, $28 d) has 12 modern, clinically clean, spacious rooms in a two-story structure. Each has furnishings of thick bamboo, ceiling fan, local TV, tile floors, and modern private bathrooms with hot water. It has a pleasant restaurant open 5:30 a.m.–10 p.m. daily.