A road leads due north from Pital (an agricultural town about six kilometers northeast of Aguas Zarcas , turn right just north of Los Chiles ) to Laguna del Lagarto (tel. 506/2289-8163, www.lagarto-lodge-costa-rica.com ), a private reserve about 40 kilometers north of Pital via the hamlet of Boca Topada (seven km southwest of Laguna del Lagarto). A 4WD vehicle is recommended.
The reserve protects 500 hectares of virgin rainforest and bayou swamps harboring crocodiles, caimans, turtles, and poison-dart frogs, as well as ocelots, sloths, and all kinds of colorful bird species, including the rare green macaw.
There’s a butterfly garden plus forest trails for hiking and horseback rides ($20 for two hours). Four-hour boat trips on the San Carlos and San Juan Rivers cost $26 per person (minimum four people). It offers transfers from San José.
Perfect for nature lovers, the delightfully rustic Laguna del Lagarto Lodge (tel. 506/2289-8163, www.lagarto-lodge-costa-rica.com , $33 s or $44 d low season, $45 s or $60 d high season) offers 20 comfortable rooms in two buildings (18 with private baths, two with shared bath; all with hot water). Each has a large terrace with a view overlooking the San Carlos River and forest. A restaurant serves hearty Costa Rican buffet meals and arranges transfers.
Buses (tel. 506/2258-8914) for Pital depart San José  from Calle 12, Avenidas 7/9, at 7:40 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. daily; and from Ciudad Quesada  hourly 5:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m. daily. From Pital, buses run to Boca Tapada at 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily.