About 10 kilometers north of San Miguel is the hamlet of La Virgen. Call in at Rancho Leona to visit the Internet café and stained-glass studio where Ken Upcraft conjures fabulous windows and other master-quality glasswork using the copper foil technique. Ken also maintains a private forest reserve on the edge of Braulio Carrillo National Park , 14 kilometers east of La Virgen.
The CoopeSarapiquí cooperative (tel. 506/2476-0215, www.coopesarapiqui.com ) offers the Mi Cafecito Coffee Tour, three kilometers north of San Miguel. It includes a hike to a waterfall.
The Snake Garden (tel. 506/2761-1059, snakegarden1 [at] costarricense [dot] co [dot] cr, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $6 adults, $5 students and children), immediately north of La Virgen, exhibits some 70 species of snakes, plus iguanas, turtles, and other reptiles.
Hacienda Pozo Azul (tel. 506/2438-2616, U.S. tel. 877/810-6903, www.haciendapozoazul.com ), at La Virgen, raises Holstein cattle and offers horseback rides (from $35), white-water trips (from $50), a canopy tour ($45), river-canyon rappelling (from $28), forest hikes (from $10), and mountain biking ($45).
Finca Corsicana (tel. 506/2761-1052, www.collinstreet.com/pages/finca_corsicana_home , 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. daily, $15) offers two-hour tours of its organic pineapple farm, at Llano Grande, seven kilometers northwest of La Virgen.
For budget travelers, Rancho Leona River Lodge (tel. 506/2761-1019, www.rancholeona.com , $12 pp) is recommended for its family coziness and delightfully funky ambience. The seven rooms, in a rambling wooden lodge, are rustic but appealing, with fans, stained-glass skylights, and solar-heated showers. Some rooms have bunks. Ken Upcraft runs the place like an offbeat clubhouse and offers kayaking trips. When you return, hop into the stone and timber riverside sweat lodge or the cooling tub.
Next door, Cabinas Tia Rosita (tel. 506/2761-1032, $15 s, $22 d) is a clean, modern place with four rooms and four spacious cabins attached to a restaurant.
Tirimbina (tel. 506/2761-0055, www.tirimbina.org , $45–63 s/d room including breakfast and tax; $20 pp field station or $43 with meals) has 15 simple yet lovely little rooms with private bathrooms, phones, and WiFi. Plus there are 10 simpler rooms with twin bunks and shared bathrooms at a remote field station with kitchen.
Cuculmeca Tent Camp (tel. 506/2761-1360, www.haciendapozoazul.com , $80 s, $92 d including breakfast), at Hacienda Pozo Azul, has 30 roomy four-person tent-suites under tarps on raised platforms in the forest. Clean, well-maintained shared bathrooms have hot water. Gosh, there’s even WiFi! The hacienda also has Magasay Jungle Lodge ($60 s, $96 d including all meals), bordering Braulio Carrillo National Park . This wooden lodge has 10 rooms with bunks, plus solar power and hot showers.
At La Quinta de Sarapiquí Lodge (tel. 506/2761-1052, www.quintasarapiqui.com , $110 s/d standard, $140 s/d junior suite), on the banks of the Río Sardinal, at Bajo de Chilamate, about three kilometers north of La Virgen and 10 kilometers west of Puerto Viejo, attractions include butterfly and frog gardens, a tree house for kids, and a botanical garden. It has 15 clinically clean, well-lit cabins with contemporary furnishings, ceiling fans, and private baths with hot water. A swimming pool and deck are suspended over the river. An open dining room and bar, a well-stocked gift store, plus a riverside trail for hikes and mountain bikes or horseback rides complete the picture.
Perfect for naturalists, Selva Verde  (tel. 506/2766-6800, www.selvaverde.com , $91 s or $108 d river lodge, $102 s or $131 d bungalow low season; $108 s or $125 d river lodge, $125 s or $154 d bungalow high season, including breakfast) has a 45-room lodge set in 20 acres of forest on the banks of the Río Sarapiquí. Thatched walkways lead between the spacious and airy hardwood cabins raised on stilts. Choose between cabins with private baths at the River Lodge and rooms with shared baths at the Creek Lodge; all units are simply furnished in pleasing pastels and have ceiling fans, two single beds, screened windows, large bathrooms with piping-hot water, and verandas slung with hammocks and rockers. Five more upscale, cozy bungalow rooms have air-conditioning and coffeemakers. There is a swimming pool. Meals are served buffet style. Selva Verde is popular with groups; book well in advance.
Sarapiquí Rainforest Lodge (tel. 506/2761-1004 or 866/581-0782, www.sarapiquis.org , $80 s/d standard, $90 deluxe low season; $95 s/d standard, $109 deluxe high season), at Centro Neotrópico Sarapiquís , is a marvelous upscale option centered on a thatched ecolodge in pleasing ochre yellow and sienna red. Each of three units has eight “deluxe” rooms shaped like pie slices arrayed in a circle around an atrium, plus there are 12 standard rooms in an adjunct. All feature ochre walls, lively fabrics, handmade furniture, natural stone floors, fans, large walk-in showers, and telephones, and all have Internet access. Eight rooms are air-conditioned. They’re delightful but, alas, lack windows. In each, a glass door opens to a wraparound veranda overlooking the gardens or river. The main lodge features the lobby, bar, gift shop, and a splendid fusion restaurant, El Sereno.
Owner David Lando Ramírez wrote me to announce “the first and only luxury rainforest villa in Sarapiquí.” And indeed, Casa de Tranquilidad (tel. 506/2761-0801 or 8346-7088, www.casadetranquilidad.com ), at La Virgen de Sarapiquí, will have discerning travelers beating a path to his door. I loved it! This mammoth hardwood villa has the perfect combo I like: tasteful contemporary styling plus a real nature-lodge feel. Wraparound windows are a major plus in both the huge lounge and vast bedroom (divided in two by a curtain). It has an open kitchen, an outdoor entertainment area, and a long, shaded balcony for bird-watching and animal-spotting at the edge of the Tirimbina Rainforest Reserve.You can rent the entire villa for $450–600.
If traveling the Varablanca–San Miguel route, make a point to stop at Soda Galería de Colibrí (7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), which is all that remains of the former village of Cinchona. The owner lost his entire family yet clings on. His simple soda serves typical Costa Rican dishes, including cuajada, homemade cheese in a tortilla wrap.
The restaurant at Selva Verde  (7 a.m.–8 p.m. daily, $10–15) is open to nonguests, so pop in for filling and tasty home-style Costa Rican cooking. The elegant El Sereno Restaurant (7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), at Centro Neotrópico Sarapiquís , offers gourmet dining.
Buses (tel. 506/2257-6859) depart the Gran Terminal Caribe in San José  10 times daily 6:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m. via Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí . The bus via Heredia  and Vara Blanca was no longer operating at press time. Buses also connect San Miguel to La Fortuna .