La Fortuna is a quiet rural town to the north-west of San José with a vibrant culture, welcoming locals and access to thermal baths and thundering waterfalls nearby. It’s also a gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park, which covers just shy of 30,000 acres of tropical and cloud forest. Navigate barren lava fields and cross the series of hanging bridges for some spectacular views before arriving at the park’s pièce de résistance – a pair of striking volcanoes. Still-active Arenal Volcano is streaked with lava flows and dotted with thermal springs at the bottom, at Tabacón. Dormant Chato Volcano has a crater lake and rainforest trails leading to La Fortuna Waterfall, a 60-metre cascade which emerges from a swathe of jungle before plunging into an emerald pool of water below – this is a great spot for a picnic, swim or selfie.
Head a little further west through the Central Highlands Region and you’ll find Monteverde, famous for its leafy and misty Cloud Forest Reserve. Take the skywalk trail across suspended bridges through the dense forest canopy full of ferns and orchids – you’ll be rewarded with some spectacular giddy views and perhaps even some other-worldly colourful birdlife, including the rare quetzal with its long tail feathers and dazzling crimson-green plumage. There’s a charming resort nearby which was founded by American Quakers in the mid-1900s; stop off after a day of hiking for attractions including birdwatching, visits to coffee plantations and a butterfly farm.