by Shannon Farley

The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica counts many superb sights and attractions. You have the canals and sea turtle nesting beaches of the Tortuguero National Park, the marvelous beaches of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, the Afro-Caribbean port town of Limon, the wild beauty of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge, and the impressive Talamanca Mountains, to name a few.

Just outside of Limon, wedged up against the La Amistad International Park (“Friendship” International Park), is the Veragua Rainforest Research & Adventure Park – a not-to-be-missed attraction when visiting Costa Rica’s Caribbean area. Encompassing 1,300 hectares (3,212 acres), the Park is basically a one-stop total rainforest adventure.

Veragua Rainforest Park is set up well as a complete one-day tour for cruise ship tourists coming into the Port of Limon, intending to give the most comprehensive rainforest experience possible in a short amount of time. It’s a great place for anyone looking to experience all of the wonders of the area. There are walking trails, an aerial tram, a canopy zipline tour, a river and waterfall, a research station and many wildlife exhibits, plus a restaurant, café and souvenir shop.

The area where Veragua is located, about one hour inland from the historic port town of Limon, is breathtaking tropical rainforest with views of the seemingly endless mountains of the Talamanca Range in the La Amistad International Park. La Amistad is the largest and most remote national park in Costa Rica, with the greatest area of virgin forest, and is shared by both Costa Rica and Panama. It is nearly surrounded by other parks and reserves, making the protected area even larger. It covers 401,000 hectares (nearly 1 million acres) and is the largest nature reserve in Central America. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it is estimated that about two-thirds of all of Costa Rica’s species live here. Much of the park has never been explored due to its incredibly dense and rugged terrain.

At Veragua, it’s easy to explore these natural wonders. You can see everything from cool tropical wildlife to spectacular rainforest vegetation, and get an adrenaline buzz on the canopy zipline tour and the high-flying aerial tramMost of the Park is wheelchair accessible and is designed to be safe and simple to get around.

The Veragua Rainforest Park surrounds the Victoria River Canyon. The entrance, Welcome Center and wildlife exhibits are located on the canyon rim, along with the departure site for the aerial tram and the beginning of the canopy zipline tour. Walking/hiking trails and the waterfall are all down on the canyon floor.

In the wildlife area, sights to see are the large butterfly garden, insectariums, reptile habitat housing iguanas, lizards and snakes of Costa Rica, and the frog habitat with its interactive displays of information. One of the dynamic areas is the nocturnal frog habitat where day artificially becomes night in order to let visitors see and hear these nighttime frogs go about their normal activities. There is also a “day-time” frog area. At the Veragua Biological Research Station you can see researchers at work.

Besides being a neat way to calmly see the upper reaches of the tree canopy and spectacular aerial views, the aerial tram also is a mode of transportation at Veragua. It connects the upper section of the Park where the live exhibits are, and the canyon floor with its trails, river and waterfall. Every open tram car can seat 8 passengers. For more excitement, try going by zipline! Operated by The Original Canopy Tour Company, the tour features 12 platforms with 12 connecting cables; the highest is 150 feet off the ground. You’ll finish within walking distance of the Welcome Center.

Down on the canyon floor, you can choose from a few walking trails to explore the rainforest. There is the “Trail of the Giants,” which is a leisurely stroll through the centuries-old gigantic primary forest trees on raised wooden walkways along the Victoria River. You also can hike to the 20-meter-high (65 foot) Puma Waterfall that cascades in 2 tiers to a large pool; but be warned that there are lots of steps (about 150) to get to the falls viewing point. The last trail, aptly named the “Trail of the Brave,” takes you back up the side of the canyon to the main area.  You’ll hike from 210m (690 feet) up to 425m (1,395 feet) on a 1km (0.62 mile) trail – basically going up about 700 feet in less than a mile. It is recommended for persons in good physical condition – the views are worth it!

Veragua Rainforest Research & Adventure Park is a Costa Rican company dedicated to conservation. A quote on their website states: “Our goal is to move a region, historically devoted to hunting and the lumber industry, towards conservation as a means to development and prosperity. This process has already begun.”

Veragua Rainforest Park is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. Admission is $55 for adults and $45 for children/students; children under age 4 get in free. The admission price includes all park activities and attractions, with the exception of the canopy tour – which is an additional $34 for adults and $20 for students/children. Lunch in their restaurant is $10 per person. The Park is located 1 hour from Limon and 2 ½ hours from San José, in Brisas de Veragua, 12 km south from the Liverpool entrance on the highway to Limón.

The company also can arrange transport round-trip from San Jose or Puerto Viejo de Limon, or as well pick up in San Jose and drop off in Puerto Viejo, or vice versa. This is a good option for tourists looking to travel from San Jose to the Caribbean Coast and get a cool rainforest tour in the process.