A Nature Trip in Costa Rica
Empty nesters heading to Costa Rica are looking for bird-watching spots, beaches, the ideal butterfly farm, and a rain forest with a zip line.
"Every town seems to have a butterfly farm. How do we choose one?"
It's hard to top La Paz Waterfall Gardens, about 40 miles north of San José. In addition to a butterfly observatory, La Paz has a hummingbird garden, a serpentarium (home to snakes), a frog exhibit, a lake where visitors can fish for trout, bird-watching areas, and, of course, waterfalls (011-506/2482-2720, waterfallgardens.com, $32). Combine La Paz with a visit to nearby Doka Estate for a tour of the coffee plantation (011-506/2449-5152, dokaestate.com, $16).
"Could you recommend a beach near San José or Monteverde?"
The white-sand beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula are so pristine they look like they've been Photoshopped for postcards. At Playa Grande, you can watch endangered leatherback turtles come ashore to nest. Hotel Bula Bula, on the south end of the beach, rents kayaks and boogie boards (011-506/2653-0975, hotelbulabula.com, from $110, rentals from $10). About 40 miles south, Playa Carrillo is surrounded by cliffs and hills that protect it from winds, making the beach ideal for snorkeling and swimming. The newly remodeled Hotel Esperanza is within walking distance of Playa Carrillo and offers spa services, water sports, and horseback riding (011-506/2656-0564, hotelesperanza.com, from $88).
If you really want to get away—and don't mind a splurge—go to Tortuguero National Park, on the Caribbean coast. The park, which is accessible only by plane or boat, is famous for the green turtles that nest on the beach. The rest of the park—including rain-forest and wetland habitats—is best seen by boat. Rather than put together a piecemeal trip, book with Costa Rica Expeditions. Packages include transportation to and from San José (arrive by plane, leave by boat), lodging at Tortuga Lodge, all your meals, and boat tours (011-506/2257-0766, costaricaexpeditions.com, two-day packages from $268 per person).
"Are there any artisans we should seek out?"
Costa Rica is known for gold jewelry, ceramics made in pre-Columbian fashion, and exotic-wood products. At Esmeraldas y Diseños Dos Mil, near Parque la Sabana in San José, artisans make gold jewelry while you shop (011-506/2231-4808, esmeraldasydisenos.com). For ceramics, go to the town of Guaitíl, on the Nicoya Peninsula, where pieces are handcrafted and fired in wood kilns by family cooperatives. You'll see exotic-wood items throughout the country, but the gift boxes and bowls by artist Barry Biesanz stand out. He has his own shop, Biesanz Woodworks, in Escazú, a town about five miles outside San José (011-506/2289-4337, biesanz.com).
Costa Rican cuisine can be a bit bland. Take a cue from the locals and liven the food up with Salsa Lizano, a sauce made from chilies and pureed veggies. Addicted? Buy a few bottles to take home in any grocery store