Costa Rica's Quirky Gems
By Chris McBeath
1. San Lucas Island
This one-time penal island – Costa Rica's Alcatraz - has been transformed into a national wildlife refuge where howler monkeys, snakes, deer, pheasants and at least eight species of bats, are as abundant its marine life. Against such beauty, though, is a cruel history. First when the Spanish conquistadors imprisoned and slaughtered hundreds of the local Chara people on their sacred burial grounds; then as a brutal prison where incarceration was a virtual death sentence. Remnants of the buildings including cells embellished with graffiti, the church, and infirmary make for an evocative tour.
2. Finca Sanatoria Duran With its pastoral location on the Cartago mountainside, en route to the Irazu Volcano, it's hard to believe this is the country's most haunted building. Most people mistake this former hospital, for mental and tuberculosis patients, for a farm. Since closing in the 1960s, the complex has lain abandoned and only recently has it become a visitor attraction. Today, you can wander the property and its rather spooky, derelict buildings with their barred windows, and feel its sudden cold breezes, even on a hot, sunny day. The hallway full of children's handprints is especially eerie.
5. Overnight in a Cave Trekking to the Diamante Waterfalls is a play 'n stay adventure bar none. Like many waterfalls in Costa Rica, they are on private property and a local guide is essential. Getting there is a strenuous, 3-hour hike up on loose gravel, slippery clay and earthen stairs so is not a trip for neophytes. On the way, you'll learn about medicinal plants, snack on termites, and enjoy a meal of sweet lemons, native bananas, and a host of other jungle bounty. The star attraction lies behind two, twin, 26-metre waterfalls. The cave outfitted with a kitchen, elevated sleeping platforms and even bathrooms.
7. Tortuguero Island Accessible only by plane or boat, this beautiful island has the country's most unique wildlife. It also has one of the world's foremost turtle nesting beaches for the endangered Green Sea Turtles as well as Leatherback, Loggerhead and Hawksbill turtles. Since most arrive at night – and it's an amazing spectacle to behold, beach access after 6pm is only permitted with an official guide. Although you can see individual turtles year round, the Green Sea and Hawksbill turtle's nesting season runs July to October (peaking in August), and Leatherback turtles nest from February to April.
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