A morning's drive from the capital brings you to the Central Cordillera, a region of picturesque mountain scenery peppered with cloud forest villages, farmland and dramatic volcanoes.
The small town of Turrialba, approached eastwards over the mountains from the Central Valley, is a popular spot for whitewater rafting on the Reventazón and Pacuare Rivers. Pacuare Lodge is a special favourite for us. Soaring above the region stands Turrialba Volcano, with hikes up its forested flanks to the summit. Nearby Guayabo NP is an archaeological site with 3000 year old ruins and some of the last pre-montane forest left in the region. The Centre for Tropical Agricultural Research, a world renowned for research into tropical crops, offers landscaped gardens and trails that also make for some easy birding.
Popular with day trippers and within close proximity to San Jose, Poás is a strombolian volcano with a vast crater. Visitors can walk right up to the crater's lip to peer down onto the hot aquamarine lake below (clouds allowing). Not far from Poas, the small mountain village of Bajos del Toro is a peaceful place to experience the true nature of the cloud forest, based either at a family run nature lodge or a more upmarket boutique hotel and spa.
Further north, Arenal is one of Costa Rica's most active volcanoes, rising in a perfectly symmetrical cone above the town of La Fortuna and its surrounding lowlands. The Arenal area is worth stopping for a night or two, there is a good selection of things to see and do from hot-springs to zip-lines and hanging bridges to hiking.
Across Arenal Lake and up a bumpy unpaved road into the mountains of the Central Highlands lies one of Costa Rica's most famous and established cloud forests, Monteverde. Set between the Monteverde and Santa Elena cloud forest reserves, Monteverde's main settlement, Santa Elena, is a lively place with a variety of eco-experiences on offer from guided walks in the cloud forest reserves to zip-lining, canopy walks, coffee estate tours and horse-riding. There are also plentiful alpine-style lodges and hotels to choose from.
Returning towards San Jose, the quiet cloud forest of Los Angeles not far from the mountain town of San Ramón provides a taster of the cloud forest habitat.