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BARVA VOLCANO

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North from the town of Heredia is Braulio Carrillo National Park, which takes in the extinct Barva and Cacho Negro volcanoes. The park was established to protect the flora and fauna along the highway to Guápiles and Limón in the Caribbean region.

Braulio Carrillo Park, which varies in altitude from 500 to 2,906 meters (9,534 feet, the peak of Barva Volcano), encompasses tropical wet forest, premontane wet forest, and montane wet forest, or cloud forest. All that "wet" means that branches are laden with orchids, bromeliads and mosses, while ferns, shrubs and much else compete with trees for floor space. On the Atlantic slope are numerous waterfalls and pools. Strong winds blow through, between the Irazú and Barva volcanoes.

Common animals in Carrillo Park include foxes, coyotes, white–faced, spider and howler monkeys, ocelots, sloths and several species of poisonous snakes. More than 500 bird species have been catalogued, including the uncommon quetzal, the long-tailed symbol of liberty whose feathers were treasured in ancient Mesoamerica. Spottings of the quetzal are usually made in the forest atop Barva.

Barva (2,906 meters) presents a different aspect from the other major volcanoes of the Central Valley, Irazú and Poás. Its peak is lower than that of its neighbors, and forested. The top is reached by a trail, so it doesn’t constitute an "attraction" for groups on tour buses. Views from the top are limited. But the cloud forest is fascinating, and with a start by car or by public transportation Barva can be visited on a day outing from San José.

The narrow road through San José de la Montaña, winding up Barva’s flanks through horse-grazing pastures and oak forest, is paved as far as Sacramento, and passable beyond with four-wheel drive. If you’ve come by car, park and lock at this point, or as far beyond Sacramento as you can go. Three kilometers beyond the end of the pavement is a ranger station at the boundary of Braulio Carrillo Park. Official hours here are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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