Upala, a city of 17,000, is a half-hour from the Nicaraguan border, though it’s two hours from the international border crossings at Peñas Blancas and Los Chiles/Las Tablillas.
Upala is little-trodden by tourists, though it’s a sizable Tico town with medical centers, small colleges, a post office, and big grocery and hardware stores. Its economy is driven mostly by agriculture and ranching, including dairy and beef farming, corn, beans, rice, pineapples, oranges, plantains and cacao.
Downtown Upala is on the banks of Zapote River, which originates at the Miravalles Volcano and empties into Lake Nicaragua. Illegal immigration from Nicaragua is something of a problem here, owing to Upala’s proximity to a long and little-patrolled border.
Upala suffered major damage during Hurricane Otto
in 2016, which forced evacuations, destroyed multiple homes and caused widespread flooding. Hurricanes very rarely land as far south as Costa Rica, but if they do, they usually strike right along the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border.