This region, situated in the center of the country, is home to the majority of the Costa Rican population and is the nation’s economic center. Additionally, the Central Valley is home to Costa Rica’s principal transportation hub: the Juan Santamaría International Airport.
The region’s urban development does not prevent the Central Valley from also offering a wide range of cultural and natural attractions. Even within the San José Greater Metropolitan Area, which covers less than 50 square kilometers (not quites 17 square miles), the urban landscape blends with outdoor wonders. Additionally, it is very common in the Central Valley to find small towns that offer not only great scenic beauty but also a sampling of the country’s past: Adobe mud homes, coffee haciendas, dairies, and traditional trapiches (sugar cane mills) are a window into the Costa Rica of yesteryear.
The Central Valley offers a relatively fresh and cool climate. The dry season runs from December to mid-May; the rest of the year belongs to the rainy season, which is characterized by sunny mornings and rainy afternoon.
The Central Valley is home to two regions of extraordinary beauty and vacation appeal: Turrialba and the Valle de los Santos (Valley of the Saints).
Several national parks are contained within boundaries of the Central Valley region, including Poás Volcano, Braulio Carrillo, Irazú Volcano, and Turrialba Volcano National Parks. These protected areas are home to the region’s most popular volcanoes, which offer spectacular day trip opportunities; the only exception is when signs indicate the possibility of dangerous volcanic activity.
For more urban pursuits, San José stands apart as the region’s most important city and the hub for most governmental services. However, the Central Valley’s other cities and provincial political seats – Alajuela, Heredia and Cartago – also offer a wide range of quality commercial services and visitor amenities.
In the Central Valley, visitors are invited to participate in diverse activities that combine many different themes related to local culture, adventure and nature.
The Butterfly House (Casa de Mariposas) in El Bajo de Los Rodríguez, San Ramón de Alajuela, recently opened its doors to the public. Here, visitors are welcome to watch the birth of more than 150 butterflies. Morpho butterflies are one of the garden’s most popular species. These beautiful creatures, whose wingspan can reach up to 17 centimeters (6.7 inches), display a unique set of striking metallic blue wings.
Trapiches are operated using either oxen or water power. These traditional tools have become a popular tourist attraction, and visitors arrive from around the world to sample “perico,” “sobado,” and “espumas,” or simply to understand the process of sugar cane production and to enjoy the pleasant aroma of freshly pressed sugar.
There are still many antique machines in good working condition, including those in Piedades Norte, Bajos de la Paz, San Ramón de Alajuela, San Antonio de Escazú, Jaris de Mora, and Grecia.
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A popular cave system is located in the area surrounding Patarrá, a town located in the San José suburb of Desamparados. These caverns invite visitors to learn more about fossils found on the mountain, as well as enjoy a day full of adventure.
There are also several options for observing animals in captivity, such as at the Simón Bolívar Zoo and Zoo Ave in La Garita de Alajuela.
Some municipalities, in association with the Ministry of Culture, have named a culture minister to seek out and promote talented local artists; this new position has helped increase artistic exposure and the number of local art events.
Foodies will enjoy visiting some of the Central Valley’s most prominent food communities, each offering their own local specialties. Destinations include Zarcero, Ciudad Quesada, Santa María de Dota, Aserrí, La Garita, Poasito de Alajuela, Monte de la Cruz, Pacayas de Alvarado, Santa Cruz de Turrialba, Atenas, Orosí, Grecia, El Empalme, La Trinidad, and Copey.
These destinations all offer activities with a focus on ecotourism and include gardens that are home to exotic plant species, herbariums, garden mazes, and butterfly gardens. Another important site of interest is the Butterfly Garden on the outskirts of Varablanca, which offers walking trails that link several waterfalls on the La Paz River, as well as a hummingbird garden and butterfly farm.
The institute’s facilities open to the public, including a biodiversity park, are located in Santo Domingo de Heredia. The park’s hours are from Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. For more information, please visit INBio’s website at http://www.inbio.ac.cr/es/default.html
Common wildlife along the mountain range includes tapirs, ocelots, jaguarundis, and oncillas, as well as mountain hares, goats, kinkajous, raccoons, coatimundis, and agoutis.
Talamanca’s highest peaks are Chirripó, at 3,821 meters (12,536 feet) above sea level, and Kamuk, which reaches 3,554 meters (11,660 feet) in elevation.
The celebration, which lasts a week, begins on the first Sunday in February.
According to Ulises Castillo, the event’s main advocate, for two days the streets and sidewalks become a display area for the work of 80 artists and their masterpieces.
Anecdotes abound regarding the origin of its name (Los Novios, or “The Couple”). The waterfall adorns the slopes of Mount Picacho, and its tumbling waters can be viewed from the highway to the Ujarrás Valley or from the Costa Rica Tourism Board’s Ujarrás scenic viewpoint.
The river, which flows toward the Caribbean coast, boasts lush vegetation on its shores, making a trip down the white rapids not only exciting but also picturesque. The middle part of the river supplies the largest source of water for Cachí Hydroelectric Plant.
The reserve spans 963 hectares (2,389 acres). Of the ancient traditions and customs that survive here, some of the most commonly observed are medicinal plants, musical instruments such as maracas and marimba (a type of wooden xylophone), and artisan goods, which have both a utilitarian function and are also a means of preserving the local culture.
Due to the dam’s innovative use of the Reventazón River’s waters, the dam is the first of its kind in Central America. The reinforced-concrete structure, which spans 79 meters (260 feet) tall and 186 meters (610 feet) wide, attracts both national and international tourists traveling through the Ujarrás Valley. Photography is one of the most popular activities at the dam.
Several leisure and eating establishments have arisen around the reservoir. These companies help attract visitors from Costa Rica and foreign tourists.
The monument’s figures represent the countries of Central America in pursuit of a North American invader, who is represented by William Walker and is dressed like the slaver traders of the time.
The site was declared a historic relic and is today a popular destination. It is located at Kilometer 76 on the Interamerican Highway South. Currently, the refuge house often is used as an overnight stop for groups of horseback riders.
Turrialba Volcano has recently begun a new cycle of activity, so for safety reasons, access to the park is restricted. Interested parties should inquire first regarding current conditions and volcanic activity to determine whether a visit to the national park is possible.
Turrialba Volcano National Park offers visitor services including hiking trails and several scenic lookout points.
At the summit there are two craters: the principal crater, which measures 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) wide and 300 meters (985 feet) deep; and Botos Lagoon, an inactive crater filled with cold rainwater that flows toward the Caribbean via the Rio Angel, which is a tributary of the Sarapiqui River. Currently, hot water pools in the inner core of the main crater are expelling large quantities of gas and water vapor.
The park offers amenities including an information office, park ranger station, signage, cafeteria, souvenir shop, and various scenic lookout points.
There are various geological resources contained within the park’s boundaries, among them are craters known as Principal, Playa Hermosa, and Diego de la Haya craters, as well as the Sapper formation, which is the highest point on the volcano and from which on a clear day it is possible to see both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.
This national park is located 31 kilometers (19 miles) northeast of the city of Cartago, from which a paved road provides easy access to the volcano. Regarding visitor services, the park offers an information desk, park ranger station, trails, restrooms, signage, a cafeteria, parking lot, and several scenic viewpoints.
The park’s abundant rainfall feeds many tributaries that in turn flow into the Rio Grande de Orosi. The river’s waters are utilized in the production of hydroelectric power that provides electricity to a many parts of the San Jose Metropolitan Area.
Macizo de la Muerte is home to “La Picada de Calderon,” which was declared a Costa Rican national heritage site. The trail is still used for horseback rides during certain parts of the year.
Park services in the Tapanti sector include an information office, park ranger station, trails, restrooms, potable water, signage, and scenic lookout points.
Covering more than 44,000 hectares, Braulio Carrillo National Park is one of the largest protected areas in Costa Rica. A large part of its landscape is made up of high-elevation volcanic mountains that are densely covered in oxygen-producing forest, earning it the nickname of “San José’s lung.” The park’s mountains are painted with countless great rivers running through deep canyons.
Several extinct volcanoes have been identified within the park: Chompipe, Turu, Cerro Cacho Negro, and Barva, which has several craters collectively known as the Tres Marías. Six thousand plant species have been identified at the park; this large selection accounts for half of all plant species in Costa Rica. Even more impressive, at least 50 of these plants are endemic to Braulio Carrillo, meaning they live nowhere else in the world.
Braulio Carrillo National Park provides shelter to hundreds of insect species and at least 515 species of birds, of which 28 are endemic. Reptiles, amphibians and mammals also call the park home. Several large feline species, including pumas and jaguars, have been observed at Braulio Carrillo.
Visitor services include an information area, park ranger station, trails, restrooms, potable water, signage, and several scenic viewpoints.
The archaeological site, the largest and most important yet discovered in Costa Rica, was occupied during four distinct cultural phases beginning around 1000 B.C. and lasting until 1550 A.D. Based on the type of buildings, aqueducts, roads, retaining walls, bridges, and overall size, it is estimated that 1,200 to 1,600 individuals once lived here.
The architectural complexity and extraordinary artistic design of the features and artifacts found among the ruins suggest that the site was home to individuals of high social, political, economic and religious standing.
Guayabo is located 19 kilometers (12 miles) northwest of Turrialba; however, it may also be accessed via all-terrain vehicle by way of Santa Cruz de Turrialba. Visitor services include an information area, park ranger station, trails, restrooms, potable water, signage, and several natural viewpoints.
The year’s biggest celebration is on August 1 and 2, when a large number of believers from around Central America make a pilgrimage to the Basilica. The temple was built with Italian floors that mix Roman, Arabic and Gothic styles. The church also boasts 32 stained-glass windows from Germany, each stamped with images of the Virgin Mary, the Heart of Jesus, and the 15 Stations of the Cross.
The arrangement of the building’s principal façade displays its three naves. A series of images adorns the main entryways and lateral facades. Work was finished in 1934, but the church’s date of completion is considered to be 1937, when the bells were blessed in a solemn ceremony of consecration.
Inside the church hang many works of art, including paintings, sacred images and the church’s altar. The adjacent museum houses pieces and artifacts used by the Franciscans during the period of Christian missionary work; these artifacts display certain lifestyle aspects from that era. The site was declared a National Monument in 1985.
Fue declarada reliquia histórica y hoy puede ser visitada sin problema alguno. Se localiza en el kilómetro 76 de la carretera Interamericana Sur.
Actualmente es utilizada como sitio de descanso; pernoctan en ella grupos de caballistas que realizan varias cabalgatas durante el año.
Today, it is used for a number of Cartago’s artistic and cultural activities. In 1986, the building was declared part of Costa Rica’s national heritage.
Today, the school’s facilities house a museum featuring archeological, scientific, and ethnological collections, as well as selections of colonial furniture.
Today, the ruins see constant visitors, mostly international tourists and various travel companies whose clients are interested in learning about the ruins’ history and seeing the church’s architecture, bells and colonial streets.
The Monument to Peace is also located on the university’s grounds. The monument honors the efforts of several Costa Rican leaders who worked to promote peace. The surrounding area offers ideal spots for picnics, as well as natural hiking trails that feature informative and education signage. The university is located in the community of Rodeo, 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) from Ciudad Colón. http://www.upeace.org/
For many years, the temple was a meeting place for the San José community, and the Symphonic Orchestra and Military Band gave annual concerts to usher in the New Year.
Considered the pride of Costa Rica, the National Theater is the country’s center for cultural, artistic and political activities. In 1965, it was declared a National Monument. The theater’s website, at http://www.teatronacional.go.cr/, offers a virtual tour, current schedule of event, and other helpful information.
The stone-and-mortar church was built during the second half of the 16th century by then-Governor of Costa Rica, Miguel Gómez de Lara. At that time, Franciscan missionaries lived and worked around the church in Ujarrás. In 1920, the site was declared a National Monument.
Today, the church is considered an attraction of great architectural and historical interest and is a popular stop on the Reventazón Valley circuit.
The city is home to many tourism companies that offer lodging, food, and tour services, among others. It is the transportation hub to many nearby sites of interest such as San Gerardo de Rivas and Dominical.
Turrialba’s outskirts are home to appealing rural communities such as Santa Cruz, where artisan cheese makers produce Turrialba cheese; La Suiza, and Aquiares. Turrialba is also an excellent base for adventures onto the whitewater rapids of the Reventazón and Pacuare Rivers, as well as visits to Turrialba Volcano.
Turrialba was declared a city of national archeological interest. This town, which is located in the province of Cartago, is home to two universities: the world renowned Tropical Agronomy Research and Learning Center (CATIE) and the University of Costa Rica.
Santa Ana’s proximity to the capital, as well as the towns of Escazú, San Antonio de Belén, and Alajuela, has enabled a variety of dining and lodging options, including bed and breakfasts, to flourish. The community combines agriculture, especially the cultivation of onions, with clay handicrafts.
Day trips from San Jose include admiring the lovely architecture of several buildings declared National Monuments of cultural, historical or architectural interest; these including the Post and Telegraph Building, the National Theater, the Children’s Museum, the Blue Castle, and others.
This capital city offers high-quality options for dining and accommodations. First-class hotels, bed and breakfasts, popular sodas (Costa Rican diners), typical food restaurants, as well as bars, are complemented by cultural attractions like cinemas and theaters. San José’s religious celebrations, which take place in December, are traditional events many visitors enjoy.
Puriscal is an ideal place to visit, thanks to its various attractions. The Quitirrisí Indigenous Reservation, located just before Santiago, offers handicrafts made by members of the resident ethnic group. There are also typical villages to explore, traditional food and drink to sample, tobacco plantations to visit, natural landscapes to see, and various wooden handicrafts to purchase. One or the area’s newest attractions is La Cangreja National Park, which features a variety of natural attractions, some of which are unique in the world.
The City of Flowers is also sometimes called the city of education: Heredia is home to the old facilities of the Escuela Normal de Costa Rica, the first school to train teachers. The building is now part of the National University.
Heredia offers high quality lodging options, many in the area of Belén. However, small hotels and restaurants offering traditional foods are also common.
Cartago enjoys a high level of commercial development and adequate state services. Despite historical seismic activity, which has caused considerable damage, several important architectural structures still remain.
In addition to being home to the Our Lady of the Angels Basilica – the church honoring Costa Rica’s official patron saint – Cartago is the departure hub to innumerable points of touristic and historic interest including Irazú Volcano and destinations throughout the Orosí Valley, among others.
Alajuela’s neighborhoods, such as La Garita and Turrúcares, complement the city’s offerings; here, visitors will find a wide range of gastronomic offerings, including traditional food and drink, as well as an extraordinarily pleasant climate.
The area is filled with many attractive towns, including San Pedro de Poás and San Isidro, where Lagunas de Fraijanes Park and Poás Volcano National Park are located.
Cerro Buena Vista features an interesting páramo forest where, on occasion, the temperature is known to drop below freezing. The upper part of the mountain is home to a possible sub-volcanic dome, known as Cerro Jaboncillo. The dome, which reaches an elevation of 3,000 meters (9,840 feet), is the result of lava flows during the Miocene epoch of the Neogene period.
This is a land of natural landscapes, roaring rivers such as the Grande and Candelaria, typical towns like Palmichal, beautiful coffee plantations, and sprawling orange orchards.
Historical and natural attractions include Santa María National Park, a Monument to the Fallen Heroes of the Revolution of 1948, which was declared a site of national interest; the Republic of Bolivia School, which served as troop headquarters during the revolution; and the mountains of Dota, which offer gorgeous and panoramic views of the valley below.
Due to its strategic location, the Reventazón Valley, as this region is also known, is a mandatory stop on many organized tours. The valley is considered a top-notch tourism destination, offering diverse activities such as freshwater prawn and trout fishing, boat rentals, visits to hot springs, and tours of local farms, plantations and feats of engineering. In addition, many lodging facilities have cropped up in the last few years.
Among the most popular points of interest are visits to typical restaurants, the church, and Zarcero’s main park. The park, unique in the country, is decorated with incredible topiaries carved from cypress bushes. The works of art were created by a member of the community and are considered a must-photograph location on a tour through Costa Rica.
Zarcero is an ideal stop to purchase local products including cheese tortillas, homemade bread, cheese, flowers, and handmade candies.
The kindness of the Atenas’ residents, the beautiful scenery, and the fact that it receives thousands of visitors a year are just some characteristics of this charming town.
CENAC is made up of several facilities, including the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports; the Fanal Theater, Theater 1887 (dedicated to dance), the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, and the Stone Gateway and Sundial.
The museum, which has been open to the public since 1978, displays diverse collections of visual art. On the building’s second floor, the Salón Dorado (Golden Hall) features a wooden mural depicting the country’s history from the Amerindian era through 1940. In 2009, the building underwent a partial renovation.
The museum is located in La Sabana, at the intersection of Calle 42 and Avenida Segunda. It is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more details, please see the museum’s official website at http://www.musarco.go.cr/.
The exhibition displays the function of each piece, technologies utilized, and also the relationship between nature and everyday life in these communities. The collection boasts 1,600 pieces of pre-Columbian gold; the works date from 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D.
The museum is located in the lower level of the Plaza de la Cultura, between Calle 5 and Avenida Central. The Gold Museum is open to the public everyday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For more information, please see the museum’s official website at http://www.museosdelbancocentral.org/inicio.html.
The museum also offers an interactive area to promote the collection of bill and coin, as well as a video call Passions of Paper and Silver.
The numismatic collection was begun in the 1950s and today boasts approximately 5,000 objects, among them coins, bills, coffee coupons, currency dies, documents, and photographs. The first numismatic exhibition was at the Costa Rican Central Bank in 1971 and commemorated the 150th anniversary of Costa Rica’s independence.
The Numismatic Museum adjoins the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in San José, on the eastern corner of the Plaza de la Cutura. For more information, visit the museum’s official website at http://www.museosdelbancocentral.org/contenido/articles/6/1/Informacion-General/Paacuteginas1.html.
Important cultural and scientific events are held at the museum. It is located 800 meters north of the Banco Central in San José and is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and weekends from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, please visit the museum’s website at http://www.museocr.com/.
The museums features both permanent and temporary exhibitions. Currently, the museum’s permanent collections have as their central theme archeology, national heritage, and natural history.
The National Museum is located on Calle 17 between Avenida Central and Avenida Segunda. It is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays; the museum is closed on Mondays.
For more information, please visit the museum’s website at http://www.museosdecostarica.com/images/mnacionalweb/index.htm.
The museum features a series of rooms that are distributed according to the geographic and historical contexts of García Monge’s time.
The museum is located in the San José suburb of Desamparados, five kilometers (three miles) south of the capital.
The museum is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
The museum is located in the city of Alajuela, in the old jail building. It is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. For more information, visit the museum’s website at http://www.museojuansantamaria.go.cr/.
This museum displays a collection of postage stamps that were produced in Costa Rica, as well as a recreation of an office from the 19th century, complete with equipment used during the country’s first communications.
For more information, please visit the museum’s website at http://www.correos.go.cr/filatelia/historia.html.
For more information, please visit the museum’s website at http://www.ilam.org/cr/museoculturapopular/.
The museum is located on the southwestern corner of La Sabana Metropolitan Park and is open to the public Monday to Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Since 1994, the museum has hosted more than 50 exhibitions, managed by national and international curators, and has organized important traveling displays, including the first Central American exhibition of contemporary art.
The museum is located in San José, within the Centro Nacional de Cultura (CENAC) – a complex of restored buildings. The museum is open to the public Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, please visit http://www.madc.ac.cr/mambo452/index.php/.