Central Valley

normal imageThis 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.

Activities

In the Central Valley, visitors are invited to participate in diverse activities that combine many different themes related to local culture, adventure and nature.

Butterfly Farms and Serpentariums
The Central Valley brims with many private parks and sites that tourists can visit to learn more about Costa Rica’s butterflies, natural history, and snake species. Several options are located in San José, Alajuela, Heredia and Turrialba.

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.

Visits to Trapiches, or Sugar Mills
The trapiche, a traditional sugar cane press, is part of a long national history related to the fabrication of products derived from sugar cane. Most trapiche tours are located in rural areas, where families still utilize the basic machines to process their sugar cane crops.

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.

Photography
Thanks to an abundance of cultural events, architecture, and natural beauty, photography is one of the Central Valley’s most enjoyable activities. The region’s variety and richness of flora and fauna, waterfalls, rivers, volcanoes, dairy farms, coffee plantations, and sugar cane haciendas provide the ideal subject material for incredible photos.
Historical and Architecural Sightseeing
The Central Valley is home to a variety of buildings and areas that have been declared national monuments or sites of architectural and historical interest. These destinations offer excellent day trips for those interested in understanding more about Costa Rica’s cultural heritage and national traditions.
Nature and Wildlife Watching
Nature tours and wildlife watching are popular in certain protected areas and national parks including Braulio Carrillo National Park, Poás Volcano National Park, and Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte National Park. These large refuges are complemented by smaller parks including the Lankester Botanical Garden, Simón Bolívar Zoo, Santa Ana National Zoological Center, and the Zoo Ave in La Garita de Alajuela. These parks offer varied ecosystems and resident fauna, making them excellent destinations for nature and wildlife observation.

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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.

Birdwatching
The Central Valley is home to several different areas ideal for bird watching. Among the best are Copey de Dota, the Cerro de la Muerte, the lands surrounding the Interamerican Highway South, the El Rodeo Protected Zone, the lands surrounding the University for Peace, Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte National Park, Paraíso de Cartago, and the high elevation zones near Coronado.

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.

Art Galleries
The number of art galleries in the Central Valley has increased in recent years, and today there are many options from which to choose. Exhibitions, some permanent and others temporary, are held at dedicated art galleries and also at important commercial centers or in culture centers located in almost every city and provincial capital.

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.

Cuisine
The Central Valley prides itself on its gastronomic variety, and there’s always something for everyone. From international cuisine to Costa Rican typical dishes, and from five-star restaurants to small diamonds-in-the-rough, Costa Rica’s commercial centers and home kitchens whip up a delicious selection of mouthwatering goods.

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.

Shopping
In recent years, new and varied cultural centers have sprung up around the Central Valley. Of interest to those looking to purchase local goods or souvenirs are complexes in Curridabat, Zapote, downtown Alajuela, Escazú, and Heredia.
Recreational Biking
This region of Costa Rica is ideal for combining the geographical diversity of valleys and mountains. Here, picturesque trails, ideal for taking long bike rides, wind through green valleys and cool mountains. Other areas ripe for adventure are the roads between San Antonio de Escazú and the University for Peace; from Turrialba to La Suiza; and from the Cañon de Guarco to Copey de Dota, among others.
Hiking
There is no limit to the diverse hiking opportunities offered in the Central Valley. From easy strolls through historic, architectural, cultural, religious and commercial points of interest to challenging hikes and natural attractions, this region offers picturesque and interesting opportunities for every visitor.
Horseback Riding
Outside of the Central Valley’s urban areas, in the region’s rural zone, horseback riding is a very popular pastime. Here, tourists are welcome to take trail rides in the communities of Turrialba, Santa María de Dota, Atenas, Zarcero, San Ramón, Palmares, and high-altitude areas of Cartago, Heredia, Alajuela, as well as in the southern and western parts of San José such as Escazú, Santa Ana, and Ciudad Colón, among others.
Treetop and Canopy Adventures
Several companies and organizations in the Central Valley have developed facilities for visitors to enjoy adventure activities along nature trails and through the forest canopy. Among the area’s most popular are INBio in Santo Domingo de Heredia, the Central American Livestock Farming School in Balsa de Atenas, and the Turu Ba Ri Tropical Park in Turrubares.

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.

Language Learning
As a complement to the region’s diverse activities, several language schools offer Spanish and other language classes. Classes are offered at many of the Central Valley’s public and private universities, as well as at smaller schools and travel agencies dedicated to language learning tourism. Schools are located throughout the region including town such as San Isidro de Coronodo, Ciudad Colón, and Paraíso.
Museum Visits
Costa Rica’s most culturally diverse and historically rich museums are found in the Central Valley. Among them, the National Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, the Children’s Museum, the Museum of Costa Rican Art, the Gold Museum, the Museum of Popular Culture, the Juan Santamaría Museum (honoring a national hero), the Museum of Orosí, the Entomological Museum, the La Salle Museum, and the Jade Museum.
Rural Tourism Activities and Services
With respect to rural tourism in the Central Valley, there is a wide range of attractions and offerings. The following are some destinations and details on the services and activities offered there:

    • La Cangreja Refuge, in Puriscal: Located one kilometer (less than ½ mile) south of the community of Mastatal, the refuge offers hikes along natural trails, sugar mill tours, horseback rides to the El Rey Waterfall and Cerro la Cangreja, tobacco tours, or visits to the local Quitirrisí Indgenous Reserve.
    • San José Rural Refuge: Located 3 kilometers (1.85 miles) east of the Palmichal de Acosta Elementary School, the refuge offers tours through its 42-hectare (104-acre) reserve, visits to the local coffee coop, bike tours, and visits to the nearby Quitirrisí Indigenous Reserve.
    • Located 15 kilometers (9 miles) northeast of San Ramón, in the settlement of Bajo la Paz, sits the Bajo la Paz Student Refuge, which promotes nature tourism and experiences in rural life. Activities at the refuge include hiking through primary and secondary forest, horseback riding to Cerro las Placas, trout fishing, waterfall tours, and visits to traditional sugar mills.
    • La Flor de Paraíso Agro-Ecological Farm and Language School: Located in the community of La Flor, in Paraíso de Cartago, this destination offers a range of activities including hikes through the property, interactions with farm animals, organic plant tours, visits to a forest in regeneration, tours of a local artisan shop, sugar mill visits, and walks through the onsite botanical garden.
    • Copal Refuge: Located 6 kilometers (3.75 miles) from Humo de Pejibaye, Jimenez, this refuge can only be reached using an all-terrain vehicle (ATV or 4×4). Here, visitors enjoy hiking along forest trails, horseback rides, birdwatching, visits to sugar mill, and oxcart rides.
Observation of Cultural Activities
Throughout the year, several events, many linked to certain communities, celebrate the historical, religious, sport, civic, and artistic aspects of local life. Some events are staged to collect funds for community development.

Attractions

INBIO (National Institute of Biodiversity
This institute, which was founded in 1989, was created to support research efforts in the fields of biological diversity and to promote the sustainable use of Costa Rica’s natural resources. INBio believes that the best way to conserve biodiversity is to study it, value it, and make use of the opportunities it provides to improve human quality of life.

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

Talamanca Mountain Range
Formed from tertiary sedimentary marine rock, plutonic rock, and volcanic domes from the Miocene epoch of the Neogene period, this mountain range runs on a northwest-southeast axis. Oak forests cover some areas, with other noteworthy species including magnolia, cacho de venado, and pagoda. Bare plains and mountain páramo also exist. Predominant vegetation at the park includes squat shrubs, lichens, grasses, bamboo forests, ferns, and myrtles.

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.

Festival in Honor of Santa María de la Cueva
This traditional religious festival, which takes place in Santa María de Dota, features many activities, some of which may also be observed in other parts of the country. Among the event’s activities are fireworks, typical foods for sale, Costa Rican bullfights, and various competitions including belt races, pole climbing, and the witch’s game, among others.

The celebration, which lasts a week, begins on the first Sunday in February.

Outdoor Art Festival, San Pedro, Montes de Oca
This nonprofit event’s only goal is to bring art to the streets. The festival takes place in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, and is organized with growing success by the Galería de Ulises.

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.

Outdoor Art Exhibition, San Rafael, Escazú
The Open-Air Art Exhibition takes place in San Rafael de Escazú once a year, and displays a variety of paintings and sculptures by almost 200 artists. Various art galleries participate, helping strengthen the quality and availability of exhibited works. Jewelers, photographers and art restorers also participate, taking this opportunity to sell their work. The event encourages new artists to interact with nationally recognized artists.
Christo of Ochomogo
Located on the Cerro de Ochomogo, this monument commemorates the Costa Ricans who died between March and April of 1823, during the country’s first civil war. As a result of this confrontation, the country’s capital was moved from Cartago to San José. It was inaugurated in May 21, 1932.
San Gerardo Waterfall
Vivisecting the picturesque community of San Gerardo de Dota, this roaring, 40-meter (130-foot) waterfall is reached by a 2.5-hour hike through primary forest, where visitors may observe a variety of spectacular plant and wildlife species.
Pilgrimage in Honor of our Lady of the Angels
Each year, starting several days before August 2, Costa Ricans from all over the country begin pilgrimages on foot from their homes to Our Lady of the Angels Basilica in Cartago. These believers make the pilgrimage to fulfill a promise to the Virgin or solicit help with financial, health or other problems.
Picturesque Road Through Cañón – Santa María de Dota
This road was used as the first access route to the community of Santa María de Dota. It is considered to be of great historic value, as it features forests, rivers, agricultural landscapes, and interesting communities including La Cima and Copey, and of course its final destination of Santa María.
Los Novios Waterfall
This waterfall, one of the area’s most popular attractions, is especially known for its incredible photographic opportunities.

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.

San Gerardo de Rivas Hot Springs
The hot springs are set against a very beautiful backdrop; here, the mountainous landscape abounds with scenic beauty and the site is surrounded by lush vegetation. This is a setting that encourages relaxation. There are three natural pools, which offer not only enjoyment but also many benefits derived from the mineral-rich waters.
Orosí Hot Springs
The community of Orosí, located in the province of Cartago, is home to two natural hot springs and established facilities. Among other things, visitors enjoy a rejuvenating and relaxing dip in the thermal pools, which are known to help relieve muscle aches and eliminate stress.
Indian’s Rock Architectural Site
This architectural site is located in Rivas, approximately eight kilometers (five miles) from San Isidro del General. It features petroglyphs, an archaeological remnant that features a “rock map” detailing the diverse geography of the Talamanca Mountain Range. This site has been declared a part of Costa Rica’s national heritage.
Los Julianes Waterfall
This rushing waterfall, which measures approximately 90 meters (295 feet) tall, is located in the area surrounding Santa María de Dota. The access road to Los Julianes runs through virgin mountains that are known locally as called Fila Bayoneta.
Savegre River, San Gerardo de Dota
This is an ideal site for going trout fishing, but also offers alternatives for relaxation and nature photography and videography along its picturesque shoreline. The area is a popular destination for birdwatching, especially for quetzals.
Reventazón River
At 152 kilometers (500 feet) long, the Reventazón is one of the most important rivers in the country. It is ideal for whitewater rafting, canoeing or fishing.

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.

Pacuare River
This river, whose headwaters flow from the Talamanca Mountain Range, boasts optimal conditions for whitewater rafting. The run is suitable for rafters experienced in both gentle and challenging whitewater. Sections of the trip offer stunning scenery.
Quitirrisí Indigenous Reserve
Located 32 kilometers (almost 20 miles) from downtown San José, this reserve marks the midpoint between Ciudad Colón and Puriscal. It is an ideal destination to shop for artisan goods from local indigenous groups; hand-woven objects are a local specialty. Shopping can be done on the roadside or at many neighboring communities; just ask the way to artisans that sell goods in their homes. Popular purchases include hats, visors, baskets, flowerpots, break baskets, bags, sewing baskets, lampshades, and wastebaskets.

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.

Cachí Hydroelectric Dam and Reservoir
This dam began operations in 1966 and at the time generated 32,000 kilowatts of power; this output doubled within the first year.

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.

Nacional Monument
Inaugurated on September 15, 1895, at what was then known as the Plaza de la Estación (currently the National Park), the National Monument was crafted by the French sculptor Louis Carrier. The piece commemorates the heroic deeds of the 1856-1857 campaign.

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.

Monument to the Fallen Heroes of 1948
Located in Santa María de Dota’s Central Park, this piece by artist Luis Umaña Ruiz depicts a woman protecting a group of men and women with her arms. The statue symbolizes Costa Rica safeguarding its citizens. The piece weighs around 90 tons (180,000 pounds).
Ojo de Agua Refuge House, Dota
The Ojo de Agua Refuge House was built in 1910 as a stop for travelers making the laborious trip between San Isidro del General and San José.

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.

Protected Areas

Los Santos Forest Reserve
This forest reserve stretches to the west of the Interamerican Highway South, between the site known as El Empalme and the hamlet of División. The reserve spans 62,000 hectares (153,000 acres) and offers a wealth of environmental attractions and a wide variety of flora and fauna. One of its greatest and most captivating attractions is the possibility of quetzal watching; this bird is considered one of the most beautiful in the world due to its majestic plumage.
Cerro Vueltas Biological Reserve
Located in the community of Copey de Dota, this 1500-hectare (3,700-acre) reserve boasts incredible biological diversity. The reserve’s mountain páramo habitat is home to several endemic species, meaning that this is the only habitat in the world home to those animal species.
Bosque Alegre Wildlife Refuge
Located in Grecia, a canton (similar to a county) in the province of Alajuela, this refuge spans 833 acres (almost 960 acres). This is a group of lakes of volcanic origin; the group consists of Bosque Alegre, Congo and Hulu Lagoons, as well as a tropical wet forest. The local community is responsible for watching over the park and assuring that its protection and conservation polices are respected. Park amenities include hiking trails, restrooms, and scenic lookout points. ]
Turrialba Volcano National Park
Turrialba Volcano, which towers 3340 meters (almost 11,000 feet) above sea level, is the most important landmark within this 1257-hectare (3,100-acre) national park. Turrialba Volcano shares the base of its neighboring lava mountain, Irazú Volcano; for this reason, they are often called the twin volcanoes.

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.

Poás Volcano National Park
Póas Volcano, located at 2,708 meters (8,890 feet) above sea level, has seen a slow increase in activity since 1989. Volcanic activity includes the emission of gasses and occasional acid rain, which have unfortunately damaged foliage in some sections of the park and caused problems with nearby crops.

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.

Irazú Volcano National Park
Irazú Volcano National Park protects the colossal Irazú Volcano, the highest volcano in Costa Rica and one of the oldest in terms of eruption cycles. The last major activity was in 1962 and lasted until 1965, although the most important eruption was in 1963. The word Irazú comes from the indigenous word “Itzarú,” meaning thunder or tremor, that was in use when the Spanish first arrived in the area.

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.

Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte National Park
Tapanti-Macizo de la Muerte National Park protects 58,500 hectares (144,560 acres) of thousands of year-old oak and pine forests. The park’s altitude ranges from 1,220 to 2,560 meters (4,000 to 8,400 feet) above sea level and is located in the one of the rainiest parts of Costa Rica. It protects 45 mammal species, 260 species of bird, and 30 reptile species.

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.

Braulio Carrillo National Park
Created by Law 8357-A on April 5, 1978, this park is located northeast of the Central Valley in the Central Volcanic Mountain Range, between the summits of Poás and Irazú Volcanoes. It is located an hour from the city of San José and can be reached via the Braulio Carrillo Highway to Limón.

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.

Guayabo National Monument
Guayabo National Monument is a destination not to be missed by those who enjoy archaeological and pre-Columbian relics. The site was declared a National Monument in August of 1973, as it represents one of the highest degrees of socio-cultural development achieved by Costa Rica’s pre-Hispanic societies.

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.

Churches

Our Lady of the Angels Basilica
This statuesque church houses the statue of Our Lady of the Angels, the official patron saint of Costa Rica since 1824. The current building was built in 1921 and its interior is home to a small shrine where the faithful go to worship “La Negrita,” as the patron saint is known locally.

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.

San Joaquin de Flores Church
The construction of this statuesque church indicates that it was build between 1868 and 1888. It is located in the community of San Joaquín, the political seat of the canton of Flores, in the province of Heredia. It represents a specific Costa Rican construction style: the building is supported by large stones, roofed over, and featuring wooden interior beams. The interior of the church is filled with paintings created by Spanish artist José Claro.
San Isidro de Coronado Church
This structure, which demonstrates German origins and neo-gothic influences, was packed up and brought to Costa Rica at the end of 1930; it arrived  through the Pacific train station. From there it was transported in oxcart to San Isidro, located in Vázquez de Coronado canton.

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.

Quircot Church
Located in the community of Quircot, in the province of Cartago, this church is approximately 100 years old. Of typical adobe construction, in 1986 it was declared a relic of historical and cultural interest.
Orosi Church and Colonial Museum
Built in 1743 by Franciscan missionaries, this is the only colonial church in Costa Rica open to the public. Orosi is located in the province of Cartago, approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) from downtown San José.

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.

Church of the Inmaculate Conception in Heredia
This stone-and-mortar building, which was completed in 1814, is located at the southern corner of downtown Heredia’s Central Park. It was declared a National Monument in 1963. This architectural jewel represents the religious spirit of Heredia’s people.
Barva Church in Heredia
Located in downtown Barva, this church dates to 1891 and was consecrated in honor of Saint Bartholomew. It was built with mined rocks and joined by mortar to a base of lime and brick.
Barrio San José Church in Alajuela
Demonstrating a neoclassical influence, this church was erected at the end of the 19th century. It utilizes stone-and-mortar construction techniques and was declared a relic of historical and architectural interest.

Important Buildings

The Fort at Heredia City
This site, which was built between 1880 and 1885, is the most distinctive edifice in Heredia’s urban landscape. The multitalented Fadrique Gutiérrez designed the building, which was declared a National Monument in 1974.
Metal Building
This hundred-year old architectural jewel is constructed of metal and has been used from since its construction as a school for young children. It is located in the city of San José, near Morazán Park. In 1980, it was declared a site of historical and architectural interest.
Casa Refugio de Ojo de Agua, Dota
Esta edificación fue construida en 1910, con el fin de darle refugio o descanso a los viajeros que hacían el recorrido entre San Isidro del General y San José.

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.

Casa de la Ciudad de Cartago (Pirie Building)
The first floor of the Casa de la Ciudad (House of the City) was built in 1882; the second was added in 1900. The Pirie Building is one of only a few to survive Cartago’s earthquakes.

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.

San Luis Gonzaga High School
Founded in 1842, San Luis Gonzaga has produced noteworthy Costa Rican political and professional figures. Several earthquakes destroyed the school’s original facilities; the reconstructed and current building dates to 1920. The building demonstrates neoclassical architectural influences. In 1989, it was declared a site of historical and architectural interest.

Today, the school’s facilities house a museum featuring archeological, scientific, and ethnological collections, as well as selections of colonial furniture.

Parish Church of the Apostle James (Ruins of Cartago)
After having been put on hold for almost 30 years, construction resumed in 1904. However, the Santa Mónica earthquake on May 4, 1910 damaged the structure so greatly that the city of Cartago terminated plans to complete it. Beginning on that day, the site is known as the Ruins of Cartago.

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.

University for Peace
During his administration, then-President Rodrigo Carazo (1978-1982) convinced the United Nations to establish the University for Peace in Costa Rica in 1980. Today, the campus boasts ample facilities, and studies there are directly related to aspects of peace and democracy.

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/

Temple of Music
The principal point of interest in Morazán Park, the Temple of Music is a neoclassical building, constructed in 1920 and made of reinforced concrete; it boasts almost perfect acoustics.

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.

National Theater
Built between 1890 and 1897, this ornate theater’s construction costs were paid for entirely by the Costa Rican people by means of import taxes. The National Theater, which is still in good condition after 100 years, is home to very valuable and well preserved Italian artwork.

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.

Mélico Salazar Theater
The Mélico Salazar Theater, once the Raventós Cinema, is housed in a building that was declared a site of historical and architectural interest. Its purpose is to promote the artistic expressions of popular culture and to facilitate access to live theater to as many people as possible. For more details, including the theater’s history and monthly schedule of events, visit the official website at http://www.teatromelico.go.cr/.
Ruins of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Ujarrás
Before the Spanish arrived in the zone, which today belongs to the canton of Paraíso in the province of Cartago, the Huetar indigenous group inhabited this area.

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.

Cities

San Isidro del General
This city, which is the main point of access to Costa Rica’s southern region, boasts strong commercial development and a full range of services.

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.

City of Turrialba
Turrialba was one of several cities that prospered as a result of the Caribbean railroad to the Caribbean, which is why the city is home to many buildings uncharacteristic of Costa Rica’s more common architectural styles.

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
This community, which is characterized by the contrasts between its natural landscapes and a recent influx of commercial buildings, is situated between the cantons of Escazú and Mora at the base of Escazú and Puriscal Mountains. One of the town’s distinctive characteristics is its warm and dry climate, which earns it the nickname of Valle del Sol, or Sun Valley.

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.

City of San José
Located at 1,149 meters (3,370 feet) above sea level, the city of San José was founded in 1737. The city’s average temperature, which hovers around 24º C (75º F), is one of its biggest attractions.

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.

Santiago de Puriscal
Located 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of San José, Puriscal features irregular sits at an elevation of 1,105 meters (3,625 feet) above sea level.

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.

City of Heredia
Known as the City of Flowers, Heredia is renowned for its extraordinary beauty. The heart of the city boasts a historical center where various buildings have been declared sites of historical and architectural interest. These include the Fort, the House of Culture, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the old Post Office, as well as the twin schools of Joaquín Lizano and the Republic of Argentina.

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.

City of Cartago
Cartago first served as colonial capital during the time of Spanish rule and later as the first Capital of an independent Costa Rica, a title it held until 1823, when the capital moved to San Jose.

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.

City of Alajuela
Alajuela, known as the City of Mangos, offers many historical and cultural points of interest for the enjoyment of its visitors. These destinations include the Cathedral of Alajuela and the Monument to Juan Santamaría (a national hero), 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 o de la Muerte
Part of the Talamanca Mountain Range, Cerro Buena Vista has an altitude of 3,451 meters (11,615 feet). On a clear day, such heights afford incredible views of both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

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.

Acosta
Geographically speaking, the canton of Acosta is the most irregular in Costa Rica, thanks to a very varied range of altitudes. Bordered by Escazú and Alajuelita to the north and Parrita to the south, the canton’s political seat of San Ignacio is located 1,095 meters (almost 3,600 feet) above sea level.

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.

Valley of Santa María de Dota
Santa María, the political seat of the canton of Dota, is located in a valley surrounded by mountains. Access roads to other nearby communities such as Copey, San Marcos de Tarrazú, and San Pablo de León Cortés converge near the town center. Santa María’s population lives mostly on the banks of the Parrita River, in blocks like those utilized in old Spanish towns.

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.

Orosí Valley
This scenic tourism circuit features a series of viewpoints that offer vistas of two different sections of the valley. The valley is home to the communities of Orosí and Ujarrás, the first two Spanish settlements during the Colonial period. Here, visitors can visit two of Costa Rica’s few remaining colonial buildings: the renamed Ruins  of Ujarrás and the beautiful Orosí Church, which boasts considerable treasures including altarpieces, sacred images and other historic elements.

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.

Valley of Copey
At 1,853 meters (6,080 feet) in elevation, this small valley is home to the community of Copey de Dota. Given its natural beauty, it is an ideal destination for hiking, nature photography, horseback riding, fishing, birdwatching and other leisure activities. Visitors are welcome to visit local flower farms and apple orchards, and often enjoy trips to architecture sites, scenic lookout points, and more. Lodging and dining options are available.
Zarcero
This town is characterized by its agricultural work. As a rural community, it retains a diverse set of customs and traditions. These include important religious and other activities, such as Famer’s Day and the festival in honor of the town’s patron saint, San Rafael.

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.

Sarchi (The Capital of Artisan Goods)
Known as the cradle of Costa Rica’s artisan wood products, Sarchí offers a wide range of high-quality goods. Skilled artisans work the raw material to create beautiful pieces, which are sold to the town’s visitors as souvenirs or home furnishings and decorations. Costa Rica’s traditional and colorful oxcart is the masterpiece that best represents Sarchí’s offerings.
Atenas
With pride, the residents of Atenas declare that they live in the world’s best climate. A visit to this community offers opportunities to experiences authentic traditions and sample traditional dishes, among them cookies, pastries, homemade bread, candied grapefruit, sugar cane juice, and sobado.

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.

Museum

National Culture Center – CENAC (Old National Liquor Factory)
CENAC is located in one of the oldest buildings in San Jose; the site dates back to 1853 and functioned for many years as the National Liquor Factory.

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.

Museum of Costa Rican Art
The old Airport building in La Sabana is home to this museum, which was opened in 1940. It boasts Spanish Colonial architecture, creating clean lines and displaying exquisite artistic taste. In 1986, the building was declared a national site of historic and architectural interest.

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/.

Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum offers an extraordinary collection of gold objects that reflect the worldview, social structure, and skills of Costa Rica’s pre-Columbian communities.

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.

Numismatic Museum
From the Real to the Colón: The History of the Currency of Costa Rica is the new permanent exhibition at the Jaime Solera Bennett Numismatic Museum. This dynamic exhibition demonstrates the evolution of different local currencies from the year 1502 to current times. The Central Bank’s most beautiful currencies, bills, designs, and coffee and banana coupons are on display at the museum.

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.

Children’s Museum
Built in 1910, this museum used to be a jail. Today, the building is home to a modern museum and more than 40 interactive rooms designed to engage children’s minds and entertain them in the process.

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/.

National Museum (Old Bellavista Headquarters)
Over time, the National Museum, which was founded on May 4, 1887, has occupied four buildings, three of which were ultimately demolished. The museum’s current location was once the Bellavista Headquarters, which was occupied by the army until 1948, the year Costa Rica abolished its armed forces.

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.

Joaquín García Monge Museum
This museum is located in a 19th century house made of adobe and caña brava (a giant grass) and secured with bejuco and cucharilla (two types of liana). The building features colonial-style windows and wood fastened with hand-forged nails.

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.

Jade Museum
This museum, which was created in 1977, houses a collection of pre-Columbian art (gold, ceramic, jade and stone) and is the only museum in the Americas to display indigenous jade artwork. It is located on the bottom floor of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (National Insurance Institute) building.

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.

University of Costa Rica Insect Museum
This museum displays an example of Costa Rica’s entomological diversity, and is located in the basement of the Faculty of Musical Arts at the University of Costa Rica, in San Pedro de Montes de Oca.
San Ramón Museum of History
The main theme at this museum is the history, cultural heritage, and traditions of San Ramón, a town located in the province of Alajuela. The museum is divided into sections for better navigation. The large house, which was declared a site of historic heritage, is located in San Ramón de Alajuela, at the northern corner of the town’s central park (diagonal from the Catholic church). It is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.; after lunch it opens again from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Juan Santamaría Museum of Culture and History
This museum is home to an important and valuable collection of objects and documents related to the war of 1856-1857 between Costa Rica and the filibusters led by William Walker.

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/.

Philatelic and Numismatic Museum
Created in 1985, this museum is located in San José’s Central Post Office building, which was first opened in 1917 and in 1980 was declared a relic of historic and architectural value.

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.

Museum of Popular Culture
Located in Santa Lucía de Barva, Heredia, the museum is housed in the home of former president Alfredo González Flores. Its fundamental objective is to honor and preserve the traditions and identity of the Costa Rican people. The museum, which was established in 1994, also educates visitors on building methods of colonial houses, which were built using adobe and/or a combination of wood, grass and mud. The site has been declared a national heritage site.

For more information, please visit the museum’s website at http://www.ilam.org/cr/museoculturapopular/.

La Salle Museum of Natural Science
Featuring an outstanding ornithology, entomology and malacology collections, this museum displays approximately 18,000 attractive specimens. Four display rooms exhibit mammals, fish, reptiles and shells; there is also an archeological display room.

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.

Museum of Contemporary Art and Design
The administration that designed this project defined it as the first area set aside specifically for the diffusion, research and reflection on national and international contemporary art in all its diverse manifestations.

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/.