As Costa Rica’s main point of entry, the Central Valley offers visitors easy access to a wide variety of cultural and natural attractions. From emerald green rainforests to colonial landmarks, concerts and theatre – the Valley has it all!
Nestled within the valley’s verdant hills and mountains, San José, Costa Rica’s sprawling capital city, is home to numerous hotels, multinational corporations, shops, restaurants, and the country’s finest cultural attractions, including the architectural jewel of Costa Rica: the National Theater. Also of note are the Gold, Jade and National Museums, which feature impressive displays of Costa Rica’s cultural heritage. At 2,900 feet above sea level, the city boasts a spring-like climate year-round and is an ideal launching point for visiting the rest of the country.
The Central Valley also harbors some of the country’s most visited national parks, including Poás, Braulio Carrillo, Irazú and Turrialba, which feature the region’s main volcanoes. Visitors will find the roads and park infrastructure well maintained, allowing for quick and convenient access to stunning natural landscapes, majestic craters, and exotic rain forests.
San José is the seat of most government services; however, the provincial capitals—Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago—offer a variety of quality commercial and tourism services.
As the country’s most visited region, the Central Valley features a number of extraordinarily beautiful areas rich in natural delights, history, and tradition. These include the Orosi Valley with its panoramic views, historic churches, and lush coffee plantations; Sarchí, home to a thriving crafts industry; and the pre-Columbian ruins of Guayabo National Park near Turrialba. In addition, several tour operators offer exciting white water rafting and canopy tours, as well as visits to the nearby volcanoes.
The rural towns, for their part, are highly picturesque, and offer a glimpse of old Costa Rica, with their quaint houses of bahareque (a building material similar to adobe but made of cattle dung and straw), large coffee plantations, sugar mills, and dairies.
Travelers will have no problem finding a varied supply of accommodation options – both in price and quality. These include quaint inns, located in and around San Jose’s cultural district, idyllic hilltop retreats, offering majestic views of the Central Valley, budget hostels and well-known international hotel chains.
Tourist activities abound in this region, and visitors may take their pick of cultural, adventure or nature attractions.
There is no limit to the variety of hikes available for observing the region’s natural attractions, from relaxing day hikes to multi-day jungle treks. Costa Rica’s diverse landscapes and scenic views will leave even the most veteran of travelers coming back for more!
The Central Valley offers the more active traveler a wide variety of scenic roads and adventure or leisure sites that are ideal for regular or mountain bikes. Routes of interest include San Antonio de Escazú to the University for Peace, Turrialba to La Suiza, and Cañón del Guarco to Copey de Dota.
The Central Valley’s myriad picturesque towns, natural diversity, and cultural attractions make this a great area for picture-taking.
In recent years, a variety of modern shopping centers have sprung up in Curridabat, Zapote, downtown Alajuela, Escazú and Heredia, offering convenient shopping options for international tourists.
Architectural and Historical Sites
For visitors seeking out examples of the country’s national heritage, the Central Valley contains many sites and buildings that have been declared National Monuments of architectural or historical interest. Of note is Barrio Amón, located in San José center, which features many restored Victorian-style mansions.
Art galleries have experienced a significant renaissance in recent years, not only in tourism and hotel districts but also in major commercial centers. Examples of Costa Rican art may be seen in cultural houses and museums in San José, as well as in all the provincial capitals.
The Ministry of Culture has encouraged local municipalities to create Culture Offices and promote artistic events and fairs, which has encouraged an increase in artistic endeavors.
Plant and Wildlife Refuge Observation
Visitors can observe nature and wildlife in several public protected areas, such as Braulio Carrillo, Volcán Poás and Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte, as well as in the Lankester Botanical Garden, the Simón Bolívar Zoo, the Santa Ana National Zoo and the Bird Zoo in La Garita de Alajuela. In addition to these, an increasing number of nature theme parks have begun to offer eco-tour adventures.
Sugar mills, or trapiches, as they are known locally, are used for one of the most traditional processes in the country: manufacturing products from cane sugar. Mostly located in rural areas, sugar mills have traditionally been a family affair, a place where grandfathers, parents and children alike participate in the work.
Powered by oxen, old sugar mills in good working condition are found in Piedades Norte, Bajos de la Paz, and San Ramón de Alajuela. Although not as common, water-powered mills can still be found in San Antonio de Escazú, Jaris de Mora and Grecia.
In order to teach visitors about the cane production process, several sugar mills have been converted into tourist attractions. Travelers with a sweet tooth will no doubt delight in savoring such sugary treats as Perico, sobado and espumas.
Treetop and Trail Adventure
Several companies and organizations have developed facilities for visitors to enjoy adventure activities on nature trails and in the forest canopy: 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, all offer activities with an ecotourism focus. These include gardens with exotic plant species, a herbarium, a garden maze, and a butterfly garden. The Butterfly Garden on the outskirts of Varablanca offers trails linking several waterfalls on the La Paz River, as well as a hummingbird garden.