When people look for where to go in Costa Rica, normally the first destinations that comes to their minds are directly related to the beach, surf, and sunbaths; however, there are plenty of other places that can offer tourists one of the most unforgettable moments of their whole lives.
This place is a small country and it can be crossed from coast to coast in only one day, but just in the center of the country you can find some of the best places to visit in Costa Rica with a wide variety of activities for all the different tastes.
The Central Valley is full with beauty and amazing landscapes. It is located in the heart of the country and covers four provinces: San José, the capital of the city, Heredia which has a lot of attractions to offer of all kinds, Alajuela with its amazing landscapes and volcanoes, and Cartago that is one of the most important cultural areas of Costa Rica.
Since there is so much to see and so many possibilities you can choose, it is a good idea to organize this by province.
First, let’s start with the capital San José. Since this province is the head of the country, it has some of the most important business areas and industries, but also it holds many natural attractions and famous places in Costa Rica you can enjoy.
If you are a food lover, you will feel in heaven because there are many top restaurants you can visit that offer all kinds of exquisite dishes. For example, restaurants like Grano de Oro, El Novillo Alegre or Le Monastère are only some examples of the many places you can visit depending on your likes.
San José also has the best places for learning about Costa Rican culture in the country. Some of these places are the National Theater which is considered one of the best and most luxurious theaters of the whole Latin America, The National Museum placed on an old military base in the heart of the city, The Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold which has the biggest collection of Costa Rican art made before the Spanish conquered the territory, and the Children Museum that was made by turning the most terrible jail of the country into an amazing place were kinds can play and learn; by the way, it has the shape of a real castle!
San José also has mountains around the main city which have incredible views and rural environments that can be very enjoyable too. For example, the region of Coronado is located only 40 minutes away from downtown and because of its position in the valley and its height, if you go there you will find the countryside in which people are humble and hardworking, organic products can be bought at cheap prices, and several viewpoints are available in which, if the weather cooperates, you can see the complete central valley.
Besides, in the outer part of San José there is the Braulio Carrillo National Park which is the most important forest of the province. It offers several activities such as Zip lines and cableways that will take you to the highest parts of the rain forest and all its wonders.
This rain forest will literally take your breath away not only for its height, but also for all the scenic beauty that you will easily find no matter the direction you look to.
Finally, if you want to buy some souvenirs about your visit to Costa Rica, you can go to the Central Market or the “Mercado Nacional de Artesanias.” There, you will find a big number of nice handcrafts that can be the perfect gift for a family member who is looking for you.
Alajuela is located to the North-West of the capital city and it has many popular attractions of different kinds. This province is probable the first place you will know of Costa Rica because the Juan Santamaria International Airport is located there and it is the most important airport in Costa Rica.
Alajuela is famous for its volcanoes, especially the Poás Volcano. This is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica because it is not just another volcano, but the one with the biggest of crater of the world, 300 meters of depth and 1.32 kilometers wide. It is possible to access to the Main entrance of the national park using any kind of car because the roads are in excellent conditions, so don’t worry if you don’t have a 4x4 car to go there.
A little bit further from the capital but really worthy to visit, there is another emblematic volcano of the country. Located in La Fortuna de San Carlos, Alajuela, the Arenal Volcano is another top place to visit in Costa Rica. This mountain is different from the previous one because it is a perfect cone which cannot be accessed as easily as the Poás. But this is not a reason not to visit this incredible place.
The Arenal Vocano and the areas that surround it have many options to be enjoyed by everybody. Here you can find some of the best resorts in Costa Rica with luxurious amenities that you will never forget. Moreover, a great number of hot springs is the prefect option to relax and recover from all the stress of your everyday life and routine.
Once you have traveled to La Fortuna, it would be an excellent idea to take advantage of the location you have.
Rio Celeste is not very far from the Arenal Volcano and it’s an amazing place to visit and, according to the opinions of previous visitors, you will have to look at it twice to believe what you’re seeing is real and not an illusion taken from a fantasy book.
It is also known as “the only river with the color of the sky” because it actually looks light blue as a result of the influence of volcanic elements on the water. In short, it is a life-time experience everybody has to experience.
If you prefer to stay closer to the city and enjoy a one-day tour, you can choose a Coffee Tour that will teach you all about the process this grains goes through before being on your table. The Doka State Coffee Tour is one of the most popular options you have if you are interested in this type of activities. This one-day tour is excellent for all the family and will provide a nice and relaxing experience to enjoy during a morning or afternoon.
As mentioned before, Cartago is considered a cultural spot of Costa Rica. Since it used to be the capital of the country, a big part of the historic patrimony is located there. “La Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles” is maybe the most famous Catholic Church of the country. It is dedicated to the Virgen Mary who is the Saint Patron of the country.
If you Visit Costa Rica at the end of July and stay until the beginning of August, maybe you will like to participate in the traditional “Romeria” which is a pilgrimage to the Basilica that takes places on August 2nd and normally involves more than two million people who walk from all over the country in order to thank the Virgin for a gift gotten or to leave their intentions looking for a miracle. Some of them walk during weeks and can cover a distance bigger than 300 kilometers to get to Cartago.
Another important point located right in the center of the city is “The Ruinas de Cartago” This place is the ruins of an old cathedral that was being built there during the XIX century. However, in 1910 an earthquake destroyed the building leaving it so damaged that it was impossible to repair, so the community decided to turn what was left into a garden that can be visited and enjoyed by locals and tourists.
If you want to experience some adrenaline and enjoyed being scared, you can visit the famous “Sanatorio Duran.” This place is an old hospital were people with tuberculosis were treated during the last part of the 19th century and the first of the 20th; nevertheless, because of the seriousness of the illness and the limited treatments of the age many of them died.
Well, the story tells that the souls of those who died there are still wandering around the halls and rooms of the old hospital suffering and screaming in pain. People who want to experience being in a hunted place normally go there looking for the weirdest experience of their lives, and some of them get it.
Going back to nature, Cartago also has amazing places to practice white water rafting in Costa Rica. One of this places is the Pacuare River in which you can find several companies that offer rafting tours to enjoy this natural adventure safely.
The river gives different types of whitewater rafting levels, from the easy ones that can be ridden by all the family, to the most dangerous ones that are only recommended for people with experience in the sport.
Finally, in the Central Valley there is no province without its corresponding volcano and in Cartago’s case it is the impressive Irazú Volcano. With an altitude of 3.432 meters over the sea level, it is the highest mountain of the valley and the second highest of the whole country.
This colossus is famous because during the 60’s it had great activity turning the four main cities of the Central Valley into ash fields. However, today even though it is still active, the volcano is completely safe to go and visit one of the greatest views a person can have of the country. A piece of advice, take a sweater with you.
Heredia is the smallest province of the country, but it doesn’t mean it lacks amazing attractions for tourists to enjoy. The majority of its territory is full of forests and mountain areas; therefore, this place is excellent for the lovers of outdoors activities such as hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and camping.
Maybe the best place for these activities is “El Bosque de la Hoja” which is an area dedicated to outdoors lovers. Also, around the same places, there are many options for practicing sky walking and zip lining that will be suitable for all your family members.
In Santo Domingo de Heredia, a town around 20 minutes from the main city, there is a different kind of zoo called the Inbioparque. In this institution that belongs to the government people in general, but especially children, can learn about the flora and fauna of the Costa Rica.
There are also simulations of farms with real animals, so children can have the experience of milking a cow or a goat, or even planting their first vegetables.
Heredia also has several National Parks and protected areas to visit and enjoy. It shares the Braulio Carrillo National park with San José, holds wetlands in its north part, and other National Parks with important volcanoes in them.
The Barva volcano is maybe the most famous one in this part of the country and it offers trails through the rain forest perfect for bird seeing and appreciate the beauty of the nature being far away from the noisy of any city.
This country is an amazingly rich place when it comes to tourist attractions, so in you are planning to visit Costa Rica you will never regret your decision it doesn’t matter if you decide to spend your time at the beach or if you decide to stay in the Central Valley because at the end of your vacations you will be completely in love with San José, Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia and all the variety and richness they hold.