Central Valley

This area is located in the geographic center of Costa Rica, the most populated area of the country. It covers the Greater Metropolitan Area, composed of the capital cities of the provinces of San José, Heredia, Cartago and Alajuela. It has a large commercial and industrial development; higher education and the reinstated railroad are located here. A great variety of reliefs, altitudes and topographies allow for different microclimates and abundant biodiversity.


It is a land of plains and a mountainous system called Cordillera Volcánica Central or Central Volcanic Mountain Range.  To the north are active and inactive volcanoes, such as Poás in Alajuela, Barva in Heredia and Irazú and Turrialba in Cartago. To the south is La Fila la Carpintera, made up of a group of mountains.


These blue mountains that surround the valley form a chain that begins in the Desengaño Depression that divides the Barva Volcano from the Poás Volcano. Next come the Tres Marías, three mountain peaks and then the Paso de la Palma that separates them from the Irazú Volcano.  To the south are the peaks of Alajuelita and Escazú, which are embellished with a red color during the summer, because of the Roble Sabana  trees located on their slopes. To the west, the mountains of Ciudad Colón and to the east the Irazú Volcano.


Here lies the capital of Costa Rica, San José , constituted as such in 1838. It was founded between 1736 and 1737 by order of the Cabildo de León with the purpose of gathering the inhabitants of the Aserrí Valley. A growing increase in commercial premises led to the rapid development of the area, making it the third most electrically lit city in the world, after New York and Paris.


It has a pedestrian walkway, the most popular being Central Avenue, more than 12 blocks long with shops and historic sites. The southeast blocks from the Central Market to the San Juan de Dios Hospital were recently completed. 


San José has the most important museums in the country such as the National Museum of Costa Rica, which tells the pre-Columbian, colonial and republican history of Costa Rica. It is possible to enjoy a beautiful view of San José from its upper plaza. Built in the former Cuartel Bellavista.


To the west is the Central Bank's Gold Museum with one of the most important collections of pre-Columbian gold art in the world. It is an underground building, and on its surface is located the crowded Plaza de la Cultura. To the north is the Jade Museum, with an impressive collection of jade figures and ornaments made by indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica. 


Other attractions include the National Theater, declared as a National Monument in 1965; the church of La Merced with neo-Gothic architecture and the Post Office Building, inspired by the Post Office building in Madrid.


There is also the Melico Salazar Popular Theater; with a classic preformed industrial design; the ''metallic building'', was inspired by the modern iron architecture that gave origin to the Eiffel Tower. It is located across Parque Morazán, next to Parque España and houses two public schools.


Scattered throughout the capital are parks such as Parque Central, Parque Nacional, Parque España, Parque de la Merced and Parque Morazán, beautiful spots that cannot be ignored. These are places of gathering and tranquility, green lungs of the city thanks to their abundant trees.


Over the years, San José has undergone architectural changes, buildings have been demolished and others have been relocated for their preservation. This is why the Old Central Penitentiary is now the Children's Museum and the Sabana Airport is now the Costa Rican Art Museum.


More recently, the old Liquor Factory and the Paseo de Damas were converted into the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design. There are plans to occupy the spacious facilities of the Old Customs House, adjacent to the Atlantic Railway Station , for exhibitions.


"Chepe'' as it is known by the Ticos, which is a common nickname for José, is at 1150 m.a.s.l., has an average temperature of 22° and moderate rainfall (the Central Volcanic Mountain Range protects it from the climatic influence of the Caribbean). It offers all kinds of facilities and services with a very active nightlife (discos, nightclubs, bars).

Also located here are the headquarters of the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute and the University of Costa Rica, as well as a wide range of state and private banks.


The towns surrounding the metropolitan area are urban areas with commercial development such as San Pedro, Tibás, Guadalupe, Moravia, Pavas, Desamparados and  Rohrmoser.  Escazú and Santa Ana have experienced great real estate development in the last decade.


The Central Valley area has other cities with their own charms and different climates, lifestyles and cultures.


The city of Alajuela(La Lajuela) was founded in 1782 on the slopes of the Poás Volcano. The common flagstones in the Ciruelas and Alajuela rivers gave it its name "La Lajuela" or place of flagstones. Over time, the words came together to become Alajuela

Its main tourist attraction is the Poás Volcano National Park, which protects an active volcano in its 6506 hectares. It is possible to practically access the crater with a light vehicle, something unique in the world. An area covered with exuberant vegetation typical of the cloud forest, with species that reach 20 meters in height, covered by mosses.

It also protects some 72 species of birds, a dwarf forest and La Laguna Botos, the former active crater now a cold water lagoon of breathtaking beauty. With the help of clear weather it is possible to appreciate the incredible and practically unique view of both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Easily accessible, close to the capital, it has facilities and picnic areas. 


The preserved Parque de los Mangos is here. Its name is due to the large number of huge mango trees around it. A place to chat about any topic and to tell jokes, a special skill of the people of Alajuela.


Birthplace of the national hero, Juan Santamaría, of the 1856 campaign against the slave invaders (filibusters). Also located here is the Juan Santamaría Historical Museum, which recounts the battle of Santa Rosa and Rivas, Nicaragua, where Juan Santamaría burned the inn where the enemy took refuge, defeating them.


Alajuela is the main gateway to international flights with the Juan Santamaria International Airport, in constant growth and development. Formerly called Coco International Airport because it was built in the Llano del Coco. It is the most modern airport in Central America.


Leaving Alajuela towards Poás there are very nice places to have lunch, with beautiful panoramic views of the Greater Metropolitan Area. To the northwest of Alajuela are the towns of San Ramón, Sarchí, Naranjo and Palmares, where agricultural work is combined with handicrafts.


From the old highway to Puntarenas that passes through the heart of the towns of Grecia, Sarchí, Naranjo, Palmares and San Ramón you can enjoy beautiful panoramic views.


Sarchí, this agricultural town is the national cradle of handicrafts. It is one of the places where the best typical ox carts of Costa Rica are made and hand painted. This is the site of the Don Joaquín Chaverri wagon factory, which since its foundation in 1902, has used a water mill to drive its production. Historians agree that this art form was born here.



A visit to Zarcero central park, located in front of the main church, is a must. The park's bushes have various silhouettes, magnificent figures of animals and dinosaurs, among others. The creator of this beautiful scenery is Evangelisto Blanco, who has been maintaining it and the rest of the park since the 1960s. This unexpected place is frequently visited by national tourists.


The quiet town of Palmares is renowned for the design and manufacture of classic and modern wooden furniture. Once a year, in the second week of January, the Fiestas Cívicas de Palmares are held, more than a week of rides, fireworks, "topes" and much more. It has become one of the most popular festivals in Costa Rica where thousands of visitors from all places.


San Ramón is considered the birthplace of poets and political leaders, many intellectuals, public speakers, professors and thinkers were born and raised here, as well as former presidents such as Rodrigo Carazo Odio and José Figueres Ferrer.

Among its attractions are the San Ramón Museum, the market, the church and the G. Washington School. Its old houses give it a unique ambiance.



To the east of the Central Valley we have the city of Cartago which was founded in 1563 by the Spanish conquistador Juan Vásquez de Coronado, however, its current location is attributable to Alonso Anguciana de Gambos. When Costa Rica belonged to the Captaincy General of Guatemala, Cartago was its capital and ceased to be so after the Civil War of Ochomogo in 1823, where the military, political, economic and commercial superiority of San José was evident.


This city has been rebuilt after being devastated by three earthquakes in 1822, 1841, and the third and most destructive, on May 14, 1910. The ruins of the ancient parish of Santiago Apostol are evidence of this last earthquake.

A few blocks from the ruins is the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (1921), considered the most important in Costa Rica. Sanctuary of ''La Negrita'', the image of the Patron Saint of Costa Rica. Every year, on August 2, thousands of Costa Ricans do the Romerías, an act of devotion in honor of the virgin. 


Cartago was founded on the slopes of the Irazú Volcano, the highest active volcano in Costa Rica, at 3,432 meters above sea level. This is part of the Irazú Volcano National Park (1955) that protects more than 2000 hectares, with the largest and highest volcano in Costa Rica. From its summit and with the help of a clear sky it is possible to see the 2 oceans and the Talamanca Mountain Range along with the towns of Tierra Blanca, the Guarco Valley and the Orosi Valley.


Irazú emits clouds of steam, ash and slag accompanied by strong seismic tremors.  It has gray sand lagoons or dunes that give the landscape an almost lunar appearance, in contrast to the dense vegetation of the Poás Volcano. There is also a green lagoon that when the sun shines brightly takes on an almost fluorescent color.


Its last strong activity, between 1963 and 1965, was characterized by ash eruptions that paralyzed the capital and affected the lifestyle of thousands of Costa Ricans. Easily accessible, close to the capital, it has facilities and areas for lunch, but it is best to bring a coat, especially in December and January. 




The Orosi Valley is also part of the Central Valley, here are located the communities of Orosi and Ujarrás, where the first Spanish settlements of Costa Rica were founded.

The ruins of the Iglesia de la Purísima Concepción del Rescate de Ujarrás church are the remnants thereof. It were declared a National Monument in 1920.


Near the ruins are the Lankester Botanical Gardens, with an impressive collection of orchids. The best time to visit is when they are in bloom, between April and May. They are part of the University of Costa Rica.


There are important buildings such as the Cachí Hydroelectric Plant Dam, in operation since 1966, the first of its kind in Central America. It is 79 meters high and 186 meters wide. Its creation generated a large lake with a tourist attraction that offers gastronomic options with local and international dishes.


There is also the Church and Colonial Museum of Orosi, the only colonial construction in very good condition where you can see articles of daily use used by the Franciscan friars in their evangelization campaigns. Declared a National Monument in 1985.



The city of Heredia has been known for decades as the city of flowers in reference to the beautiful women who live there, it is located in the foothills of the dormant Barba Volcano and most of its towns were named after Catholic saints such as Santo Domingo, Santa Rosa, San Pablo, Santa Barbara, San Joaquin de Flores, San Rafael .


With a historic center, composed of the Republic of Argentina School, the Post and Telegraph building, the Clergy House, the church of La Inmaculada, the Fortín and the building of the Liceo de Heredia, former Normal School, center of Costa Rican academics until the creation of the University of Costa Rica (1940).


Among its attractions is El Fortín (1876), designed by the sculptor, draftsman and photographer Fadrique Gutiérrez. It is a symbol of the city and a National Monument, declared as such on November 2, 1974. Heredia has a train service that goes to San José, whose route allows you to enjoy picturesque landscapes. It is home to the Universidad Nacional, the second most important state university in Costa Rica.


The town of Santo Domingo de Heredia has a square almost three blocks in diameter that ends at the town's public school. The architecture of the school is from the early 20th century, with impeccable gardens. An imposing basilica overlooking the square

with silver domes and an impressive view of the Irazú Volcano behind it.


San Rafael de Heredia has a large white gothic style church with an important collection of stained glass windows. It is possible to see this church from anywhere in the central valley, especially from San José, San Pedro and Guadalupe.


Barva de Heredia located in the foothills of the Barva Volcano, has a central plaza and the Municipal Palace that reflects life in the late nineteenth century with authentic and preserved buildings. Old houses have been converted into restaurants and shops.



In the agricultural region of Turrialba is the famous Guayabo National Monument, considered the largest and most important anthropological find in the country. Some 50 different stone structures have been found here in the four hectares excavated. With stone causeways that were used as roads and had a drainage system. These extend in different directions for several kilometers.


There are steps, bridges, retaining walls, inclined planes and bases in the form of mounds as a base for the houses. It has a system of open and closed aqueducts that lead the water to the catchment tanks, which is currently in use. Its occupation dates back to 1,000 BC. although the greatest development of the chiefdom took place between 300 and 700 AD. D.

The Turrialba River, which flows into the Reventazón with a slope that produces points of great acceleration of the waters, is ideal for rafting. With large extensions of sugar cane crops, the popular Turrialba cheese is produced. It has a range of altitudes as well as microclimates conducive to an abundant and changing biodiversity.


The town of Coronado is located on the slopes of Cerro Zurquí, a fraction of the canton is part of the Braulio Carrillo National Park. The landscape of this village is decorated with trees such as cypress and grazing land for dairy production.


The church of Coronado is a work of art inspired by the French Gothic style, designed by Costa Rican architect Teodorico Quirós in the late 1920s. The prefabricated metal structure was manufactured in Germany, arrived in Puntarenas and was unloaded at the González Víquez Plaza. Later it was transported in ox carts by the inhabitants of Coronado.


It has a cold climate, abundant with clouds and fog. It is named in honor of the Spanish Conquistador Juan Vásquez de Coronado.


Braulio Carrillo National Park has one sector on the Pacific side and another on the Atlantic side, so the difference in vegetation is easily visible from the road at the Zurquí Tunnel. Named in honor of the third Costa Rican Head of State and Meritorious of the Homeland, who made great efforts to communicate the port of Limón with the central valley.


High volcanic complexes carpeted with dense primary evergreen forest make up most of the protected area (47,583 ha). It is also accompanied by abundant rivers, some 6,000 species of plants and abundant fauna.


It is crossed by a road in the direction of Limón whose viewpoints offer beautiful panoramic views. This is where the Rio Sucio River passes through. 


Among the protected areas in the Central Valley are Irazú Volcano National Park, Poás Volcano National Park, Braulio Carrillo National Park, which includes Barva Volcano, Turrialba Volcano National Park, and the Cerros de Escazú Protected Zone. It also has a great offer of adventure tourism such as zip lining, rafting, horseback riding, biking, hiking and more.