Central Valley

We’ve compiled the best of the best in Central Valley - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Café Britt

    The producer of Costa Rica's most popular export-quality coffee gives a lively Classic Coffee Tour highlighting the history of Costa Rica's coffee cultivation through a...

    The producer of Costa Rica's most popular export-quality coffee gives a lively Classic Coffee Tour highlighting the history of Costa Rica's coffee cultivation through a theatrical presentation that is admittedly a bit hokey. Your "tour guides" are professional actors, and pretty good ones at that, so if you don't mind the song and dance, it's fun. (You might even be called upon to participate.) During the 1½-hour tour, you'll take a short walk through the coffee farm and processing plant, and learn how professional coffee tasters distinguish a fine cup of java. A two-hour Coffee Lovers tour delves into the process at a more expert level. You'll leave the new all-day Coffee Origins tour feeling like even more of an expert, delving into the environmental issues surrounding coffee. You can also stop in at Britt's Coffee Bar and Factory Store. Although all three tours are devoted entirely to the production and history of Costa Rica's most famous agricultural product, Britt is also a purveyor of fine chocolates, cocoas, cookies, macadamia nuts, and coffee liqueurs; you'll see its products for sale in souvenir shops around the country and at the airport as you leave. The standard coffee tour is often a half-day inclusion on many Central Valley tours operated by San José tour companies, combined with the Poás volcano, the La Paz waterfall gardens, or Rainforest Adventures.

    Heredia, Heredia, 40201, Costa Rica
    800-462–7488-in North America

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: From $27
  • 2. Doka Estate

    The Central Valley is coffee country. Consider devoting an hour of your vacation to learning about the crop's production. Doka Estate, a working coffee plantation...

    The Central Valley is coffee country. Consider devoting an hour of your vacation to learning about the crop's production. Doka Estate, a working coffee plantation for more than 70 years, offers a comprehensive tour that takes you through the fields, shows you how the fruit is processed and the beans are dried, and lets you sample the local brew. The best time to take this tour is during the October-to-February picking season. Transportation can be arranged from San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Escazú, or San Antonio de Belén. Various add-on packages include breakfast and/or lunch. Doka features on many organized area tours in combination with various other Central Valley attractions.

    Sabanilla, Alajuela, 20103, Costa Rica
    888-946–3652-in North America

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $25
  • 3. La Carreta

    The world's largest oxcart, constructed and brightly painted by longtime local factory Souvenirs Costa Rica and enshrined in the Guinness Book of World Records, can...

    The world's largest oxcart, constructed and brightly painted by longtime local factory Souvenirs Costa Rica and enshrined in the Guinness Book of World Records, can be found in Sarchí's central park. The work—locals refer to it as simply La Carreta (the Oxcart)—logs in at 45 feet and weighs 2 tons. Since no other country is attached to oxcarts quite like Costa Rica, we doubt that record will be broken anytime soon. Oxcarts were used by 19th-century coffee farmers to transport the all-important cash crop to the port of Puntarenas on the Pacific coast. Artisans began painting the carts in the early 1900s. Debate continues as to why: the kaleidoscopic designs may have symbolized the points of the compass, or may have echoed the landscape's tropical colors. In any case, the oxcart has become the national symbol.

    Sarchí, Alajuela, 21201, Costa Rica
  • 4. Parque Central

    Heredia is centered on tree-studded Parque Central, which gets our vote for the country's loveliest and liveliest central park, surrounded by some notable buildings spanning...

    Heredia is centered on tree-studded Parque Central, which gets our vote for the country's loveliest and liveliest central park, surrounded by some notable buildings spanning more than 250 years of history. The park has a large, round, cast-iron fountain imported from England in 1879 and a Victorian bandstand where the municipal band plays on Sunday morning and Thursday night. Families, couples, and old-timers sit on park benches, shaded by fig and towering palm trees, often inhabited by noisy and colorful flocks of crimson-fronted parakeets. Drop into Pops, a national ice-cream chain, at the south side of the park and pick up a cone, then take a seat on a park bench and watch the passing parade.

    C. Ctl., Avda. Ctl., Heredia, Heredia, 40101, Costa Rica
  • 5. Poás Volcano National Park

    This is widely regarded as Costa Rica's coolest volcano experience. An observation platform lets you peer right inside what is thought to be the largest...

    This is widely regarded as Costa Rica's coolest volcano experience. An observation platform lets you peer right inside what is thought to be the largest active volcanic crater in the world. The ride up here is disarming: pleasant farms and lush green cloud forest line the volcano's slopes; friendly fruit and jam vendors along the road beckon you to stop and sample their wares. Only when you get to the bubbling, gurgling, smoking summit do you leave those pastoral scenes behind and stare into the crater. Arrive here as early as possible in the morning for the best views. Clouds occasionally move in as early as midmorning. It's wise to step away from the crater and its fumes for fresh air at least once every 10 minutes, and a good place to take that break is the park's bustling visitor center—the country's best—with complete park information, a cafeteria, and a gift shop. The volcano features prominently on many itineraries of area tour operators. Increased volcanic activity in recent years forces periodic closure of the park. Check conditions before heading up here on your own. Entries are timed and must be reserved and paid for in advance at the national parks website. You'll undergo a mandatory safety presentation on arrival and must wear a helmet during your visit. The park's famed hiking trails are closed at this writing. For more information, see the color feature at the beginning of this chapter.

    Poás Volcán National Park, Alajuela, Costa Rica
    2482–2424

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $15
  • 6. Toucan Rescue Ranch

    One of Costa Rica's many animal-rescue facilities, Toucan Rescue Ranch is a great place to see wildlife. There are more than just toucans—the good-hearted folks...

    One of Costa Rica's many animal-rescue facilities, Toucan Rescue Ranch is a great place to see wildlife. There are more than just toucans—the good-hearted folks here care for many sloths and owls, too. The ultimate goal is to return the animals to the wild; the frail condition of some means that this will be their permanent home. The general 2½-hour walk focuses on observing the facility's work with toucans and sloths. Tickets must be purchased in advance on the facility’s website.

    Heredia, Heredia, Costa Rica
    2268--4041

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: From $62, Closed Mon., Reservations required
  • 7. Alajuela Cathedral

    The large neoclassical Alajuela Cathedral has columns topped by interesting capitals decorated with local agricultural motifs, and a striking red metal dome. Construction was completed...

    The large neoclassical Alajuela Cathedral has columns topped by interesting capitals decorated with local agricultural motifs, and a striking red metal dome. Construction was completed in 1863. The interior is spacious but rather plain, except for the ornate cupola above the altar.

    C. Ctl., Avdas. 1–Ctl., Alajuela, Alajuela, 20101, Costa Rica
    2443–2928
  • 8. Barva de Heredia

    About 3 km (2 miles) due north of Heredia, this colonial town is famous for mask making and for its Parque Central, still with the...

    About 3 km (2 miles) due north of Heredia, this colonial town is famous for mask making and for its Parque Central, still with the original adobe buildings with Spanish-tile roofs on three sides, and a white-stucco church to the east. The park is filled with whimsical sculptures, including a park bench shaped like an entire seated family, and bizarre masks and clown's heads decorating garbage receptacles. An amphitheater and stage stand ready for the annual mask festival held every August. (A less pleasant part of the August festival is the tradition of smacking one's fellow townspeople with cow or pig bladders—perhaps not a good time to visit.) The stout, handsome church with terra-cotta bas-relief flourishes dates from the late 18th century and has a lovely grotto shrine to the Virgin Mary in the church garden. On a clear day you can see verdant Volcán Barva towering to the north.

    Barva, Heredia, 40201, Costa Rica
  • 9. Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles

    Cartago's major tourist sight is a hodgepodge of architectural styles from Byzantine to baroque, with a dash of Gothic thrown in. The interior of this...

    Cartago's major tourist sight is a hodgepodge of architectural styles from Byzantine to baroque, with a dash of Gothic thrown in. The interior of this 1926 basilica is striking, with a colorful tile floor, intricately painted, faux-finish wood columns, and lots of stained glass. Tradition holds that an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the form of a dark stone occurred here in 1635. This "Black Virgin" (La Negrita) is Costa Rica's patron saint, and she sits high above the main altar. To the left as you face the altar is a room decorated with amulets given in dedication to the Virgin for her intercession in everything from triumphs over disease to triumphs on the soccer field.

    C. 16, Avdas. 2–4, Cartago, Cartago, 30102, Costa Rica
    2551–0465
  • 10. Basílica de Santo Domingo

    The splendid, late 19th-century Basílica de Santo Domingo is one of the country's only two basilicas, with two distinctive towers topped with gold domes. It's...

    The splendid, late 19th-century Basílica de Santo Domingo is one of the country's only two basilicas, with two distinctive towers topped with gold domes. It's often a venue for classical-music concerts throughout the year, including the July–August International Music Festival. The building otherwise keeps limited hours, open only for Mass and confessions.

    Santo Domingo, Heredia, 40301, Costa Rica
    2244–0168
  • 11. Butterfly Kingdom

    Butterflies are the "livestock" at this working farm in the heart of Escazú, where caterpillars are raised and then exported in chrysalis form. A two-hour...

    Butterflies are the "livestock" at this working farm in the heart of Escazú, where caterpillars are raised and then exported in chrysalis form. A two-hour tour of the operation takes you through the stages of a butterfly's life. The highlight is the garden where fluttering butterflies surround you. Sunny days fuel the most activity among them; they are quieter if the day is overcast. (The latter conditions make for easier photos.) Bilingual tours in English and Spanish are included in the admission price. The place can be difficult to find. Call for directions or take a taxi. Drivers know the facility as the mariposario.

    Bello Horizonte, 1 km (½ mile) south and 100 meters (328 feet) west of Distribuidora Santa Bárbara, Escazú, San José, 10201, Costa Rica
    2288–6667

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $5
  • 12. Carara National Park

    Sparse undergrowth here makes wildlife easier to see than in most other parks, although proximity to major population centers means that tour buses arrive regularly...

    Sparse undergrowth here makes wildlife easier to see than in most other parks, although proximity to major population centers means that tour buses arrive regularly in high season, prompting some animals to head deeper into the forest. Come very early or late in the day to avoid the crowds. Bird-watchers can call the day before to arrange admission before the park opens. If you're lucky, you may glimpse armadillos, basilisk lizards, coatis, and any of several monkey species, as well as birds such as blue-crowned motmots, chestnut-mandibled toucans, and trogons. A network of trails takes 15 minutes to four hours to navigate. (Many of the trails are wheelchair accessible.) The park has guides, but you must arrange their services in advance. Camping is not permitted.

    Orotina, Alajuela, 20501, Costa Rica
    2637–1080

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $10
  • 13. Casa de la Cultura

    Next to the Fortín, the tile-roof building with the handsome wood veranda is Heredia's Casa de la Cultura, which almost always has a free exhibition...

    Next to the Fortín, the tile-roof building with the handsome wood veranda is Heredia's Casa de la Cultura, which almost always has a free exhibition by local artists. Inside is a very small museum of town history, as well as a handsome inner atrium, with wooden galleries, where concerts are often held. The house was originally the stately home of early-20th-century president Alfredo González Flores (1877–1962).

    Avda. Ctl., C. Ctl., Heredia, Heredia, 40101, Costa Rica
    2261–4485

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 14. Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza

    A good place for bird-watchers and garden enthusiasts, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center—better known by its Spanish acronym, CATIE—is one of...

    A good place for bird-watchers and garden enthusiasts, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center—better known by its Spanish acronym, CATIE—is one of the leading tropical research centers in Latin America, with headquarters here and affiliates in nine other countries. You might catch sight of the yellow-winged northern jacana or the purple gallinule in the lagoon near the main building. The 10-square-km (4-square-mile) property includes landscaped grounds, seed-conservation chambers, greenhouses, orchards, experimental agricultural projects, a large swath of rain forest, labs and offices, and lodging for students and teachers. The most popular attraction is the Botanical Garden Tour, a two-hour guided walk to taste, smell, and touch tropical fruits, along with cacao, coffee, and other medicinal and stimulant plants. A favorite stop is the "miracle fruit" tree, whose berries magically make anything sour taste sweet. Reservations are required for guided tours.

    Turrialba, Cartago, 30502, Costa Rica
    2558–2000

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: From $15, Daily 7–4
  • 15. Church of Our Lady of Mercy

    This brick-red Gothic-style church is made of prefabricated iron. It's one of two buildings in the country made from steel frames and iron sheets imported...

    This brick-red Gothic-style church is made of prefabricated iron. It's one of two buildings in the country made from steel frames and iron sheets imported from Belgium in the late 19th century (the other is the metal schoolhouse next to San José's Parque Morazán), when some prominent Costa Ricans decided that metal structures would better withstand the periodic earthquakes that had taken their toll on so much of the country's architecture. The frames were shipped from Antwerp to Limón, then transported by train to Alajuela—from which the metal walls of the church were carried by oxcarts. Locals refer to the building as simply the “Iglesia Metálica” (Metal Church). The splendid 1886 German pipe organ, regarded as Costa Rica's finest, is worth a look inside.

    Avda. 1, Cs. 1–3, Grecia, Alajuela, 20301, Costa Rica
    2494–1616
  • 16. Church of San Ramón

    Aside from its poets, San Ramón's claim to fame is this massive church, built in a mixture of the Romanesque and Gothic styles. In 1924...

    Aside from its poets, San Ramón's claim to fame is this massive church, built in a mixture of the Romanesque and Gothic styles. In 1924 an earthquake destroyed the smaller adobe church that once stood here, and the city lost no time in creating a replacement—this great gray concrete structure took more than a quarter of a century to complete, from 1925 to 1954. To ensure that the second church would be earthquake-proof, workers poured the concrete around a steel frame that was designed and forged in Germany (by Krupp). Step past the formidable façade and you'll discover a bright, elegant interior.

    San Ramón, Alajuela, 20201, Costa Rica
    2445–7159
  • 17. Costa Rica Meadery

    Costa Rica's climate sadly doesn't allow for wine grapes to flourish, but crafty brewers have discovered perhaps the next best thing: mead, which is created...

    Costa Rica's climate sadly doesn't allow for wine grapes to flourish, but crafty brewers have discovered perhaps the next best thing: mead, which is created by fermenting honey with water. This farm is the first and currently only meadery in the country, with the mead's honey coming directly from the farm's nearby beehives and other local beekeepers. The meads are flavored with a variety of tropical fruits and flowers, including passion fruit and hibiscus. Book ahead to enjoy one- or two-hour tours of the farm, hives, and production facility, all ending with a tasting. You can also just visit the tasting room for a half-hour tasting, accompanied by honey and cheeses (advance reservations are still required). They occasionally host dinners too. The meadery proudly practices environmentally sound, socially equitable, and economically viable sustainability.

    Calle La Sabaneta, Santa Bárbara de Heredia, Heredia, Costa Rica
    8718–4094

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Tour $25
  • 18. Else Kientzler Botanical Garden

    Some 2,000 plant species, tropical and subtropical, flourish on 17 acres here, and all are well labeled. The German owner named the facility, affiliated with...

    Some 2,000 plant species, tropical and subtropical, flourish on 17 acres here, and all are well labeled. The German owner named the facility, affiliated with an ornamental-plant exporter, after his late plant-loving mother. About half of the garden's pathways are wheelchair accessible. When the tropical fruit trees are in season, visitors are permitted to pick and eat the fruit. Kids enjoy the maze and playground.

    Sarchí, Alajuela, 21201, Costa Rica
    2454–2070

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $6
  • 19. Fortín

    On the north side of the Parque Central in its own little park stands a strange tower, built as a military post in the 1870s....

    On the north side of the Parque Central in its own little park stands a strange tower, built as a military post in the 1870s. It never did see action and now serves as the symbol of the city, one of the few military monuments in this country without an army. The tower is closed to the public. The old brick building next to the Fortín is the Palacio Municipal (Town Hall).

    C. Ctl., Avda. Ctl., Heredia, Heredia, 40101, Costa Rica
  • 20. Guayabo National Monument

    On the slopes of Turrialba Volcano lies Costa Rica's only true archaeological site. The city, once home to possibly 10,000 people, was abandoned in AD...

    On the slopes of Turrialba Volcano lies Costa Rica's only true archaeological site. The city, once home to possibly 10,000 people, was abandoned in AD 1400, probably because of disease or war. Starting from the round, thatch-roof reception center, guided tours will take you through the rain forest to a lookout from which you can see the layout of the excavated circular buildings. Only the raised foundations survive, since the conical houses themselves were built of wood. As you descend into the ruins, notice the well-engineered surface and covered aqueducts leading to a trough of drinking water, which still functions today. Guayabo has been recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers as a feat of Latin American civil engineering second only to Machu Picchu. The hillside jungle is captivating, and the trip is further enhanced by bird-watching possibilities: 200 species have been recorded.

    Turrialba, Cartago, 30507, Costa Rica
    2559–1220

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: From $5

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