CENTRAL VALLEY

Central Valley

Approximately two-thirds of Costa Rica’s 4.5 million inhabitants live in the Central Valley. This is where the capital, San José, is located, as well as the main cities of Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago. The Juan Santamaría Airport, although known as the San José airport, is actually located in the city of Alajuela, approximately 20 km from the center of San José.

The Central Valley is surrounded to the north and south by mountain ranges. National parks located in the valley protect the major volcanoes of Poás, Irazú, Turrialba, Barva, and in Braulio Carrillo National Park. All are accessible by good roads, so you can easily visit to enjoy the birds, landscapes, forests, and volcanic craters.

The Central Valley boasts two areas of extraordinary beauty, which are impressive tourist destinations: Turrialba and the Valley of the Saints. These rural towns have great scenic beauty and offer a glimpse into life in «old Costa Rica», with their adobe houses, large coffee plantations, sugar cane mills, and dairy farms.

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Main possible activities in the Central Valley include: Shopping, dining out, visiting museums and art galleries, touring historic and architectural sites, photography, language schools, visiting butterfly farms and snake parks, birdwatching, horseback riding, hiking, biking, observing flora and fauna, visiting sugar cane mills, and community-based rural tourism activities.

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The best museums in the country are located in the capital: the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, the Jade Museum, the National Museum of Costa Rica, the Costa Rican Art Museum, La Salle Natural Science Museum, the Insect Museum of the University of Costa Rica, and the Museum of Contemporary Art & Design. One of Costa Rica’s architectural gems, the National Theater, is located in the heart of downtown at the Plaza de la Cultura.

MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF THE CENTRAL VALLEY

City of San Jose

San José is located at 1,149 meters above sea level, with an average temperature of 24 degrees Celsius. The city center boasts beautiful architecture, with many buildings declared national monuments of cultural, historical, or architectural interest. Additionally, you have museums, galleries, and the famous National Theater, built in 1897 by coffee barons who wanted to provide the city with an elegant venue for exquisite performances by renowned national and international artists. San José offers a range of high-level restaurant and accommodation options; there is no shortage of bed & breakfasts or popular local eateries known as «sodas,» as well as trendy taverns, nightlife, cinemas, and theaters. Popular festivals and religious celebrations in the city of San José take place in December and are traditional fun activities you can enjoy during your visit.

Braulio Carrillo National Park

Braulio Carrillo National Park covers over 44,000 hectares and is one of the largest protected areas in Costa Rica. Most of the landscape is composed of tall volcanic mountains shrouded in forests and numerous rivers cutting through deep canyons. The park contains several dormant volcanoes – Chompipe, Zur, Cerro Cacho Negro, and Barva, which has several craters collectively known as the «Three Marys» with an average altitude of 1,725 meters. Visitor services in the National Park include a ranger station, trails, restrooms, drinking water, signage, and various natural viewpoints.

Poás Volcano National Park

Rising 2,708 meters in height, Poás Volcano is one of the largest and most active volcanoes in Costa Rica, attracting thousands of visitors each year. The volcano’s proximity to the Central Valley, just above Alajuela, and the fact that you can drive right up to the summit add to the popularity of the national park. The summit features two craters – the main crater, which is 1.5 km in diameter and 300 meters deep, making it the largest crater in the world, and a second dormant crater filled with cold blue-green water called Laguna Botos (Botos Lagoon). Visitor services include a ranger station, trails, various natural viewpoints, and a visitor center offering restrooms, drinking water, a cafeteria, small museum, and a large gift shop.

Sarchí

The small and picturesque town of Sarchí is located in the province of Alajuela. It is known throughout Costa Rica for its artisan crafts, and many workshops and stores can be found that are fascinating to visit. Woodworking, furniture making, and crafting souvenirs are the town’s main products. The most famous and popular item is the oxcart, traditionally used to transport coffee by oxen from the Central Valley to the port of Puntarenas. These intricately painted, brightly colored Costa Rican oxcarts were declared a national symbol in 1988. Sarchi furniture boasts a design and quality that is internationally recognized, making it a true national icon.

Irazú Volcano National Park

The national park protects the colossus of Irazú, an active volcano standing at 3,432 meters, making it the highest in Costa Rica. Irazú has a long history of eruptions and eruptive cycles. Its geological features include the main craters of Playa Hermosa and Diego de la Haya, as well as the highest point of the massif from where you can see both the Caribbean and the Pacific on a clear day. What’s great about Volcán Irazú is that you can drive right up to the main crater at the top. Visitor facilities at the main crater include bathrooms, picnic tables, and a small snack bar to get food and hot drinks, which can be nice since the average temperature is a chilly 7.2º C. There are trails, a ranger station, and parking. The park is open seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and it’s recommended to visit early in the morning as cloud swirls typically envelop the summit later in the day.

Turrialba Volcano National Park

The main feature of this national park is the recently active Turrialba Volcano. With an approximate height of 3,340 meters, it is the second highest volcano in Costa Rica and shares the same base with Irazú Volcano – often identified as twin volcanoes. There are three well-defined craters and others that have been disfigured by volcanic activity. Turrialba Volcano is currently active with emissions of gases and water vapor with sulfur deposits. Visitor services include trails and various natural viewpoints.

National Monument Guayabo "Lost City" of Costa Rica

The Guayabo National Monument is one of the largest archaeological sites in Costa Rica. It covers 218 hectares and is located at 1,100 meters above sea level near the Turrialba Volcano. The city of Guayabo is believed to date back approximately 3,000 years and had a population of around 10,000 people. No one knows why the thriving city was mysteriously abandoned around 1400 AD. Its complex systems of aqueducts, cisterns, stairways, circular mounds, monoliths, petroglyphs, tombs, cobblestone pavements, and ceramic and gold artifacts are its most impressive features. In 2009, the Guayabo National Monument was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Orosi Valley

Hidden from conventional travel routes, an hour’s drive from the Central Valley is the Orosi Valley, with its colonial town of the same name. Here, the Spanish established their first settlement. Orosi is home to the oldest church (1743) currently in use in Costa Rica. A visit to this church can be combined with a small museum of religious art. Orosi’s strategic location in the Reventazón River valley makes it a great destination for nature and adventure travel. Activities include trout and shrimp fishing, boating on Lake Cachí, natural hot springs in Orosi, and rafting on the Reventazón.

Reventazón River

This great tropical river is ideal in many sections for rafting, fishing, and boating. Dense vegetation hugs its shores. The flow of this river is important for feeding the Cachí hydroelectric plant.

Represa Hidroeléctrica de Cachí

The Cachí Dam is one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the country and is located on the northeast side of Lake Cachí. It is the first of its kind in Central America, standing 79 meters tall with a reinforced concrete structure and a length of 186 meters. The dam attracts the attention of both domestic and foreign tourists passing through the Ujarrás Valley. In the vicinity of the reservoir, several recreational tourism businesses have been established.

Tapantí National Park - Cerro de la Muerte

Covering over 583 square kilometers, Tapantí National Park and Cerro de la Muerte are among the rainiest places in the country. Located southeast of San José, near Orosi and Cartago, the area is home to 45 species of mammals, 260 types of birds, 30 types of reptiles, and ancient oak forests. There are over 150 rivers, many waterfalls, and swimming ponds in the park. There are several trails, and hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are popular activities, along with trout fishing and birdwatching. Visitor services include a ranger station, trails, restrooms, drinking water, and natural viewpoints.

Savegre River - San Gerardo de Dota

The area of San Gerardo de Dota, in the Savegre River valley, is famous for its birdwatching, hiking, and rainbow trout fishing. At 2,200 meters above sea level, this region is the natural habitat for the Quetzal. San Gerardo de Dota is very picturesque for photography and video filming.

Los Quetzales National Park

Los Quetzales National Park covers more than 12,300 acres near Cerro de la Muerte and the small village of Santa Maria de Dota, including what was formerly known as the Los Santos Forest Reserve. The park features three types of rainforest and 14 ecosystems situated along the Talamanca mountain range and the headwaters of the Savegre River. Diverse flora and fauna reside in the region, including approximately 200 bird species, such as the resplendent Quetzals, tanagers, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers.

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