Approximately two-thirds of Costa Rica’s 4.5 million inhabitants live in the Central Valley. Here is where the capital city of San José is located, as well as the major cities of Alajuela, Heredia and Cartago. The Juan Santamaria Airport, though known as the San José airport, is actually situated in the city of Alajuela, approximately 20 km from downtown San José.
The best museums in the country are in the capital city: the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, the Jade Museum, the Costa Rica National Museum, the Costa Rican Art Museum, the La Salle Natural Science Museum, the Insect Museum at the University of Costa Rica, and the Museum of Contemporary Art & Design. One of Costa Rica’s architectural jewels, the National Theatre, is located in the heart of the downtown in the Cultural Plaza.
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, and Barva in the Braulio Carrillo National Park. All are reachable by good roads, so you can easily visit to enjoy the birds, landscapes, forests and volcanic craters.
The Central Valley features two areas of extraordinary beauty, which are impressive tourist destinations: Turrialba and the Valley of the Saints. These rural villages hold great scenic beauty and offer a glimpse into life in “old Costa Rica” with its houses of adobe, large coffee estates, sugar cane mills and dairy farms.
Main activities possible in the Central Valley include: Shopping, dining out, visit museums and art galleries, tour historical and architectural sites, photography, language schools, visit butterfly farms and Serpentariums, bird watching, horseback riding, hiking, recreational cycling, observe flora and fauna, visit sugar cane mills, and community-based rural tourism activities.