The Central Valley is where you’ll find the real heart and soul of Costa Rica. It is the geographical and cultural centre of the country, where the country’s biggest cities are clustered amongst volcanic hills and cultivated coffee plantations. 70% of Costa Ricans, or Ticos live here. It is the beating cultural pulse, which hasn’t changed its pace for tourism.
San Jose, together with Cartago, Costa Rica’s old capital, and the provinces of Alajuela and Heredia, are all part of the Central Valley. If you’re travelling to Costa Rica, you’ll probably imagine arriving in San Jose; however, there is no airport in the city itself. The Juan Santamaria Airport is a 40-minute drive from the capital, located in the province of Alajuela.
Alajuela, and its surroundings, have a reputation for having the most pleasant temperatures in the world. Four volcanoes sit gracefully, watching over the valley from the horizon, and the soil is famously fertile. This is where coffee is a source and symbol of Costa Rican prosperity, and high-altitude arabica clings to the slopes of Poas and Bara Volcanoes.
Among the best things to do in Costa Rica is to spend a day exploring local coffee estates, and, learning about the bean-to-cup process. Hike towards the steaming fumaroles of Poas Volcano’s active crater, which is past the azure Botos Lagoon, encircled by trees of emerald green. Or become immersed in local flora and fauna at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which is another excellent thing to do in Costa Rica for nature and wildlife lovers as it’s where you’ll see birds, butterflies, monkeys, hummingbirds, snakes and frogs.
San Jose offers an introduction to Costa Rican art, music and history. The central market is well worth a visit if you want to try traditional Costa Rican dishes, connect with locals, or bring home an authentic souvenir. Colonial architecture culminates in colourful public parks, and the Parisian-designed National Theatre is a surprising addition to an already diverse city. Its neo-Baroque style is adorned with Italian marble and an opulent design, wonderfully contrasting the chaos of the natural world. The Central Valley is where the Spanish colonisers first arrived, and villagers in the highlands still celebrate centuries-old fiestas. It’s where you’ll sample some of the most interesting Costa Rican cuisine and feel like you’ve got to know the country from a local’s point of view.