Biotrans Tours & Transportation Experts
Tourist activities abound in this region, and may take in culture, adventure or nature.
Outside the big cities, in the Central Valley’s rural zone, getting about on horseback is commonplace. Tourists can enjoy this activity in communities such as Turrialba, Santa María de Dota, Atenas, Zarcero, San Ramón, Palmares, upper Cartago, Heredia and Alajuela, as well as in the south and west parts of San José: Escazú, Santa Ana and Ciudad Colón, among other places.
There is no limit to the variety of hikes available for observing the region’s natural, historical, architectural, cultural, religious and commercial attractions.
The region offers a variety of picturesque roads and adventure or leisure sites that allow touring on regular or mountain bikes. Interesting routes include San Antonio de Escazú to the University for Peace, Turrialba to La Suiza, and Cañón del Guarco to Copey de Dota.
In recent years, a variety of new shopping centers have been developed in Curridabat, Zapote, downtown Alajuela, Escazú and Heredia, offering interesting shopping options for international tourists.
Art galleries have experienced a significant increase in recent years, not only in tourist and hotel districts but also in major commercial centers. Examples of Costa Rican art may be seen in cultural houses and in all the provincial capitals. In association with the Ministry of Culture, a few municipalities have created Culture Offices to discover local artists, which has encouraged an increase in artistic endeavors.
ARCHITECTURAL AND HISTORIC SITES
The Central Valley contains a wide variety of sites and buildings declared National Monuments or of architectural or historical interest to appeal to tourists appreciative of the country’s national heritage.
The cavern system in the outskirts of Patarrá offers adventure and the chance to learn about the fossils found in the mountain.
Many modern shopping centers and typical towns have restaurants and sodas (small, usually family-run restaurants serving local food) where visitors can sample Costa Rican cuisine. Communities with traditions in traditional food and drink include Zarcero, Ciudad Quesada, Santa María de Dota, Aserrí, La Garita, Poasito de Alajuela, Monte de la Cruz, Heredia, Pacayas de Alvarado, Santa Cruz de Turrialba, Atenas, Orosí and Grecia, as well as El Empalme, La Trinidad and Copey.
PLANT AND WILDLIFE OBSERVATION
Visitors can observe nature and wildlife in several public protected areas, such as Braulio Carrillo, Volcán Poás and Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte, as well as in the Lankester Botanical Garden, the Simón Bolívar Zoo, the Santa Ana National Zoo and the zoo in La Garita de Alajuela. Added to these, a few theme parks offer enjoyable experiences with nature.
Sugar mills are used for one of the most traditional processes in the country: manufacturing products from sugar cane. Mostly located in rural areas, sugar mills are places where entire families get their livelihood, and where grandfathers, parents and children alike participate in the work. Old sugar mills in good working condition are found in Piedades Norte, Bajos de la Paz and San Ramón de Alajuela; some of these are powered by oxen. Water-powered mills can be found in San Antonio de Escazú, Jaris de Mora and Grecia. Several sugar mills have been converted into tourist attractions for travelers wanting to try sugary treats such as perico, sobado and espumas, breathe in the sweet aroma or learn about the production process.
The most culturally and historically diverse selection of museums in the country are located in this region, including the National Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Children’s Museum, Museum of Costa Rican Art, Gold Museum, Popular Culture Museum, Juan Santamaría Museum, Orosí Museum, Entomological Museum, La Salle Museum, Jade Museum and others.
The Central Valley offers several bird-watching sites, including Copey de Dota and Macizo de la Muerte on the southern Interamerican highway, El Rodeo Protected Area, the environs of the University for Peace, the Tapantí area, Paraíso and the upper regions of Coronado. Birds in captivity may be seen in the Simón Bolívar Zoo and the Bird Zoo in La Garita, Alajuela.
TREETOP AND TRAIL ADVENTURES
Several companies and organizations have developed facilities for visitors to enjoy adventure activities on nature trails and in the forest canopy: INBIO in Santo Domingo de Heredia; the Central American Livestock Farming School in Balsa de Atenas; the TURU BA-RI Tropical Park in Turrubares, which has facilities with an ecotourism focus, gardens with exotic species, a herbarium, a garden maze and butterfly garden; and the Butterfly Garden in the outskirts of Varablanca, with trails between several waterfalls on the Río La Paz, a hummingbird garden and butterfly garden.
Photography is a promising activity thanks to the varied cultural, architectural and scenic options available, as well as the wealth of flora and fauna, waterfalls, rivers, volcanoes, coffee and sugarcane plantations and dairies.
As a complement to the tourist activities available in the Central Valley, language training is offered in some state universities, as well as through a few private institutions and travel agencies. Courses may be taken not only in the capital but also in towns such as San Isidro de Coronado, Ciudad Colón and Paraíso.
BUTTERFLY AND SNAKE GARDENS
Visitors to these places can observe a variety of butterfly species or learn about the natural history of snakes. There are gardens in San José, Heredia and Turrialba.
TRAIN RIDE TO THE PACIFIC
Tourists can take the train from San José to the Pacific on the “Paseo en Tren a la Tica” departing for Caldera every Saturday and Sunday at six a.m. This unique activity started up a few years ago after a group of friends had the idea to somehow revive those unforgettable train trips that started in 1910, when the María Cecilia locomotive first began direct train service between San José and Puntarenas. With a total capacity of 130 passengers, the train departs at six on the nose. The route has not changed; behind the tracks are the Numar factory, La Sabana, Pavas and Belén. Loitering in the aisles is not permitted, as vendors pass through selling coffee and refreshments, followed by newspapers, oranges, mangos and sweets. At Río Grande, a serenade begins and is repeated from car to car. The Cambalache tunnel indicates the train’s approach to Mata de Limón, and at ten a.m. it arrives at its last stop: Puerto Caldera.
RURAL TOURISM ACTIVITIES AND SERVICES
Rural tourism activities and services offered in the Central Valley and their corresponding locations within the region are as follows:
A wide variety of attractions and activities are offered around La Cangreja Lodge in Puriscal, one kilometer south of Mastatal. Activities: Nature-trail hiking, visits to a sugar mill, horseback riding to Del Rey waterfalls or La Cangreja hill, tobacco tours, visits to the Quitirrisi Indigenous Reservation.
San José Rural Lodge, located three kilometers east of the Escuela de Palmichal de Acosta, offers several activities and attractions. Activities: Trips through a 42-hectare preserve, visits to a coffee refinery, bicycle tours and visits to the Quitirrisi Indigenous Reservation.
Located 15 kilometers northwest of San Ramón in Bajo La Paz, Bajo La Paz Student Hostel allows guests to enjoy nature and communal life. Activities: Trails through primary and secondary forest, horseback rides to Las Placas hill, visits to sugar mills and waterfalls and trout fishing.
La Flor de Paraíso Tropical Agro-ecology Farm and Language School is located in the community of La Flor, in Paraíso de Cartago. Activities: Tours of the property, with farm animals, organic crops, forest in regeneration, a crafts workshop, botanical garden and sugar mill.
Copal Lodge is located six kilometers from Humo de Pejibaye, Jiménez; the last stretch of road requires an all-terrain vehicle. Activities: Forest trail hiking and bird-watching, visits to the sugar mill, horseback and oxcart rides.