Central Valley & Adjacent Highlands Attractions
As the popular English name suggests, the "Central Valley" covers the central region of Costa Rica. Surrounding the national capital city of San José, the Central Valley is bounded by the Cordillera Central mountain range in the north and east and the Cordillera de Talamanca to the south.
The western edge of the Valley falls off into the Pacific lowlands. The highlands surrounding the Central Valley include the famous Poás and Irazú Volcanoes and the Reventazón River Valley that are often visited as day excursions from San José and other larger cities in the area.This region has been an important agricultural zone since thousands of Native farmers cultivated the land before the arrival of the Spanish. The first Spanish to settle in the area were attracted by the pleasant climate and the fertile volcanic soil. Today, roughly two-thirds of the Costa Rican population live in the Central Valley, and four of the seven provinces of Costa Rica are included in the region. A unique situation can be seen as the provincial capital cities of Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago lie within 25km/16mi of San José, also the capital city of San José province.
Poás Volcano National Park
One of the oldest and best known national parks in Costa Rica, the Poás Volcano National Park sees about half a million visitors annually. Covering 5599ha/13830ac, the obvious attraction of the park is the Poás Volcano (2704m/8869ft) that is composed of composite basalt. Records show the volcano has been active since before 1828 and has shown three periods of major activity.The bubbling, steaming crater can be viewed from the top, as current volcanic activity prevents descending any further. Occasionally there are geyser-like eruptions that have caused acid rain in the area and damaged local crops. The vast crater measures 300m/984ft and stretches across 1.5km/0.93mi.Near the crater is an excellent example of dwarf cloud forest, including lichens, bromeliads and moss-covered twisted trees that grow in the volcanic soil. Several species of birds can be spotted, including some species that are often only found at high altitudes such as the red-throated hummingbird.Other birds to look for are the sooty robin and the quetzal. There are various hiking trails in the park, and most of the trails that lead to the active crater are relatively easy. A steeper trail leads through the cloud forest to an extinct crater that has formed the Botos Lagoon.
Sarchi, Costa Rica
Sarchí is the major craft-making center of Costa Rica. The small town is divided by the Trojas River into north and south quarters and stretches for several kilometres/miles. The main plaza in Sarchí Norte (North Sarchí) features a twin-towered church, some restaurants and a few accommodations.The main reason to visit Sarchí is for the crafts that are generally carved out of local, natural woods. Artisans can be observed carving and painting wooden ox-carts, carving boards and unique wooden jewellery. Several furniture factories are also found in Sarchí.
Zarcero, Costa Rica
Zarcero lies on the western edge of the Cordillera Central at an elevation of 1700m/5576ft. The town is known for its production of homemade white cheeses and peach preserves, but also for an interesting garden in front of the town church.The shrubs and bushes have been attractively sculpted into forms of humans and animals such as rabbits, horses and elephants. Due to the elevation of the town, the temperatures are cooler here but pleasant and fresh.
Coronado, Costa Rica
The Coronado area encompasses the villages of San Isidro de Coronado, San Antonio de Coronado and Dulce Nombre de Coronado. San Isidro lies at 1,383m/4,536ft and is a popular destination for San José residents looking to escape the city. There are few attractions, and no accommodations in the area. Most travellers pass through for an afternoon en route to other destinations.
Clodomiro Picado Institute
Run by the University of Costa Rica, this institute offers a display of local poisonous snakes, and offers education about the antivenin serum-making process. Each week on Friday, snakes are "milked" for their poison that is then converted to antivenom. The serum is for sale.
Los Angeles Cloud Forest Reserve
About 800ha/2000ac of cloud forest surround a dairy ranch that is owned by former Costa Rican president Rodrigo Carazo. There is a 1.9km/1.18mi boardwalk trail as well as other foot and horse trails that lead to good vistas of the cloud forest and waterfalls. Several bird species can be seen, and bilingual naturalist guides offer hikes and canopy tours.
Palmares, Costa Rica
This small village is known for its annual fiesta that occurs over ten days in the middle of January. The celebration takes the form of a country fair and attracts residents from the entire Central Valley.Family-oriented events include interesting sideshows and carnival rides. Bullfights also happen, however in Costa Rica the bull is never killed. Food and drink vendors are abundant.
Rancho Redondo, Costa Rica
Rancho Redondo is a small community at an elevation of 2,000m/6,560ft. The village offers excellent vistas of San José and the agricultural countryside of the Central Valley. In and around the community are country roads lined with the famous "living fence posts": the fertile volcanic soil has caused the posts to sprout and turn into trees.
San Vincente de Moravia, Costa Rica
Known locally as Moravia, this village is famous for the handicrafts produced by locals. Once a coffee-farm center, today most travellers visit Moravia to stock up on the locally made goods, especially leather but also crafts of woods, ceramics and jewellery. There are many shops surrounding the spacious Central Park (Parque Central).
San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica
San Ramón is a large agricultural center producing various fresh produce. Each Saturday, a huge farmer's market offers the region's fresh fruits and vegetables. San Ramón is known locally as "the town of presidents and poets" since many of them were born or have lived in the area.
Grecia, Costa Rica
An agricultural area producing pineapples and sugarcane, Grecia was once voted the cleanest town in Latin America. The picturesque small town is noted for its unusual metal church, which is painted a deep red and has a white gingerbread trim.
World of Snakes
This serpentarium features over 150 snakes representing over 50 species from around the world, with an emphasis on species found in Costa Rica. The snakes, as well as some frogs, crocodiles and other reptiles are displayed in cages simulating the species' natural habitats. The open-air exhibit is committed to research as well as breeding endangered species.