Introducing Central Valley & Highlands

Although the Central Valley is one of the world’s principal coffee-growing centers, the cultural and political environment of the region has matured greatly in recent years. With the booming capital of San José at its core, and the bustling cities of Alajuela, Heredia and Cartago on its perimeter, the Central Valley serves as the main population center of the country as well as embodying the modern-day persona of Costa Rica. The region boasts one of the largest microchip production centers in the world, and the country’s young workforce is educated, computer-savvy and increasingly bilingual. With vast cityscapes, a modern infrastructure and dizzying traffic, Costa Rica is clearly much more than ‘pretty beaches and rain forest.’

In recent years, hotels have started springing up throughout the Central Valley, particularly near the airport in Alajuela. Although travelers are discovering that the city is a safer and more convenient alternative to staying in San José, tourism remains low-key throughout the region. However, it’s worth taking a few days to explore the country’s heartland where you can experience Costa Rica from a unique, ‘nongringofied’ prospective.

As an added bonus, regional roads are generally excellent and public transportation is inexpensive, frequent and comfortable – a bus ride of no more than two hours will bring you to towering waterfalls, active volcanoes, steaming hot springs, enormous coffee fincas (farms or plantations) and some of the best white-water rafting in the world. And, if you have a rental car, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of shifting gears on a windy, mountain road.

Alajuela & The North Of The Valley

Cradled by the gentle undulations of coffee fincas and tamed jungle parks, the provincial capital of Alajuela lies about 18km northwest of San José. Originally known as Villa Hermosa, it’s still a very ‘pretty city, ’ not to mention the country’s second largest, with a population of more than 185, 000. And, contrary to what most cab drivers will tell you, Alajuela is only 3km from Juan Santamaría international airport, and is rapidly becoming the preferred base for travelers leaving and entering the country.

From coffee barons to conglomerate banks, the pulse and ebb of Alajuela has always been fast-paced and modern, though a short drive into the north of the valley will change your perspective on the area. The colonial heyday of coffee exportation has left its mark on the terraced hillsides, and the lives of many campesinos (farmers) still revolve around the cycle of the harvest.