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Introducing La Garita

In an area that attracts scientists who research maize, it is not surprising that this town – spread out along the road that connects Alajuela to Atenas – is lined with restaurants whose specialty is corn: corn soup, cornbread, tamales and chorreadas (savory corn pancakes) to be exact. It's located 11km west of Alajuela and worth the pilgrimage if you are looking for good country eats. The road is dotted with little family-run establishments where you can sample these regional treats.

About 10km west of Alajuela, you’ll find Zoo Ave, a well-designed animal park sheltering more than 115 species of birds on colorful, squawking display in a relaxing 14-hectare setting. The zoo houses all four species of Costa Rican monkey, wild cats, reptiles and other native critters, many of which are rescues. Though technically a zoo, it is also an important animal breeding center that aims to reintroduce native species into the wild; admission fees fund wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, release and conservation programs.

Continue west and the road slides over the Interamericana. Just north of the intersection, La Casona del Maíz is usually jam-packed with families enjoying the spectacular Tico country cooking. The menu is heavy on the grilled meats and corn dishes, though there are veggie casados as well. The chorreadas are excellent, but don’t leave without sampling the tasty corn soup, studded with sweet, fresh kernels, or the falling-off-the-bone pork ribs (costillas de cerdo).

Buses (US$0.90, 30 minutes) run between Alajuela and La Garita, via Zoo Ave, every half-hour.