Jonathan Gregson

Central Valley & Highlands

It is on the nontouristy, coffee-cultivated hillsides of the Central Valley that you'll find Costa Rica’s heart and soul. This is not only the geographical center of the country but also its cultural and spiritual core. It is here that the Spanish colonizers first arrived, here that coffee built a prosperous nation, and here that picturesque highland villages still gather for centuries-old fiestas. It is also here that you’ll get to fully appreciate Costa Rica’s country cooking: artisanal cheeses, steamy corn cakes and freshly caught river trout.

Curvy mountain roads force travelers to slow their pace. Quaint and quirky agricultural towns invite leisurely detours to farmers markets and church processions, a refreshing break from the tourist-industrial complex on the coasts. But it's not all cows and coffee – world-class rapids, resplendent quetzals and close encounters with active volcanoes all show off the rich landscape in which Costa Rica's character is rooted.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Central Valley & Highlands.