It’s a common occurrence for Costa Rica vacationers: your itinerary has you flying out in the late afternoon, leaving just enough time for some Central Valley explorations before hopping on the plane. So what do you do with a half day in Alajuela or the metropolitan area of San Jose? The following attractions are some of the region’s most popular, and are especially convenient for travelers departing out of SJO.
Cultural highlights in San Jose
If you love the hustle and bustle of the city, downtown San Jose boasts a slew of cultural and historic treasures, from indigenous stone works at the National Museum to hand-crafted goods at the Artisan Market. Vendors are famous for their custom wood creations, including cutting boards, oversize bowls and wine holders. For some excellent people watching, head to the Plaza de la Cultura where you can sip on cappuccinos while souvenir shopping and tour the elegant Neo-baroque décor of the National Theater – considered one of the nation’s most beautiful historic buildings.
Learn about oxcart traditions in Sarchi
Escape to the cool mountain town of Sarchi, located just over an hour’s drive from San Jose. Known for its skilled artisans who produce everything from custom-made rocking chairs and hardwood furniture to tourist trinkets, the locals here are famous for their gorgeous hand-painted oxcarts – a symbol of Costa Rica’s agrarian roots. Take a behind-the-scenes peek at several oxcart factories, where experienced tradesmen can be seen carving and decorating these iconic souvenirs, which are sold in all colors and sizes.
Get caffeinated on a delicious coffee tour
Java junkies adore Costa Rica’s robust coffee, some of which is grown on the fertile slopes of Poas Volcano. To learn more about the trade and sample several varieties of award-winning Tres Generaciones coffee, plan a trip to Doka Estate – one of the country’s oldest working coffee farms. A total sensory experience, this tour encourages guests to touch, smell and taste along the way, as you discover how the plants are grown using eco-friendly techniques and beans harvested and roasted to perfection. After your coffee tour, pick up one of their incredible roasts (choose between Italian espresso, House Blend, Peaberry and French Roast), which are reasonably priced at around $9 for a 1 pound bag.
Bubbling crater at Poas Volcano National Park
If your Costa Rica family vacation was limited to the beach, don’t miss an opportunity to tour Poas Volcano – home to the planet’s second biggest volcanic crater at nearly one mile wide! A $10 entrance fee grants you admission to lovely nature trails that snake through misty cloud forest, an onsite museum and gift shop, and access to the lookout point where a steaming crater dazzles thousands of guests each year. Situated 8,900 feet above sea level, this park can get chilly, so be sure to dress appropriately. Located 24 miles north of Alajuela, Poas Volcano can be reached by public bus, taxi or car rental.