Alajuela, Costa Rica: Things to Do & Where to Go

The province of Alajuela is the second largest province in Costa Rica and is located in the north-central region of the country. While there are many ecosystems in this province, two distinct areas stand out above the others. This includes the Northern Plains (Llanuras del Norte) and the Central Valley highlands.

Alajuela, Costa Rica

Average temperatures in the region range from 36.6º Fahrenheit to 95.6º throughout the year. The seasons are split up into two main periods: the dry season from December to April and the rainy season from May until November. When the rainy season is in full swing, you can expect to see daily moisture as the area is impacted by the Atlantic hurricane season, although hurricanes rarely travel as far south as Costa Rica.

Alajuela is best known for the beauty of its natural environment. The fertile lands allow locals to cultivate tropical ornamentals, coffee, rice, corn, pineapples, bananas, sugarcane and root, and green vegetables. While there are many areas in Costa Rica which produce coffee, the Alajuela province is the largest producer of coffee in the whole country.

Culture and History

The capital city of the Alajuela province is the city of Alajuela followed by the city of Ciudad Quesada. The impressive city of Alajuela is best known for their mango trees. Mangos have become such a distinctive characteristic of this city that it has been nicknamed “The City of Mangos,” and a special festival is held every June to celebrate the fruit of the land.

Mangos are a staple in Alajuela, Costa Rica (photo credit)

Many of the mango trees in this city can be found in the Tomás Guardia Central Park. The park is a gathering place for locals and surrounded by interesting and historical buildings. Strolling through the interior of the park you will find beautiful landscaping and a noted fountain that was imported from Glasgow, Scotland.

In the Tomás Guardia Central Park and throughout the city you can find cultural and artistic events. To create a sense of community amongst the local Alajelans, the city has initiated a contest among local artists to create public art to be featured around the city. To interact more with artisans and local entrepreneurs you can spend some time in the Central Market where butchers, watchmakers, and farmers all congregate to sell their goods.

Of historical significance to the “Alajuelan” community is the Monument of Juan Santamaria in the Juan Santamaria Plaza. This bronze statue was dedicated in 1891 in memorial of a man who gave his life to defend Costa Rican freedoms and independence at the Battle of Rivas in 1856. This historical moment is of significant importance to the locals.

Monument of Juan Santamaria in the Juan Santamaria Plaza
The Monument of Juan Santamaria in the Juan Santamaria Plaza (photo credit)

Additional attractions in Alajuela include Zoo Ave which has a bird rehabilitation and breeding center, The Municipal Theater and the Alajuela Cathedral. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy the Alajuela Central Park or take a trip to the Juan Castro Blanco National Park or the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge.

Things to Do in Alajuela, Costa Rica

One of the most popular destinations in this province, for visitors of all kinds, is the beautiful and small town of La Fortuna located at the base of the Arenal Volcano. Activities are available for those looking to luxuriate or for those looking to get a rustic feel for local living. From La Fortuna, you can visit many of the natural hot spring resorts nearby. Some hot springs are more luxurious than others but we can help you find the right places to go. Before you hop in the springs, spend the afternoon by taking a quick ride to the base of the Arenal Volcano where you can go fishing or visit one of the many nature reserves.

Arenal Hot Springs in Costa Rica
Soaking in the hot springs near Arenal is a must-do activity!

There are many other towns worth visiting in the Alajuela province, one of which is Sarchí. In Sarchí, you are in the cradle of the arts and crafts of the country where artisans specialize in oxcarts, furniture and more. If you prefer the natural arts, the Zarcero Park in the town of Zarcero has a large public topiary garden with 100 figures sculpted into pine and cypress trees. This park came about due to the vision of gardener Evangelisto Blanco in the 1960s. The town now works to keep his tradition alive.

West of Sarchí is San Ramón, a town referred to as “la tierra de las poetas” or, land of the poets. Many of the great Costa Rican poets and authors have come from this area and the town is proud of this. An additional location of historical and cultural significance in the area is Gracia. This peaceful city is focused on textiles and architecture with the most famous feature being the Our Lady of Mercy Church which is almost entirely built out of sheet metal that was imported from Belgium.

Outdoor Adventures in Alajuela

Alajuela is flush in national parks making this province a primary attraction for incoming visitors. The extensive list of parks includes the Poás Volcano National Park, Arenal Volcano National Park, Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park, Juan Castro Blanco National Park, Los Ángeles Cloud Forest, and Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, as well as other reserves and protected areas.

Poas National park (Alajuela Costa Rica)
Poas National Park is a sight to behold (photo credit)

The Arenal volcano just outside of La Fortuna until recently was one of the most active in the world. At the Poás Volcano National Park, you will find amenities including hiking trails and animal and bird watching. This volcano is home to one of the most acidic lakes in the world and holds an impressive color. The jewel of the Costa Rica National Parks is the Tenorio volcano with four volcanic peaks and two craters.

To witness a one of a kind, natural phenomenon take a hike to Rio Celeste. The waters here have amazed visitors and scientists for years as the vivid aqua waters flow through the park. Just a short stop away from Rio Celeste is the Indian Reservation Maleku, which will introduce you to the cultural history of Costa Rica.

Rio Celeste (Costa Rica)
The amazingly blue waters of Rio Celeste

If you like to explore and search for flora and fauna, the Juan Castro Blanco National Park has over 40 species of amphibians, 100 species of birds and 30 species of mammals. Out of this group, 64 of the species in this park are currently on the endangered list in Costa Rica, making this space a very special place. Native species for the Alajuela province included the white-headed capuchin, the mantled howler monkey, Baird’s tapir, anteaters, margays, ocelots and other wild cats like the rarely seen jaguar.

The vast majority of Costa Rica Escapes itineraries visit Alajuela in one way or another. In fact, the majority of travelers arriving to Costa Rica land at the San Jose Juan Santamaria (SJO) International Airport, which is actually located about 5 minutes south of the center of the city of Alajuela, about 30 minutes west of San Jose, which comes as a surprise to many.. Most of the Family Itineraries www… visit Arenal’s National Park. The Rainforest Escape itinerary www… spends time in Alajuela and visits Volcan Poas and the cloud forest regions of Alajuela. Often times our travelers like to add a day or two to visit Sarchi or Zarcero if they have an extra day or half day around their flight. This is a custom piece that we can add to the planning process with your itinerary’s coordinator.

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