Just 7.5 miles (12 km) northwest of the chaotic, busy streets of the capital city is the smaller, less hectic city of Heredia. Although Heredia is the smallest of Costa Rica’s provinces, it is one of the most aesthetically stimulating. Similar to the neighboring city of Alajuela to the west, Heredia, affectionately referred to as 'The City of Flowers', has much to offer and is a great place to start a trip to nearby destinations.
Winding through the twisting roads above Heredia, you’ll witness charming little towns surrounded by coffee plantations and lush vegetation. You might even get a view of the Central Valley below. Heredia’s favorable location provides close access to Juan Santamaría International Airport, several volcanoes along the Central Volcanic Corridor, and other popular destinations. Almost everything Costa Rica has to offer can be found in and around Heredia.
One of the best places to take in the local culture is at the impressive Central Park (Parque Central). The semi-shaded park, lined with mango trees, is highlighted by the antiquated buildings in view which date back to the 18th Century. Around the border of the park is where you will find the beautiful colonial style Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (Basílica de la Inmaculada Concepción), dating back to 1797, with its solid time-tested foundation and bells originating in Perú. There is a stage in the park that sometimes hosts concerts and performances. El Fortín, a remarkable brick tower built by the Spanish, gazes high over the city giving visitors a glimpse into Costa Rica’s past. It is common to find locals sitting around the unique park socializing and gossiping.
Northeast of Central Park is a cultural and historic exhibition called the House of Culture (La Casa de la Cultura). The building was the former house of President Alfredo González Flores (1913-1917), but now is the residence of historical exhibits and some pretty interesting artwork. Going for a stroll, you might even bump into one of the thousands of students who attend the National University (Universidad Nacional), which is just blocks away, east of downtown.
Barva is a charming little town along the winding road that heads north from Heredia. Founded in the late 16th century, this delightful pueblo has still retained some of its colonial ambiance. Passing through the town will give rise to the old-fashioned red-tiled adobe edifices which are spread out around the central square. Strolling through the town you’ll understand why it has been declared a national historic monument. Don’t miss the eye-catching Basílica de Barva, which dates back to the 18th century. Seeing this delightful and well-preserved attraction is a unique and captivating experience.
No doubt you’ve heard of Costa Rica’s coffee. The famous Café Britt has its farm in Barva and gives educational tours about their production process, ending the tour with a delightful tasting.
For a look into small town life during the 19th century stop by the Museo de la Cultura Popular, in the rural town of Santa Lucía de Barva. Barva is located less than two miles north of Heredia and even provides modern conveniences like some of the bigger cities.
Starting a trip from Heredia and the nearby area provides great access to several natural attractions. The closest is the dormant Barva Volcano, located inside Braulio Carrillo National Park. This gorgeous area has hiking trails that will take you all the way to the top of the inactive volcano. A little farther west and you’ll arrive at Poás Volcano National Park, all together a 31 mile (50 km) drive from Heredia. This unusual volcano allows visitors to peer in from above. Both parks, in which the resplendent Quetzal resides, exemplify the unbelievable flora and fauna Costa Rica is famous for.
To reach the Pacific beaches from Heredia, head west along the Pan-American Hw. Jacó is a 70 mile (113 km) journey and one of the most popular coastal destinations from the Central Valley. Puntarenas is even closer, situated just 64 miles (103 km) from Heredia. Countless other beachfront destinations are within a short drive from Heredia and the Central Valley.
Heredia is not too touristy, but it is packed with traffic. Rush hour is a nightmare for residents and visitors alike. It's a good place to stay if you want to watch Costa Rican backyard birds, but to see wild areas you need to go farther away from the Central Valley. Santo Domingo is a lovely little town and we enjoyed walking around there. The man at the Kolbi store was very helpful when we needed a chip for our cell phone.
Not as pretty as our guidebook suggested, but a nice enough little town, though we wouldn't have needed to stay any longer than one night.
Our hotel was arranged by our daughter, who had been living in that area for 7 months. We stayed at Valladolid Hotel and were very impressed. It was in a very good location, reasonably priced, clean, and had an extremely help staff. I would definitely recommend it. It did not feel very touristy, but it was our stopover stay between Arenal and Manzanillo, so we enjoyed the local flavor. Our daughter took us to a couple college type bars to meet her friends, but our visit was brief, but fun.
Just passed through to see where our daughter had studied and stayed. It was good to see after hearing so much about it. Our daughter had a MARVELOUS time there with her host family.