Central Valley

Smack-dab in the middle of the nation, the Central Valley contains the heart and soul of Costa Rica. About 70 percent of the country's population inhabits this region, which includes the bustling metropolis of San Jose, incorporated suburbs, and prominent surrounding towns such as Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago. The San Juantamaria Airport (SJO) in Alajuela is the country's largest international airport, and the region's central location serves as an ideal take-off point for destinations throughout the country.

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Tapantí National Park

Reaching out from the south corner of the Orosi Valley into the Talamancan mountain range, the Tapantí National Park contains 18 square miles (48 square km) of unspoiled cloud forest. The park, 22 miles southeast of San José, is easily accessible and well worth the trip. There are several hiking trails, a few swimming holes, several picnic areas and an abundance of wildlife.

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San Jose

"Chepe," as the city is referred to by locals, is the capital city of Costa Rica and a hub for modern Costa Rican culture. It's also where most visitors depart for tours of central Costa Rica's volcanoes and coffee plantations. Before you leave, take a fun-filled tour of the city's monuments and parks, and maybe sample the burgeoning craft beer scene.

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Alajuela & SJO Airport

Alajuela, nicknamed City of the Mangoes, is one of the most important cities in Costa Rica. It is the capital city of the providence bearing its name and is located just 11 miles northwest (17 km) of San Jose. Just outside of town is where you'll find the Juan Santamaria International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaria), Costa Rica's principal airport.

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Santa Ana

A modish escape from the frenzied streets of San Jose is the alluring city of Santa Ana.  Following the Próspero Fernández Expressway (Carretera Próspero Fernández) west 15 minutes from San José will take you to her convivial neighbor.

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Cartago

Cartago, Costa Rica's first capital, is one of the oldest communities in Costa Rica. It was home to the first enduring Spanish settlement since its foundation in 1563 by Juan Vasquez de Coronado. This important territory remained the capital city of Costa Rica until 1823, when the country's first elected President, Juan Mora Fernandez, decided to relocate. The President's decision was to move the nations capital from Cartago to a smaller settlement named San Jose, which has been the nation's capital ever since. Cartago is still one of the largest cities in the country and much of its ancient history can still be seen to this day.

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Heredia

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.

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Grecia

Grecia is a medium sized town in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. About 27 miles (43km) northwest of the capital of San Jose, Grecia is set amidst mountains and rolling green valleys, offering great panoramas.

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Atenas

Many people venture here to relax in total privacy and enjoy waterfalls, coffee plantations, and spectacular views of the Central Valley and surrounding area. Bordering on the southern boundary of the Alajuela Province, this small Costa Rican town promotes hospitality and boasts one of the world's best climates imaginable. The temperate conditions make Atenas the perfect destination for enjoying what makes Costa Rica such a special place.

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Naranjo

The town of Naranjo, settled in 1830, was originally known as “Los Naranjos” (the Orange Groves) due to the abundance of orange trees in the surrounding area. Although the name has been shortened and the amount of orange trees lessened, this city of 35,000 has remained an important agricultural hub for Costa Rica.

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Escazu

Escazú is considered by most to be one of the most posh, trendy and upscale suburb of the San José metropolitan area. Located 7.5 miles (12 km) from San José and just 3 miles (5 km) west of Sábana Park in the capital city, it is a great place to enjoy the same amenities of the larger, busier city, but with a more laid back feel. Just like Beverly Hills, CA, the city has tons of shopping, restaurants, B&B, gyms, and even golf at the exclusive Costa Rica Country Club where you'll find an 18-hole championship golf course.

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San Rafael de Puriscal

San Rafael de Puriscal is a rural town with sugarcane fields. It is a good destination for taking a horseback riding tour of the countryside. There are a few small hotels and restaurants in town.

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Tres Rios de Cartago

Tres Ríos de Cartago is a small town in central Costa Rica. It is located in Costa Rica’s Valle Central (Central Valley), just 7.5 miles (12 km) from the capital city of San José.

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Sarchí

The small and quaint town of Sarchí is famed throughout Costa Rica for its brightly colored, intricately constructed handicrafts. At only an hour’s drive from San José, a visit to Sarchí is the perfect daytime diversion while traveling through the beautiful Central Valley.

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Esparza

Esparza sits on the Gulf of Nicoya, in the Puntarenas province. It is one of the oldest cities in Costa Rica, founded in the 16th century by the Spanish.

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A little more about Central Valley

The Central Valley's ideal climate is a blessing in a country that can be drudgingly hot, especially during summer months. It's high plateau offers an escape from Guanacaste's hot summers and the Caribbean's sticky humidity. Conversely, life in the city is more hectic, which discourages visitors who prefer a relaxing beach or secluded natural reserve.

Most visitors spend a very short time in the Central Valley -typically two days max- before moving on to the country's more popular destinations. However, other visitors often commute from the Central Valley to attractions in the surrounding highlands, where active volcanoes (Poas and Irazu) and the Braulio Carrillo National Park are the highlights. San Jose's transportation services allow for cheap and efficient travel to and from any of the surrounding areas. Visitors can make it back to the city in time to catch a movie or dine at one of the city's great restaurants.

San Jose gives way to diverse suburbs outside the city limits. These suburbs include the upscale areas of Santa Ana and Escazu-known locally as the 'Beverly Hills' of Costa Rica. Further outside of San Jose lie the important colonial towns of Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago. Each is an administrative capital for the province that bares its name. Following independence from Spain in 1821, a brief civil war ensued between two aggressors, and the colonial capital of Cartago lost its federal government status to San Jose.

Historically, Spanish colonists were first attracted to the area's fertile soil. Their crops flourished and plantations prospered, helping farmers to achieve easy sustenance- a reality well known to the region's many indigenous inhabitants. Although it is referred to as the Central Valley, the region is more of a plateau than a valley. Spanish-speaking visitors will probably hear Ticos refer to the area as "Meseta Central," which translates to Central Table. Nevertheless, encompassing mountains endow the central plateau with a valley-like feel. The Mountains of the Cordillera Central (Central Mountains) bind the valley to the north and east, while the massive Talamancas hem the region to the south and west.

Between mountain ranges sits the Reventazon River Valley, where a smooth alluvial plane extends to the Caribbean coast. Guapiles Highway (Hwy 32) fills the gap from an old railway (destroyed in a 1991 earthquake). It runs east to west all the way to the Caribbean's Puerto Limon, a mere 2.5-hour drive from San Jose.

The Juan Santamaria International Airport in Alajuela serves visitors bound to the San Jose area from abroad. From here, major hotels and accommodations are within a short 20-minute drive. Hotels in the Central Valley can be found within any budget range. However, the high season -December to May- presents challenges to visitors without reservations. For the last few weeks of December (Christmas), reservations should be made about three months in advance as hotel space fills quickly.

Trips to inspire

Browse some of our favorite itineraries

Get excited and browse our selection of our favorite hand made tours including Central Valley. From romantic honeymoons to family-fun; these are completely flexible and arranged to your needs.

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All-In-One Magical Family Vacation

Best trip ever! Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful and magical. All the drivers were waiting and all the accommodations arranged — Anywhere took care of every detail so we don’t have to stress.

All-In-One Magical Family Vacation
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A Mother Daughter Epic Journey

Costa Rica is a beautiful country full of beautiful people. When talking about Costa Rica with my mom/travel partner, she said "Is that someplace people go?". After our first day there all her worries were alleviated by all of the wonderful and helpful people we met.

A Mother Daughter Epic Journey
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8 days | $$$

A Mother/Daughter Nature Expedition

I did not meet one unfriendly person. Everyone was friendly and helpful. I loved the experience of Costa Rica!

A Mother/Daughter Nature Expedition
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11 days | $$

Traveling Solo In Arenal and Monteverde

I love Costa Rica and plan to return.

Traveling Solo In Arenal and Monteverde
Costa Rica
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17 days | $$

An Adventure of a Lifetime

Costa Rica has really got itself well organised for tourism, the service was spot on, the travel timing accurate ( although some of the roads were really poor, pot holed). Hotels and activities are really geared for tourists and they made us feel welcome.

An Adventure of a Lifetime
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