Central Costa Rica

Since colonial times, the Meseta Central (Central Valley) has been Costa Rica's population center. In addition to the valley where San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela, Grecia, Naranjo, Atenas, and San Ramon are located, it encompasses the higher, eastern valley that contains Cartago, Paraiso, and Turrialba.

The four colonial cities of Costa Rica were San Jose, Cartago, Alajuela, and Heredia, each with its own character and strong sense of identity. That is still true today. As you travel to or through these places, remember that this land was once covered with forest. Imagine what travel must have been like on foot or horseback up and down these mountains and across rivers now spanned by bridges. Life here was hard; it helped forge the national character.

Beauty, not hardship, is the sensation travelers experience today. Protected forests remain, but the landscape is also painted with coffee fields, sugarcane, small farms, picturesque villages, and pastures for dairy cows. Rural houses have flowers, a porch to sit on when work is done, a few banana and coffee plants, fruit trees, and perhaps beans, squash, and corn-a link back to agrarian self-sufficiency.

Natural history/adventure destinations include the archaeological site at Guayabo as well as Irazu Volcano, the Barva sector of Braulio Carrillo National Park, and Tapanti park. Heredia, Alajuela, and Grecia are gateways to Poas Volcano National Park. Visitors can learn about birds, snakes, orchids, and butterflies from those who work with and study them. Some of the best rafting is here, out of Turrialba. In colorful Sarchi, watch artisans at work. The country's patron saint is honored in Cartago.

Lodging in the valley of San Jose, close to Juan Santamaria International Airport, is an alternative to staying in San Jose on arrival or departure

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