If you are landing at Juan Santamaría International Airport and need to spend some time in town before picking up your rental car and heading out into the jungle, you can visit the city of Alajuela.
Although the airport is known as "San José Airport, Costa Rica", it is actually located in Alajuela, the third largest city in the country, founded in 1782 and at the foot of the Poás volcano.
Alajuela is one of the 29 best things to do in Costa Rica !
Here are the 10 activities you can do there:
1. Juan Santamaría Park in Alajuela
A place of reference in the city of Alajuela is the Juan Santamaría Park, founded with the aim of paying tribute to the country's national hero, a few minutes from the Plaza del Benemérito General Guardia,
It is a quiet park where you can walk, a place with multiple natural areas to relax at the foot of the statue of the hero Juan Santamaría, cast in bronze in 1891. If you are hungry, you can eat in one of the restaurants around the park.
This historical park can be visited all day and all week, an area that is kept under surveillance for the safety of all citizens and tourists, making it a place of rest in the city of Alajuela.
2. The Cathedral of Alajuela
In the heart of the city is the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the second largest in Costa Rica and a characteristic tourist attraction of the region whose construction began in 1854.
The dome, a representative symbol of Alajuela is one of the highest and largest in Central America, was built in the late nineteenth century. The structure has several paintings representing the Gospel, beautiful wooden windows and an altar surrounded by marble columns.
3. The Juan Santamaría Historical and Cultural Museum
It is the institution created for the recovery, custody, conservation and dissemination of the historical heritage of the war against the freebooters of 1856-1857.
Juan Santamaría was a young soldier from Alajuela, thanks to whom Costa Rica was able to escape from the grip of the buccaneers, led by the American William Walker.
Walker, accompanied by his army, wanted to recover Costa Rica in order to expand the territory of the United States of America. Although he lost his life in the act of destruction of the headquarters, Juan Santamaría is remembered for his bravery against colonization.
4. Municipal Theater
The theater was built in 1956 and designed by the eminent national architect Jose Maria Barrantes. It is a shining example of the Art Deco and neo-colonial movement in Costa Rica.
It is considered the third most important theater in the country after the National Theater and the Melico Salazar Theater in San Jose.
5. Visit the Central Market of Alajuela
The Alajuela market was created when the city of Alajuela was founded on October 12, 1782. It is located in the center of the city and has 249 booths with multiple businesses, including clock stores, butcher shops, fish shops, soda stores, clothing stores, shoe stores, among others.
It is open from Monday to Saturday, from 6 am to 6 pm.
6. The Alajuelense Center of Culture
This multi-story building is located on the site of the former municipal palace of Alajuela. It was declared a historical heritage site in 1979.
It has two levels and a garden in the middle. It houses the municipal archives, the municipal music conservatory, the sports promotion office and the regional office of the Alajuela Department of Culture.
Since October 1996, it has been home to the Alajuela Cultural Center, which has played an important role in the development of art and culture in Alajuela. Many opportunities are offered through the efforts of the Escuela Casa de Artista, the Alajuela Municipal Conservatory, and the Chess School, among others.
The center is open to the public from Monday to Saturday.
7. Tomás Guardia Central Park
Since 1890, this park has been one of the main meeting points of Alajuela and is considered a historical heritage site of the "City of Mangoes", nicknamed Alajuela because of the mango trees that dominate it.
The interior of the park is composed of green spaces with geometric shapes with, in the middle, a beautiful fountain imported from Glasgow.
This space is intended for social interaction, and is surrounded by buildings of great historical and architectural value. It is frequent to see artistic or cultural events.
8. Lunch in a local restaurant!
Go to Las Delicias del Maíz, a typical restaurant where families go on Sundays to eat local food made with corn (or not).
Otherwise, on the way to the Poás Volcano, you will find a lot of nice restaurants offering local specialties. For example, Chubascos, a classic
Otherwise, in town there is the Parrillita de Pepe to eat beef.
9. Poás Volcano, one hour drive from Alajuela
The Poás volcano is one of the must-sees of your trip to Costa Rica. It is located in the Central Valley and rises to 2,700 meters. This half-day trip will delight both young and old.
At the top, there are two sumptuous craters, the main one of 1.5 km in diameter and 300 deep. Here you will find the beautiful Botos Lagoon, composed of cold water and an emerald green color.
10. The Sanctuary of protection for animals Rescate Animal Zoo Ave of Alajuela
Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center is located on 36 acres of natural forest in La Garita de Alajuela, 15 minutes from Juan Santamaría International Airport and 40 minutes from San José.
The Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center rescues over 3,000 wild animals each year. Approximately 2% of the animals it takes in cannot be released back into the wild because they have been too severely injured or have been kept as pets and are too accustomed to humans. These animals receive lifelong care at the Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center sanctuary.
- Costa Rica Marriott - Hotel Hacienda Belen -
The Marriott is located very close to the airport (less than 5 minutes by car). There is a free airport shuttle, an outdoor pool, an on-site restaurant, and a fitness center. It is beautiful!
The resort features a spa village, yoga classes, outdoor pools and hot tubs, restaurants and 4 km of nature trails. There is an airport shuttle service.
A cute place near the airport. Breakfast is available for $7. An airport shuttle is also available.
- Alice y Juancito Boutique Hotel -
Breakfast is included and there is also a communal kitchen that guests can use. There is also a nice little garden where guests can relax.
Located only 15 minutes from the airport, Tacacori Ecolodge is the perfect place to recharge your batteries. With over 7,000 hectares of tropical gardens, you can't help but be won over.
Renting a Car in Costa Rica
Renting a car is a great way to explore Costa Rica, as it allows visitors to travel at their own pace and see more of the country's beautiful landscapes and attractions. There are several rental car companies in Costa Rica to choose from, with a range of vehicle options to suit different needs and budgets. It's important to book your rental car in advance, especially during peak travel periods, and to check the terms and conditions of your rental agreement carefully. When driving in Costa Rica, it's essential to be aware of local traffic laws and road conditions, which can vary depending on the area you're visiting. It's also recommended to have a good map or GPS system, as well as a basic understanding of Spanish, as many road signs and directions are in Spanish. With a rented car in Costa Rica, visitors can explore the country's stunning beaches, national parks, and charming towns at their own leisure, making for a truly memorable vacation experience.