A One-Week Itinerary to Exploring the Central Valley in Costa Rica

A carpet of green
A carpet of green | © Christian Lorenz/Flickr
Jenn Parker

The Central Valley of Costa Rica includes San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, and dozens of small towns. There are multiple volcanoes, national parks, cultural and historical landmarks, and so many other fascinating things to see and do in this region. Here are seven activities for a seven day action-packed adventure in inland Costa Rica.

Visit a volcano

The Irazú Volcano is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica. While the last eruption was in 1994, there is still evidence of volcanic activity today. There are multiple craters, one of which has a magnificent opaque green lake in the middle of it, and an easily accessible walking trail. On a clear day, you can see both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts from this elevation. Make sure you bring warm clothes though, as it gets quite chilly up here. Turrialba and Poas are two other incredible volcanoes that are also part of national parks and are worth visiting as well, if you have the time.

Crater in the clouds

1. Explore a national park


Braulio Carrillo National Park is home to 500 species of birds and 150 species of mammals, as well as hundreds of species of amphibians, reptiles, insects, and birds. This virgin rainforest is laced with multiple hiking trails, one of which you can take all the way down to Playa Cahuita on the Caribbean coast. There is even an option to take a gondola ride through the canopy for a totally unique rainforest perspective.

Keep your eyes peeled for peccaries | © Eric Kilby/Flickr

Take a walk with 900 dogs

Territorio de Zaguates is a no-kill, non-profit, completely donation-based dog shelter up in the mountains in the province of Heredia. Each month, there are a few designated days where visitors are welcomed to the shelter and encouraged to take a walk through the lush mountain property with their 900 rescued dogs. All the dogs are up for adoption, but even if you aren’t planning on adopting, the love and attention that they will get from you and the other visitors during one of these walks will truly make a difference in their lives.

Everyone needs a friend

Admire a topiary garden

In the quant town of Zarcero there is a magnificent topiary garden, Parque Francisco Alvarado. Don Evangelista Blanco has been the inspiring and imaginative gardener and curator since the 1960s. There are hedges trimmed like dinosaurs, humans, animals, Jesus, and elegant archways. It is truly a living work of art.

Such a charming scene

Go white water rafting

The Pacuare River was rated as one of the top white water rafting destinations in the world by National Geographic. There are over 50 rapids on this river that run through dense flora packed with fauna. Most of the rapids are either class III or class IV and the water is significantly warmer than other rapid hotspots that usually stem from frigid mountain sources.

2. Spend time in the cloud forest

Forest, Park

The Tapantí National Park is located in the southern part of the Orosi Valley on the edge of the Talamanca Mountain range. This relatively small national park is host to a mystical cloud forest that is bursting with plant and wildlife. It is one of the rainiest parts of Costa Rica, which is why life is so abundant here. There are 45 species of mammals and 400 species of birds that roam this 48 square kilometer park (18.43 square miles). This Orosi Valley is also where the famous Lankester Botanical Gardens are located. You can spend the day hiking trails through the clouds that lead to waterfalls, cooling off in natural forest pools, admiring the magnificent plant and wildlife, and then visiting the gardens, which is famous for its orchid collection.

“The earth laughs in flower”-Ralph Waldo Emerson | © AnhTuan Le/Flickr

Drink the best coffee of your life

Costa Rica is praised for its coffee and some of the most exceptional coffee comes from plantations in the Central Valley. The pleasantly cool weather is also ideal hot coffee drinking weather! Taking a coffee tour at one of the farms is a fascinating, educational, and delicious experience. The coffee plantations are also quite beautiful and often home to a surprising variety of wildlife. Finca Rosa Blanca, El Toledo, and Naturalba offer some of the best coffee tours and tastings in the Central Valley.

Baby coffee

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