Exploring the Central Valley
When I first moved to Costa Rica, every moment was an exhilarating experience. The sun setting over the mountain was never more vibrant, and the breeze never so delicious as during your first few months. While your mind may be a flurry of practical concerns, don't forget to take time and savor your new surroundings. If you've just relocated to the Central Valley, you're a short distance from glorious orchid gardens, verdant coffee plantations and active volcanoes. Here's my definitive list of the area's most exciting day trips.
Best of the Central Valley
This full-day trip takes you to three Central Valley highlights: Doka Estate, Poas Volcano, and La Paz Waterfall Gardens. At Doka Estate, explore one of Costa Rica's oldest and most established coffee plantations. Learn all about the coffee harvest, and taste test the results! Continue on to Poas Volcano, Costa Rica's most visited volcano, where a clear day affords sweeping views of volcanic landscape and an impressive blue crater lagoon. Finally, hike down to La Paz Waterfall Gardens' roaring cascades, one of the country's most impressive sights.
Close to Alajuela, this wildlife rescue center is an ideal introduction to many of Costa Rica's animals. Home to more than 250 species, the zoo houses wildlife that has been mistreated, injured, or illegally kept as pets. Over 120 bird species reside at the zoo, including macaws, toucans, cranes, ostriches, and resplendent quetzals. In addition to animal rescue, Zoo Ave has also created an important macaw conservation and breeding program.
Braulio Carrillo National Park
On the outskirts of San Jose, Braulio Carrillo National Park is a natural wonderland of dense rainforest, volcanoes and spectacular waterfalls. An adjacent aerial tram is a great way to see the forest from above, while hikes through the park offer a rugged introduction to one of Costa Rica's ecosystems. The 113,000-acre park reaches from cloud-shrouded Central Valley mountainside, land of quetzals and howler monkeys, to Caribbean lowlands where colorful parrots and lush vegetation are the main attraction.
Owned and managed by the National Biodiversity Institute, this 12-acre urban park in Heredia is one my top recommendations for new residents. INBioParque recreates several of Costa Rica's most important ecosystems, including wetlands, rainforest, dry forest, and farmland. As you walk through the park, you'll experience the physical changes between the varying habitats, and will hear and see the difference in flora and fauna. Don't miss the park's small petting zoo, where newborn lambs, pot-bellied pigs, and rabbits eagerly eat from your hands.
Irazu Volcano, the Orosi Valley & Lankester Botanical Gardens
Visit three of the Central Valley's most iconic attractions. Begin with Irazu Volcano, Costa Rica's tallest volcano at 11,260 feet -- on sunny days, you can see both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea from the top! Next, you'll travel to Lankester Gardens, home to 800 species of native and exotic orchids. Finally, you'll drive through the picturesque Orosi Valley, famous for its green countryside and Spanish colonial buildings, including Ujarras Church, the oldest in the country.
The world-renowned Pacuare River is a must for thrill seekers. The mighty river sports exhilarating Class III-IV rapids, promising a healthy dose of adrenaline and adventure. The exciting journey is also a crash course in Costa Rica's natural wonders, as the river carves a path through some of the country's most stunning scenery. If you take an overnight trip, you'll stay in an incredibly picturesque river gorge, where the only thing between you and the great outdoors is your luxury tent.