This stately church was built in 1767 and is flanked by a red-tiled courtyard and a grotto dedicated to the Virgin of Lourdes. While in Barva, be sure to check out other historic buildings, including the old post office.
Right across from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Heredia’s peaceful Central Park features a pretty fountain, large mango trees and plenty of benches. On Sunday afternoons, clowns, balloons and music liven up the atmosphere.
Church of the Immaculate Conception
Built in 1797, this beautiful downtown church has withstood many earthquakes and even a major volcanic eruption. Daily mass is still held here, and both tourists and locals love to stare at the intricate, stained-glass windows. Manicured gardens grow outside of its western exit.
Erected by the governor of Heredia, Fadrique Gutierrez, in 1876, the old fort is one of the town’s most famous landmarks. The brick building demonstrates Gutierrez’s passion for sculpture and military history and, though it may look imposing, features several design flaws, including backwards peepholes. Thankfully, El Fortin never saw battle.
One of the most prestigious universities in Costa Rica, this public school is located just six blocks east of downtown’s Central Park. For social butterflies, the National University is the best place to hear about upcoming concerts, festivals and cultural events – just look for the fliers taped to every telephone pole, wall and available surface.
Casa de la Cultura
Set in the 1843 home of former president Alfredo Gonzalez Flores, this Cultural House re-creates the life and times of Costa Rica’s coffee barons. Featuring old tile floors and classic architecture, the building also hosts art shows and other cultural events. Tel: 2262-2505
Museum of Popular Culture
Less than a mile southeast of Barva, this small museum offers up a slice of life in rural Costa Rica, circa 1900. Housed in a farmhouse built in 1885, the museum has a preserved adobe exterior and is furnished with genuine, period antiques. Call ahead to reserve space in hands-on cultural tours, which may include tortilla making and old-fashioned coffee brewing. Tel: 2260-1619
Parks, Zoos and Gardens:
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Dense rain forest, waterfalls, volcanoes and rushing rivers fill the landscape of Costa Rica’s second-largest national park, a green paradise just 40 minutes from Heredia. This 119,000-acre national park is home to Barva Volcano and many miles of hiking trails. More than 135 species of mammals and 530 species of birds make their homes in the park, providing superb wildlife and bird watching opportunities. Make sure to wear layers, as the park’s higher altitudes can dip below freezing at night. $10 entrance fee. Tel: 2608-1037
Cerro Dantas Wildlife Refuge
Located along Braulio Carrillo National Park’s southwestern border, this 170-acre private refuge features primary and secondary cloud forest, superb wildlife watching and miles of hiking trails appropriate for beginner and experienced hikers alike. $50 entrance, tour, breakfast and lunch. Tel: 2274-1997
Located in Santo Domingo, the 14-acre INBioparque is run by the National Biodiversity Institute. The facilities serve as the perfect introduction to Costa Rica’s diverse habitats, with dry forest, rain forest, swamp, farm and Central Valley forest displays. $23 adults $13 children 4-12. Tel: 2507- 8107
Monte de la Cruz
Situated five miles north of San Rafael, this 37-acre wildlife preserve has rustic trails, pine and cloud forest, and prime birdwatching. Dress warmly, as temperatures can get very chilly.
Toucan Rescue Ranch
This private rescue facility is located in San Isidro de Heredia and is licensed with the Ministry of the Environment (MINAET). The Toucan Rescue Ranch has rescued hundreds of animals, including toucans, sloths, owls, spider monkeys, kinkajous, all of which undergo rehabilitation and are released back into the wild when possible. $15 per person. By reservation only. Tel: 2268-4041