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Central Valley Day Trips

Central Valley Day Trips

Costa Rica's Central Valley is a stunning and diverse wonderland. Ripe coffee cherries paint red flecks across green mountain slopes and the horizon glows orange every night. Known as the land of perpetual spring – the Central Valley is an excellent base for exploring local attractions. You’re less than an hour from lush rainforest, a famous orchid garden, and the arts and crafts capital of Costa Rica. If time is limited, choose from some delightful Central Valley destinations – these are day trips you don’t want to miss.

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Braulio Carrillo National Park

Primary cloud forest, two towering volcanoes, dense rainforest, and thousands of plant and animal species make this rarely visited park one of Costa Rica’s hidden gems. Spend your time enjoying the great outdoors – the park boasts excellent hiking, bird watching, and sightseeing. Barva Volcano and the famous “Dirty River” lookout are two recommended hikes at Braulio Carrillo National Park. (Two ranger stations north of Heredia. 8:00 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mon-Sun, $8. 2268-1038 and 2268-1037)

Cafe Britt or Doka Estate Coffee Tour

Have you ever wondered how your favorite roast makes it from the coffee field to your cup? Two of our favorite coffee tours – Cafe Britt and Doka Estate – will answer all your questions. Wander through shaded coffee fields, pick ripe coffee cherries, and sample high quality java on these educational tours. (Cafe Britt: Heredia. Tours at 11 a.m., Mon-Sun, $35 including buffet lunch. 2277-1600. Doka Estate: eight miles northwest of Alajuela. Tours daily, Mon-Sun, $26 including buffet lunch. 2449-5152)


Owned and managed by the National Biodiversity Institute, this 12-acre urban park recreates several of Costa Rica’s ecosystems. Discover amazing biodiversity as you hike trails through wetlands, rainforest, dry forest, and farmland. Be sure to visit the park’s small petting zoo, where newborn lambs, pot-bellied pigs, and rabbits eagerly eat from your hands. The entrance fee includes a two-hour guided walk. (Santo Domingo de Heredia. 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tues-Fri; 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sat-Sun, $23 adult, $13 children under 13. 2507-8107) 

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Set on a mountaintop overlooking a river gorge, La Paz Waterfall Gardens offers a picturesque setting and several natural attractions. Wander through the aviary, where you’re invited to hand-feed colorful toucans; explore a traditional Costa Rican home; and visit the monkey house to interact with spider and capuchin monkeys. Hiking trails wind past four immense waterfalls, including Magia Blanca, known for its eerie optical illusions, and La Paz, which gives the park its name. You’ll love the park’s spectacular butterfly garden – the largest in the country – where more than 20 species of butterflies soar freely. (Vara Blanca, 45 minutes from Alajuela. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mon-Sun, $32 adult, $20 children. 2225-0643)

Lankester Botanical Garden

World-renowned for its collection of epiphytes, Lankester Botanical Garden is home to nearly 1000 species of colorful orchids as well as an impressive variety of bromeliads, heliconia, cacti and palms. In the garden’s 15-acre secondary forest, take a self-guided tour through a lowland forest home to ornamental ground plants, epiphytes, and colorful climbing araceae. (Two miles east of Cartago. 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. admission; garden open until 5:30 p.m.; open every day of the year except January 1, the Friday before Easter Sunday, and Christmas Day. $5. Special rates for students and seniors. 2552-3247)

Pacuare River Rafting

If you’re itching for adventure, the mighty Pacuare River delivers a healthy dose of adrenaline and exciting rapids. One of the world’s top ten whitewater rivers, the Class III-IV Pacuare carves a path through some of Costa Rica’s most stunning scenery. One- and two-day tours are highly recommended. Several tour operators offer whitewater rafting trips that leave from major hotels in San Jose and Alajuela. (Put in at Tres Equis, 10 miles northeast of Turrialba. Located 2.5 hours east of San Jose.) 

Poas Volcano National Park

Set against a backdrop of cloud forest and valley views, it’s easy to see why Poas is Costa Rica’s most visited volcano. Walk up to the lookout point where you’ll find a steaming crater more than a mile wide. If the cloud cover is heavy, hike one of the park’s easy trails that leads to a peaceful lagoon. Keep your eyes peeled – when the clouds clear, the crater view is breathtakingly spectacular. (23 miles northwest of San Jose in Poas Volcano National Park. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mon-Sun, $10 adults. 2482-2165)


If you’ve seen hand-painted oxcarts, intricately carved wood furniture, and leather rocking chairs during your travels around Costa Rica, Sarchi is likely where they were made. This mountain town is famous for its artisan crafts and behind-the-scenes displays, earning it a spot as a favorite Central Valley day trip. Spend the afternoon shopping at the many stores or ordering a custom-made piece, and don’t forget a photo op at the world’s largest oxcart. (North of Grecia, about 75 minutes northwest of San Jose.)

The Butterfly Farm

Let colorful wings and beautiful flowers capture your attention during an educational tour. Learn about the metamorphosis and eating habits of Costa Rica’s butterflies, and don’t hesitate to ask questions – the farm’s expert guides have all the answers. After you’ve learned how to properly hold them, let the silk-weaving caterpillars crawl up your arm and hold a butterfly in your hand – this is an experience not soon forgotten. Guided tours last around two hours. (La Guacima, Alajuela. 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; guided tours at 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. Mon-Sun. $15 adults, $10 students, $7 children under 12, free for children under three. 2438-0400)

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