Outside the big cities, in the Central Valley’s rural zone, getting around on horseback is commonplace. Visitors can enjoy this activity in the communities of Turrialba, Santa Maria de Dota, Atenas, Zarcero, San Ramon, Palmares, upper Cartago, Heredia and Alajuela, as well as in the south and west parts of San Jose: Escazu, Santa Ana and Colon City, among other places.
There is no limit to the variety of hikes available for observing the region’s natural, historical, architectural, cultural, religious and commercial attractions.
The region offers a variety of picturesque roads and adventure or leisure sites that allow touring on regular or mountain bikes. Interesting routes include San Antonio de Escazu to the University for Peace, Turrialba to La Suiza, and Cañon del Guarco to Copey de Dota.
In recent years, a variety of new shopping centers have been developed in Curridabat, Zapote, downtown Alajuela, Escazu and Heredia, offering interesting shopping options for international tourists.
Both the number and the quality of art galleries have experienced a significant increase in recent years, not only in visitors and hotel districts but also in major commercial centers. Examples of Costa Rican art may be seen in cultural houses and in all the provincial capitals. In association with the Ministry of Culture, a few municipalities have created Culture Offices to discover local artists, which has encouraged an increase in artistic endeavors.
The Central Valley contains a wide variety of sites and buildings declared National Monuments or of architectural or historical interest to appeal to visitors appreciative of the country’s national heritage.
The cavern system in the outskirts of Patarra offers adventure and the chance to learn about the fossils found in the mountain.
Many modern shopping centers and typical towns have restaurants and sodas (small, usually family-run restaurants serving local food) where visitors can sample Costa Rican cuisine. Communities with traditions in traditional food and drink include Zarcero, Quesada City, Santa Maria de Dota, Aserri, La Garita, Poasito de Alajuela, Monte de la Cruz, Heredia, Pacayas de Alvarado, Santa Cruz de Turrialba, Atenas, Orosi and Grecia, as well as El Empalme, La Trinidad and Copey.
Visitors can observe nature and wildlife in several public protected areas, including Braulio Carrillo, Poas Volcano and Tapanti-Macizo de la Muerte, as well as in the Lankester Botanical Garden, the Simon Bolivar Zoo, the Santa Ana National Zoo and the zoo in La Garita de Alajuela. Added to these, a few theme parks offer enjoyable experiences with nature.
Sugar mills are used for one of the most traditional processes in the country: manufacturing products from sugar cane. Mostly located in rural areas, some old sugar mills are still powered by oxen. Water-powered mills can be found in San Antonio de Escazu, Jaris de Mora and Grecia. Several sugar mills have been converted into attractions for travelers wanting to try sugary treats such as perico, sobado and espumas, breathe in the sweet aroma or learn about the production process.
The most culturally and historically diverse selection of museums in the country are located in this region, including the National Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Children’s Museum, Museum of Costa Rican Art, Gold Museum, Popular Culture Museum, Juan Santamaria Museum, Orosi Museum, Entomological Museum, La Salle Museum, Jade Museum and others.
The Central Valley offers many bird-watching sites, including Copey de Dota and Macizo de la Muerte on the southern Interamerican highway, El Rodeo Protected Area, the environs of the University for Peace, the Tapanti area, Paraiso and the upper regions of Coronado. Exotic birds of all types may be seen in the Simon Bolivar Zoo and the Bird Zoo in La Garita, Alajuela.
Several companies and organizations host nature trail and forest canopy tours. The TURU BA-RI Tropical Park in Turrubares has facilities with an ecotourism focus, gardens with exotic species, a herbarium, a garden maze and a butterfly garden. The Butterfly Garden is located on the outskirts of Varablanca, with trails between several waterfalls on the La Paz River, and is home to a hummingbird garden as well.
Photography is a promising activity thanks to the varied cultural, architectural and scenic options available, as well as the wealth of flora and fauna, waterfalls, rivers, volcanoes, coffee and sugarcane plantations and dairies.
As a complement to the many activities available in the Central Valley, language training is offered in some state universities, as well as through a few private institutions and travel agencies. Courses may be taken not only in the capital but also in towns such as San Isidro de Coronado, Colon City and Paraiso.
Visitors to these places can observe a variety of butterfly species or learn about the natural history of snakes. There are gardens in San Jose, Heredia and Turrialba.
Rural tourism activities and services offered in the Central Valley and their corresponding locations within the region are as follows: A wide variety of attractions and activities are offered around La Cangreja Lodge in Puriscal, one kilometer south of Mastatal.
Activities include nature-trail hiking, visits to a sugar mill, horseback riding to Del Rey waterfalls or La Cangreja hill, tobacco tours and visits to the Quitirrisi Indigenous Reservation.
San Jose Rural Lodge, located three kilometers east of the Escuela de Palmichal de Acosta, offers several activities and attractions. Activities include trips through a 42-hectare preserve, visits to a coffee refinery, bicycle tours and visits to the Quitirrisi
Located 15 kilometers northwest of San Ramon in Bajo La Paz, Bajo La Paz Student Hostel allows guests to enjoy nature and communal life. Activities include hiking trails through primary and secondary forest, horseback rides to Las Placas hill, visits to sugar mills and waterfalls and trout fishing.
La Flor de Paraiso Tropical Agro-ecology Farm and Language School is located in the community of La Flor, in Paraiso de Cartago. Activities include tours of the property, visits with farm animals, organic crops, observing forest in regeneration, a crafts workshop, botanical garden and sugar mill.
Copal Lodge is located six kilometers from Humo de Pejibaye, Jimenez; the last stretch of road requires an all-terrain vehicle. Activities include forest trail hiking and bird-watching, visits to the sugar mill, horseback and oxcart rides.