Tourist attractions
in the Central
Valley

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Tourist attractions in the Central Valley

Several cities developed and prospered when railroads were first introduced to the Caribbean; Turrialba is one of these, and its architectural, spatial and ethnic makeup is different from other towns. Declared a City of National Archeological Interest, this town is the entryway to the Costa Rican Caribbean. Two universities are located here: the Tropical Agronomy Research and Learning Center (CATIE), and the University of Costa Rica. On the outskirts of Turrialba are rural communities including Santa Cruz, where homemade Turrialba cheese is produced, La Suiza and Aquiares, as well as the rapids of the Reventazon and Pacuare rivers.

Flowing out of the Cordillera de Talamanca, this river offers excellent rafting. The run is suitable for big and small whitewater rafters and much of the trip offer stunning scenery.

This highly scenic area features the first two Spanish settlements in the era of the Conquista. Here, visitors can see two of the only colonial buildings in the country: the renamed Ujarras Ruins and the beautiful Iglesia de Orosi, with its considerable altarpiece treasures, sacred images and other historical elements.

Many visitors also enjoy fishing for trout and langoustines, renting boats, soaking in hot springs and relaxing.

At 152 kilometers long, the Reventazon River features stretches perfect for rafting, fishing or canoeing. The thick greenery on the river’s banks adds to the enjoyment of a trip down its waters. The mid zone of this river is the Cachi Hydroelectric Plant’s largest water supply source.

This dam began operating in 1966, generating 32,000 kilowatts of power, which doubled one year later. Its innovative use of the Reventazon’s waters makes it the first of its kind in Central America. The reinforced-concrete structure, 79 meters tall and 186 meters wide, draws the attention of both national and international tourists traveling through the Ujarras Valley.

According to the Romanian specialists who assessed Costa Rica’s hot springs in 1981, these waters are effective for relieving muscular pain and reducing stress. Orosi has two pools with excellent facilities for visitors wishing to bathe in the rejuvenating waters.

Built in 1743 by Franciscan missionaries, this is the only colonial building still in good condition in Costa Rica. Many works of art can be admired inside, including paintings, sacred images and the altar. The adjacent museum houses pieces and artifacts used by the Franciscans during the evangelical period, displaying something of the lifestyle of that era. The site was declared a National Monument in 1985.

Known for the many anecdotes about the origin of its name (“The Couple”), this waterfall adorns the slopes of Picacho Hill, and can be viewed from the highway on the way to Ujarras Valley.

This church’s construction was ordered during the second half of the 16th century by the Governor of Costa Rica at that time, Miguel Gomez de Lara. The Franciscan missionaries carried out their labors in Ujarras around the church. Declared a National Monument in 1920, today the church is a visitor attraction of great architectural and historical interest within the Reventazon Valley circuit.

“The Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Cartago” was Costa Rica’s first capital, a distinction the city held until 1823. Cartago enjoys an active level of commercial development and excellent state services. Despite seismic activity that has caused considerable damage throughout the city’s history, several important architectural structures still remain. Cartago is home to Costa Rica’s patron saint, Our Lady of the Angels.

Built in 1921, this church houses a small shrine where the faithful worship Costa Rica’s patron saint in hopes of a miracle, to be healed or to give thanks for prayers answered. A mixture of Roman, Arabic and Gothic styles, the basilica has Italian floors and 32 stained glass windows from Germany depicting the Virgin, Heart of Jesus and the 15 Stations of the Cross.

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Each year, starting several days before August 2, Costa Ricans from all over the country make pilgrimages from their homes to Our Lady of the Angels Basilica in Cartago, to fulfill a promise or ask for help with health or financial problems.

Founded as a learning institution in 1842, San Luis Gonzaga has produced several noteworthy Costa Rican political and professional figures. Several earthquakes destroyed the original facilities until it was finally moved to the school’s present-day location. Built in 1920, this building demonstrates a neoclassical influence and was declared of Historical and Architectural Interest in 1989. The facilities house a museum featuring archeological, colonial-furniture, scientific and ethnological collections.

Located in the community of Quircot, this church is around 100 years old. A typical adobe construction, it was declared a Relic of Historical-Cultural Interest in 1986.

The first floor was built in 1882, with the second added in 1900. This is one of the few buildings to survive Cartago’s earthquakes. Today it is used for a number of Cartago’s artistic and cultural activities.

Destroyed by an earthquake in 1910, this site brings a constant stream of international visitors wanting to learn about the ruins’ history and to see the architecture, bells and colonial streets.

Located in Cerros de Ochomogo, this monument commemorates the Costa Ricans who died in 1823 while fighting “imperialists” who supported union with Mexico’s Iturbide Empire. As a result of this confrontation, Cartago lost its title and San Jose became the country’s capital.

Made up of tertiary sedimentary marine rock, plutonic rock and volcanic domes from the upper Miocene, this mountain range runs on a northwest-to-southeast axis. Oak forests cover some areas, with other noteworthy species including magnolia, cacho de venado and pagoda. Plains bare of trees also exist, inhabited by squat shrubs, lichen, grasses, bamboo, ferns and myrtles. Common wildlife includes tapirs, ocelots, jaguarondis and wildcats, as well as mountain hares, goats, kinkajous, raccoons, coatis and agoutis. The range’s highest peaks are Chirripo at 3,821 meters above sea level and Kamuk at 3,554 meters above sea level.

In this river’s cold waters, just a few kilometers from its source, visitors can fish for rainbow trout or simply take refuge on its banks to relax or capture the river’s beauty on film or video. The Savegre features lovely scenic areas, as well as bird-watching—especially quetzals.

Part of the Cordillera de Talamanca, this mountain has an altitude of 3,451 meters. If the weather cooperates, both Pacific and Caribbean coasts can be seen from its heights. The mountain features an interesting dwarf forest, and temperatures here can drop to zero degrees Celsius. The upper part of the mountain features a possible sub-volcanic dome, Cerro Jaboncillo (3,000 meters), the result of lava emplacement during the Miocene.

Main entry is through the Santa Maria de Dota area. The access road to Los Julianes runs through a region of virgin mountains called Fila Bayoneta. The waterfall is approximately 90 meters tall.

To get to this 40-meter waterfall, visitors walk approximately two and a half hours through primary forest, and are able to observe
spectacular plant and wildlife species.

Seat of the Dota canton, Santa Maria is set in a valley surrounded by mountains. Converging here are the access roads to other communities such as Copey, San Marcos de Tarrazu and San Pablo de Leon Cortes. Historical and natural attractions include: Santa Maria National Park, with its Monument to the Fallen in the Revolution of 1948; the Escuela Republica de Bolivia, which served as the general barracks for troops during the revolution; and the Dota hills with its lovely panoramic views of the valley.

This traditional religious feast includes fireworks, local food, running with the bulls, and various games and competitions: carreras de cintas, el palo encebado, juego de la bruja and others. Events last a week, ending with the chinga, in which everyone involved in the activities participates. The celebration takes place on February 2 of each year.

At 1,853 meters in altitude, this small valley is home to the community of Copey, and features unique conditions for hiking, photography, horseback riding, fishing, bird-watching and other leisure activities. Visitors can enjoy flower farms and apple orchards, typical architecture, natural landscapes and more. Lodging and dining options are offered.


The first access route to Santa Maria de Dota, this historic road features forests, rivers, agricultural landscapes and interesting communities such as La Cima and Copey, up to its final destination of Santa Maria.

Ojo de Agua was built in 1910 as a rest stop for travelers making the trip between San Isidro de El General and San Jose. It has been declared a Historical Relic, and may be visited at its location at kilometer 76 on the southern Interamerican highway. Today, the place is still used as a rest stop where groups of riders break their journeys throughout the year.

Located in Santa Maria de Dota’s Central Park, this piece by artist Luis Umaña Ruiz depicts a woman protecting a group of men and women within her arms, symbolizing Costa Rica safeguarding its citizens. The piece weighs around 90 tons.

At 1,149 meters above sea level, San Jose enjoys an average temperature of 24 degrees Celsius—an ideal climate for short trips to the Carmen, Catedral, Merced and Hospital districts. Here, visitors can admire the lovely architecture of several buildings that have been declared National Monuments of cultural, historical or architectural interest, including the Post and Telegraph Building, the National Theater, the Children’s Museum, the Blue Castle and others. The city offers high-quality dining and accommodations, from bed and breakfasts and popular sodas (small restaurants serving local and fast food) to fashionable bars, cinemas and theaters. San Jose’s December religious feasts and public festivals are traditional events enjoyed by all.

Built between 1890 and 1897, this edifice’s construction costs were paid for by the Costa Rican people through import taxes. The National Theater is home to valuable pieces by Italian artists and is still in beautiful condition after more than 100 years. The pride of Costa Ricans, the Theater is the center of the country’s main cultural, artistic and political activities, and was declared a National Monument in 1965.

The Melico Salazar Theater is housed in a building that has been declared of Historical and Architectural Interest. Its purpose is to promote the artistic expression of popular culture, and to provide access to its shows to the broadest possible sector of the population.

This hundred-year-old architectural jewel of metal has been used from its beginnings as a house of learning for boys and girls. It was declared of historical and architectural interest in 1980.

Located in Parque Morazan, this 1920 neoclassical building made of reinforced concrete features almost perfect acoustics. For many years it was the meeting place for the San Jose community, where concerts by the Symphonic Orchestra and the Military Band were enjoyed and the traditional new-year greeting was exchanged.

Inaugurated on September 15, 1895, at what was known as the Plaza de la Estacion, the National Monument is a piece by French sculptor Louis Carrier commemorating the heroic deed of the campaign of 1856-1857. The figures represent the Central American countries pursuing a North American invader attired like the slavers represented by William Walker.

Construction of the Army General Barracks took place between 1916 and 1930. In 1949, after the abolition of the army, the building was converted into the National Museum. Its fundamental purpose is to promote the study, conservation and display of the country’s flora and fauna. Currently, the museum’s main themes are archeology, national history and natural history.

Located on 17th street between Central and 2nd avenue, the museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Dating back to 1910, this modern museum is designed especially for the children of Costa Rica. The cultural and scientific activities that take place in its more than 50 display rooms are of great impact to the country.

Located 800 meters north of the Banco Central in San Jose, the museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This museum houses a collection of pre-Columbian art done in gold, ceramic, jade and stone, and is the only museum displaying indigenous jade artwork in the Americas. It is located on Central Avenue and 13th Street.

The collection of indigenous gold objects displayed at the Gold Museum is considered one of the most valuable in the world. The museum is located in the Plaza de la Cultura.

Located on 5th street and Central Avenue, the Gold Museum is open to the public Monday through Sunday from 9:15 a.m. to 5p.m.

The old La Sabana Airport building is the home of this museum, which normally displays diverse collections of plastic art. On the second floor of the building, the Salon Dorado features a wooden mural depicting the country’s history from the Amerindian era to the year 1940.

Located on 42nd street and 2nd Avenue, La Sabana, the museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Located in the San Jose Central Post Office building, this museum displays a collection of postage stamps produced in Costa Rica, as well as a recreation of an office from the last century, complete with equipment used for the first communications in the country.

This museum displays an example of Costa Rica’s entomological diversity and is located in the basement of the Faculty of Musical Arts at the University of Costa Rica.

With an outstanding ornithology, entomology and malacology collection, this museum displays around 18,000 attractive specimens. Four display rooms exhibit mammals, fish, reptiles and shells; there is also an archeological display room.

Located on the southwest side of La Sabana Metropolitan Park, the museum is open to the public Monday to Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The administration that designed this project defined it as the first space set aside specifically for circulation, research and reflection on national and international contemporary art in its diverse manifestations. Since 1994, the museum has put on more than 50 exhibitions generated by national and international curators, and has organized important traveling displays, including the first exhibition of contemporary Central American art.

Located in San Jose in the Centro Nacional de Cultura (CENAC)—a complex of restored buildings—the museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This museum is located in Santa Lucia de Barva, Heredia, in the house of former president Alfredo Gonzalez Flores. Its fundamental objective is to disseminate and preserve the traditions and identity of the Costa Rican people.

The museum also shows visitors the building methods of colonial houses made with adobe and bahareque. A National Heritage, the Popular Culture Museum is open to the public Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Dedicated to natural research in the country, INBIO’s achievements have won the institute several international awards. Located in Santo Domingo de Heredia, the campus features visitor facilities and a Biodiversity Park. The institute is temporarily closed to the public.

One of the oldest buildings in the country, dating back to 1853, CENAC is made up of several facilities, including the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, the Fanal Theater, Theater 1887 dedicated to dance, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, the Stone Gateway and the Sundial.

This structure of German origin was unloaded, in crates, in late 1930 at the Pacific train station. From there, it was transported in oxcarts and deposited in the plaza of San Isidro, Vazquez de Coronado canton, and erected. The building was finished in 1934; however, the date of completion is considered to be 1937, when the bells were blessed in a solemn consecration ceremony.

This museum displays a house from the 19th century made of adobe and caña brava (a giant grass) secured with bejuco and cucharilla (types of liana), colonial-style windows and wood fastened with hand-forged nails. The museum features a series of rooms distributed by geographic and historical context of Garcia Monge’s time.

The Outdoor Art Exhibition takes place in San Rafael de Escazu once a year, showing a variety of paintings and sculptures by almost 200 artists, in addition to the participation of several art galleries that strengthen the exhibition. Jewelers, photographers and restorers are also present, using the opportunity to show and sell their work. The event allows new artists to interact with nationally recognized artists.

Situated between the Escazu and Mora cantons at the foot of the Escazu and Puriscal hills, Santa Ana sits at an altitude of 904 meters above sea level and enjoys a warm, dry climate. Its proximity to the capital, as well as Escazu, Belen and Alajuela, has enabled the development of a variety of dining and lodging options including bed and breakfasts. The community combines agriculture, especially onions, with clay handicrafts, making Santa Ana a must-visit destination that can be enjoyed along with typical towns such as Piedades and Oro River.

The University for Peace was established in Costa Rica in 1980. Today, the campus has ample facilities and studies that are directly related to aspects of peace and democracy. The Monument to Peace, which highlights the work of different Costa Rican leaders is also found here. The area around the monument is a lovely place for picnics and nearby nature trails feature educational signs. The university is located seven kilometers from Colon City in the community of Rodeo.

West of San Jose, Puriscal features irregular topography. Santiago, the seat of the canton, has an altitude of 1,105 meters above sea level. Puriscal is a great place to visit thanks to its various attractions. The Quitirrisi Indigenous Reservation, just before Santiago, offers handicrafts made by members of this ethnic group. There are also typical villages, traditional food and drink, tobacco plantations, natural landscapes and various handicrafts made of wood and other materials. A new attraction is La Cangreja National Park, which features a variety of natural attractions, some of which are unique in the world.


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