ALAJUELA CATHEDRAL – CHURCH
With its beautiful dome and white marble foundation, the neoclassical Alajuela Cathedral, facing the east side of central park, is well worth a visit. Constructed in 1854, the church is frequented by the city’s large Catholic population.
A constant hub of activity, Alajuela’s central park is shaded by huge mango trees and royal palms and is a pleasant spot to people watch and enjoy the occasional music concert or local performer. Several banks, restaurants, shops and the Catholic church frame the park.
Occupying an entire city block and always packed with locals, the central market offers everything from fresh produce and cheeses to butcher shops and shoe vendors. Inexpensive typical meals like sopa negra, a hearty black bean soup served with a boiled egg, can be sampled at one of many small eateries serving local cuisine for less than $4.
CHURCH OF AGONY (IGLESIA LA AGONIA)
Built in 1941, the Iglesia la Agonia is a landmark church known for its ornate Baroque style. Located five blocks east of central park.
JUAN SANTAMARIA PARK
A tribute to national hero Juan Santamaria, the plaza is paved with red bricks and is centered around a statue of Santamaria.
JUAN SANTAMARIA MUSEUM
Located one block north of the central park, this museum highlights the plight of national hero and Alajuelense, Juan Santamaria. Displays focus on the events surrounding Santamaria’s defeat of William Walker in the 1856 Battle of Hacienda Santa Rosa. Santamaria torched Walker’s building, ultimately losing his own life in an effort to preserve Costa Rica’s independence. Exhibits include paintings, historical artifacts and maps.
Open: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Admission is free
COFFEE PLANTATIONS, PARKS, ZOOS AND GARDENS:
A working coffee plantation on the slopes of Poas Volcano, Doka Estate offers delightful coffee tours of its ample fields, mills and roasting room. Note that coffee picking season runs from October-February, so visitors during these months can also sample ripe coffee cherries straight off the tree. The coffee plantation is located in San Luis de Sabanilla, about ten miles north of Alajuela via Fraijanes Road.
Open: Tours are offered daily at at 9:00, 10:00 and 11:00 a.m and 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.
BOTANICAL ORCHID GARDEN
Situated in La Garita, a short bus or taxi ride away, the garden is a nice day trip from Alajuela. Trails meander through a demo orchid nursery, laboratory, orchid showroom, and extensive gardens, where a permanent orchid flower exhibition is on display. Facilities include a coffee shop and souvenir store.
Open: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tues-Sun.
Admission: $12 adults, $6 children; special rates for groups
THE BUTTERFLY FARM
Located 7.5 miles south of Alajuela in La Guacima, the Butterfly Farm offers visitors the opportunity to observe thousands of butterflies and learn about their metamorphosis, mating and eating habits. Entrance fee includes a two-hour tour, which is available in several languages. Direct buses depart from Alajuela’s Pacifico station on Calle 8 and Avenida 2 at 6:20 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m.
Open: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
LA PAZ WATERFALL GARDEN AND BUTTERFLY OBSERVATORY
La Paz is the country’s largest butterfly garden and has over twenty species of butterflies soaring freely in a natural habitat the size of an American football field. The waterfall garden has over 1.8 miles of walking trails that pass by several impressive waterfalls, a hummingbird garden, serpentarium, orchid exhibit and the butterfly observatory. Package tours are available that include lunch and transportation. La Paz is located near the town of Vara Blanca, roughly 45 minutes from Alajuela.
POAS VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK
Visitors from around the world are drawn to the steaming crater and bubbling green pools of Poas Volcano, one of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes. Located 22 miles north of Alajuela, via the scenic Fraijanes road, the park features easy hiking trails through a small cloud forest and is almost completely wheelchair accessible.
Visitors are advised to carry a jacket and arrive early; clouds roll in at a moment’s notice and shroud the crater. A visitor’s center with a small cafe and souvenir shop are located near the entrance of the park. Buses depart from San Jose and pass by Alajuela’s TUASA station at 9:15 a.m. Cost is $3 round-trip. The bus departs Poas at 2:30 p.m. and returns to Alajuela by 3:30 p.m.
Zoo Ave, located in La Garita, is a wildlife rescue and breeding center that houses over 130 animal species native to Costa Rica and other parts of the world. Its lush grounds offer a spectacular bird collection including macaws, toucans, cranes, ostriches, and resplendent quetzals. The zoo also houses many mammals and reptiles. Zoo Ave’s mission is to breed endemic animal species for reintroduction into the wild. To get to Zoo Ave by bus, take either the Atenas or La Garita bus from the Pacifico bus station in Alajuela.
Open: 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily
Admission: $15 adults, $4 children