- Summary: Bustling provincial capital; home to the international airport and a great base for Central Valley day trips.
- Landscape: City
- Attractions: La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Poas Volcano National Park, The Butterfly Farm, Zoo Ave
- Activities: Coffee Tours, Spanish Study Programs
- Caters to: Budget Travelers, Day Trippers, Families
With modern amenities, local charm and a close proximity to the international airport, Alajuela is a convenient base for sightseeing in the Central Valley. Although Costa Rica’s second largest city, Alajuela maintains a provincial atmosphere where locals relax on front porches greeting passersby, and mango season incites a lively festival city wide. Boasting a movie theater, mall, internet cafes and plenty of shopping, Alajuela has all the frills of a modern city, but moves at a gentler pace and is easier to navigate than nearby San Jose.read more close
Most visitors to Costa Rica are unaware that the Juan Santamaria International Airport is in Alajuela, not San Jose. Just a five-minute drive into town and visitors will find a variety of hostels and hotels, accommodating most budgets and tastes. Alajuela’s central location and accessibility are ideal for travelers who prefer taking day trips or group tours with the convenience of returning to a familiar hotel. Popular excursions include a nearby butterfly farm, Poas Volcano National Park and coffee tours to Doka Estate, all accessible by public bus.
Surrounded by farms and coffee plantations, Alajuela serves as capital of Alajuela Province and remains a principal trade center for cattle, sugar and coffee. Locals are known for their friendly demeanor and penchant for bestowing amusing nicknames on friends, neighbors and even strangers. People watching is best in the picturesque central park, where children play near the fountain and vendors sell granizados, shaved ice topped with sweet syrup, fruit and condensed milk.
Every Saturday morning, Alajuela hosts one of the largest outdoor farmers' markets in the country. Flowers, fresh produce, handicrafts and local music are offered at this traditional event. Whether exploring the maze of stalls at the Saturday market, or sampling authentic Costa Rican fare in the central market, Alajuela gives visitors a glimpse of rural Costa Rican life with all the comforts of a contemporary city.
Founded in 1782 with the construction of a church to serve the region’s practicing Catholics, the parish of Alajuela was originally named La Lajuela. Alajuela was the country’s capital from 1834 to 1835, before permanently relocating to San Jose. Also known as Villa Hermosa (beautiful village), Alajuela is renowned as the hometown of Juan Santamaria, a drummer boy turned national hero during the battle of Hacienda Santa Rosa against William Walker in 1856. Santamaria sacrificed his own life to preserve the independence of the country, an act that is honored throughout the city with parades and fiestas every April 11, on Juan Santamaria Day.