Provinces of Costa Rica
Last Updated: Jan 12, 2012
Costa Rica's almost 20,000 square miles are divided into seven provinces: San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, Puntarenas, Guanacaste and Limon. All provincial capital cities, with the exception of Guanacaste's Liberia, share the same name as their province.
The Central Valley is Costa Rica's most populated region and home to almost two-thirds of the country's entire population. San Jose province, nestled in the Central Valley mountains, is the proud home of Costa Rica’s national capital, San Jose. Heredia, Cartago, and Alajuela round out the Central Valley’s fertile, mountainous provinces.
With a central location, San Jose province is not only a vibrant and cultured area, but also a convenient travel base to all national destinations. The province combines natural beauty with modern convenience. Here visitors will discover mountain towns with high-speed internet, roaring rivers within hiking distance of four-star restaurants, and museums overlooking breathtaking vistas. The province’s mild year-round climate only adds to its appeal, making it one of the most popular places to call home.
Heredia province, known for its coffee production, safe neighborhoods, and stunning scenery, lies just six miles north of San Jose. The province’s sweeping views extend for miles, encompassing towering mountains, tumbling waterfalls, and peaceful swimming holes. Braulio Carrillo National Park, Tapanti National Park, and Barva Volcano are among Heredia’s most popular attractions, offering dense tropical forest, unimaginable views, and some of the world’s most diverse wildlife. The provincial capital, Heredia city, is known as the safest area in the country. Boasting all the conveniences of San Jose, the city is quieter and less crowded than its southern neighbor.
East of San Jose, Cartago province is home to large coffee plantations, a bustling downtown, and some of Costa Rica's oldest buildings. Before European settlement, the region was central to Costa Rican life, and home to the indigenous communities responsible for creating the country’s most significant archaeological monument, now known as Guayabo National Park. Many years later, in 1563, Juan Vasquez de Coronado founded Cartago city, which served as the country’s first capital. Today, Cartago is a quiet colonial town, and host to the Basilica de Los Angeles, one of Costa Rica’s most important religious sites. Traveling out into the surrounding mountains, the province boasts several natural wonders, including Irazu Volcano, Turrialba Volcano, and Chirripo National Park.
Alajuela, bordering San Jose’s western limits, is a diverse and dynamic province. The Juan Santamaria International Airport, named after Costa Rica’s national hero, is actually located in Alajuela, not San Jose. Just a few miles from the airport, the provincial capital of Alajuela city offers plenty of modern amenities, while still retaining its small town charm. The entire province seems to move at a gentler pace, relishing in its morning mist, mountain views, roaring rivers, and huge assortment of birdlife. Venture out into Alajuela’s wilds, and you’ll be greeted by a bubbling Poas Volcano, the rolling Central Cordillera mountains, and the country’s most popular tourist attraction, the continuously active Arenal Volcano.
Guanacaste, which gives its name to the area’s iconic tree, is Costa Rica's most northwestern province and the country's most visited area. Beautiful beaches, peaked volcanoes, and several national parks decorate the region, promising unforgettable adventures and dazzling sunsets. Million-year-old Rincon de la Vieja and Miravalles Volcanoes stand proud to Guanacaste’s eastern edge, white-sand beaches line the coast, and ecological riches abound in Palo Verde National Park, one of the province’s secret treasures.
Just south of Guanacaste, Puntarenas stretches in a long, thin line down the Pacific coast. Full of spectacular attractions, Puntarenas begins with the Osa Peninsula, one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, at its southern end. The lush peninsula welcomes all to investigate its tropical forests in Corcovado National Park, enjoy world-class sport fishing in Drake Bay, dive with sharks on the virtually deserted Cocos Island, and swim off its beautiful beaches. Heading north, Manuel Antonio is one of the country’s most visited national parks, with a beachfront rainforest location that lends itself to quiet morning walks and refreshing afternoon swims. In north-central Puntarenas, surf paradise can be found at Playas Jaco and Hermosa, site of the 2009 World Surfing Games. Finally, at its most northern end, Puntarenas boasts the popular Nicoya Peninsula, home to independent surf spots and secluded beaches, several of which host thousands of nesting sea turtles.
Traveling east, the Caribbean's Limon province is unique, with a strong Jamaican influence, Caribbean culture, and English as its unofficial language. Limon city is the epicenter for the province’s culture and local living, but tourism generally trickles north and south along the shore, taking advantage of the area’s sleepy beach towns. Ancient rainforests line the province's coastline, turtles spawn at Tortuguero National Park, and the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and its surrounds offer amazing scenery and wildlife watching opportunities for all to enjoy.