San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

At the feet of the Turrialba Volcano – San José – Costa Rica

Volcán Turrialba National Park

This 1,257-hectare park’s most important feature is Volcán Turrialba. With an altitude of 3,340 meters above sea level, Turrialba shares a foundation with Volcán Irazú, which is why they are often identified as twin volcanoes. Turrialba features three well-defined craters as well as others misshapen by volcanic activity. The central crater is the deepest, at approximately 50 meters. On its slopes are two possible cones, Tiendilla (2,791 meters above sea level) and Armado (2,750 meters). Current activity consists of gas and steam eruptions with sulfur deposits. The average temperature here is 16 degrees Celsius, and rainfall varies between 3,000 to 4,000 millimeters per year. Visitor services include trails and several natural viewpoints.

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

At 85 km from San José, this place is the largest archaeological site in the country (217 hectares). You can see the remains of a village whose origins date back to 400 BC. The large stone spheres found here were made between 800 and 1400 AD. It is located on the slopes of the Turrialba volcano, 70 km from San José.

Guayabo National Archeological Monument

The Guayabo National Monument archeological site represents one of the highest degrees of socio-cultural development achieved by the country’s pre-Hispanic societies. Declared a National Monument in August 1973 for being the largest and most important archeological site discovered up to that time, Guayabo was occupied through four cultural phases from 1000 B.C. to 1550 A.D. Based on the type of constructions-aqueducts, roads, retaining walls or bridges-and the area, it is estimated that between 1,200 and 1,600 people inhabited the site. The architectural complexity and extraordinary artistic design of the features and artifacts found among the ruins suggest that the site was home to individuals of high social, political, economic and religious standing.

Crater of the Irazu active volcano situated in the Cordillera Central close to the city of Cartago, Costa Rica.

Volcán Irazú National Park

This park protects colossal Irazú, which, at 3,432 meters above sea level, is the tallest volcano in Costa Rica. The active volcano has a long history of eruptions and eruptive cycles. The protected area’s many geological features include the Playa Hermosa, Principal and Diego de la Haya craters, as well as the Sapper formation, the highest point in the massif, from which both Caribbean and Pacific coasts may be seen.

Braulio Carrillo National Park

This park is located northeast of the Central Valley in the central Cordillera Volcánica, between the massifs of Poás and Irazú volcanoes. Covering more than 44,000 hectares, Braulio Carrillo is one of the largest protected areas in Costa Rica. Nearly the entire landscape is made up of tall volcanic mountains swathed in forest, with countless great rivers running through deep canyons. Several extinct volcanoes have been identified: Chompipe, at 2,259 meters tall; Turu, at 2,139 meters; Cerro Cacho Negro, at 2,250 meters; and Barva, which has several craters collectively known as Tres Marías with an average height of 1,725 meters.

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Travel Guide - Tropical Discovery

Volcano Poas in Costa Rica – amazing crater and Landscape of volcano

Volcán Poás National Park

Rising 2,708 meters above sea level, this volcano’s gas emissions have notably increased since 1989, causing acid rain that has damaged plant life in some areas of the park as well as neighboring agricultural plantations. The summit features two craters: the main one, at one and a half kilometers in diameter and 300 meters deep; and Laguna Botos, a cold, rain-fed lake that feeds the Río Ángel, a tributary of the Río Sarapiquí that flows into the Caribbean. Currently the volcano emits a great quantity of gases and steam from the various fumaroles located in the crater’s inner cone.

Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte National Park

With a 58,323-hectare area and altitudes ranging from 1,220 to 2,560 meters above sea level, this park is located in one of the rainiest parts of the country and is home to 45 species of mammals, 260 bird species and 30 reptile species, as well as ancient oak and alder forests. Fed by several tributaries, the Río Grande de Orosí runs through the area; its waters are used to produce hydroelectric energy and to provide part of the metropolitan area’s water supply. Macizo de la Muerte is home to Historical Heritage site “La Picada de Calderón,” a trail still used by horseback riders at various times of the year.

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

The National Theater in San Jose, Costa Rica is a popular destination for locals and tourists.

National Theater

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 good condition after 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.

Metal Building

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.

Temple of Music

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

National Monument

Inaugurated on September 15, 1895, at what was known as the Plaza de la Estación, 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.

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

Located opposite the Plaza de la Democracia and to the side of the Legislature, the National Museum presents a comprehensive tour of the history, society and culture of Costa Rica. Visitors can see collections of pre-Columbian, colonial and recent history. The Museum is located in the former Bellavista Headquarters, where the army was officially abolished in 1948 by José Figueres Ferrer after the Civil War.

National Museum (old Bellavista Barracks)

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 Calle 17 between Avenidas Central and Segunda, the museum is open to the public Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

Located in the old central jail in San José. The prison was converted into a museum and the visitor can now find didactic and interactive exhibits on different issues such as the rights of children, the universe, science, environment and life in the city.

Children’s Museum

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 José, the museum is open to the public Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

Housed in the National Insurance Institute (INS), it has an interesting collection of over 6000 pieces of green, black and blue jade.

Jade Museum

This museum houses a collection of pre-Columbian art (gold, ceramic, jade and stone), and is the only museum displaying indigenous jade artwork in the Americas. It is located in the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (National Insurance Institute) building.

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum.  Located under the Plaza de la Cultura, offers a fine view of Brunca Indian’s gold art and explains the different techniques used to work in gold. You can also find stone and ceramic objects.

Gold Museum

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, adjacent to the Tourism Information office of the Costa Rica Tourism Board. Located on Calle 5 at Avenida Central, the Gold Museum is open to the public Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.


San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Travel Guide - Tropical Discovery

Museum of art and originally the main terminal of San Jose first international airport, this museum houses the largest and most important collection of works by Costa Rican artists from the colonial time to the present.

Museum Of Costarican Art

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 Salón Dorado features a wooden mural depicting the country’s history from the Amerindian era to the year 1940. Located on Calle 42 at Avenida Segunda, La Sabana, the museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Popular Cultural Museum

This museum is located in Santa Lucía de Barva, Heredia, in the house of former president Alfredo González 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.

Inbio (Biodiversity Institute)

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 tourist facilities and a Biodiversity Park.

National Culture Center – CENAC (Old National Liquor Factory)

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.

Iglesia de San Isidro de Coronado

This structure of German origin was unloaded in late 1930 at the Pacific train station; from there it was transported in oxcarts and deposited in the plaza of San Isidro, Vázquez de Coronado canton, in front of which the neo-Gothic church was erected. The arrangement of the building’s principal façade shows that it has three naves. A series of images adorn the main entryways and the lateral facades. 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.

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

A wooden gazebo overlooking the mountains and valleys of Turrialba, Costa Rica


Several cities developed and prospered as a result of the building of the railroad 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. Turrialba’s outskirts contain appealing rural communities such as Santa Cruz, where homemade Turrialba cheese is produced, La Suiza and Aquiares, as well as the rapids of the Reventazón and Pacuare rivers.

Río Pacuare

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

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

In this beautiful valley you can see the ruins of the church of Ujarrás, the first church built in Costa Rica in the seventeenth century. In the town of Orosi is the country’s oldest church, dating from 1735 which houses a small museum of colonial art. From Orosi one can easily visit Tapantí National Park.

Valle de Orosi

This highly scenic tourism circuit features a series of viewpoints showing two different areas of the valley, including the towns of Orosí and Ujarrás, 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 Ujarrás Ruins and the beautiful Iglesia de Orosí, with its considerable treasures in altarpieces, sacred images and other historical elements.

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

The Reventazón river is one of the most important rivers in Costa Rica, with 152 km in length, it travels from the Central Valley to the Caribbean coast. The river is located in a tropical paradise with dense primary rainforest. Most of this river is suitable for rafting with sections of varying difficulty.

Río Reventazón

At 152 kilometers long, the Reventazón 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 Cachí Hydroelectric Plant’s largest water supply source.

Cachí Hydroelectric Dam and Reservoir

This dam began operating in 1966, generating 32,000 kilowatts of power, which doubled one year later. Its innovative use of the Reventazón’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 Ujarrás Valley.

Orosí Hot Springs

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.

Orosí Church and Colonial Museum

Built in 1743 by Franciscan missionaries, this is the only colonial building 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.

San Jose and Central Valley Costa Rica - Main Attractions - Tropical Discovery

Cartago – This city was the colonial capital until our independence in 1821 and therefore has the greatest number of vestiges of the colonial traditions. Here is the Basílica de Los Ángeles, dedicated to the cult of Our Lady of the Angels (Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles), patroness of Costa Rica. In the center of town are the ruins of St. Bartholomew church, which was destroyed by an earthquake in the early twentieth century.


“The Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Cartago” was Costa Rica’s first capital, a distinction the city held until 1823. Cartago enjoys a good level of commercial development and 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.

Our Lady of the Angels Basilica

Built in 1921, this church houses a small shrine where the faithful go to 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.

Pilgrimage in Honor of Our Lady of the Angels

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.

Cordillera de Talamanca

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 Chirripó at 3,821 meters above sea level and Kamuk at 3,554 meters above sea level.

Valle de Santa María de Dota

Seat of the Dota canton, Santa María is set in a valley surrounded by mountains. Converging here are the access roads to other communities such as Copey, San Marcos de Tarrazú and San Pablo de León Cortés. The population is concentrated on the banks of the Río Parrita, in blocks like those used in old Spanish towns. Historical and natural attractions include: Santa María National Park, with its Monument to the Fallen in the Revolution of 1948; the Escuela República de Bolivia, which was the General Barracks for troops during the revolution; and the Dota hills offering lovely panoramic views of the valley.

Outdoor Art Exhibition, San Rafael, Escazú

The Outdoor Art Exhibition takes place in San Rafael de Escazú 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 sell their work. The event allows new artists to interact with nationally recognized artists.


West of San José, 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 Quitirrisí 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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