The Central Valley of Costa Rica is located in the center of the country (surprise surprise) and is well known for its coffee production, gorgeous vistas, narrow windy roads, quaint towns and authentic villages. I think of it as the cultural center of the country, and I love that we are living in this region with that being one of the main reasons.
Here are a few towns that we’ve enjoyed exploring in the Central Valley:
Radiating color, Sarchí is a lovely small town nestled in the hills about an hour from San José and not far off the route to the Arenal Volcano so it’s a great place to stop on your way there or even on the way back. It’s most known for its high quality locally made furniture, carretas (elaborately painted oxcarts which were used to haul coffee beans) and artesanía (handicrafts) which make for lovely souvenirs or home decor. The main plaza contains a stately mint green colonial church as well as the world’s largest (supposedly) oxcart. Palmer and I just recently made a trip there to purchase some wall art for our home and it was a success! The Eloy Alfaro Factory just a short walk from the parque central is a must-visit. Yes, it’s a tourist trap and on the pricey side, but it has a huge selection of quality products AND it’s a historic oxcart factory which is really fascinating. The employees are happy to give you a little tour of how the machines run using hydro-power and you can even see the local artists at work painting in the back. Sarchí is a great stop for a couple hour visit!
Grecia (or ‘Greece’ in English, and yes, we live in Atenas, ‘Athens’ in English) is another small town located just about 15 minutes from Sarchí so they make for a nice little combo visit. Famed for it’s red metal church (Catedral de la Mercedes) that was made in Belgium and then sent to Costa Rica, it’s a beautiful symbol of the town. It’s also billed as “The Cleanest Town in Latin America” so it’s got that going for it. And last but not least, Grecia is where you come to buy a used car in the Central Valley. Palmer can attest to that and we spent many hours visiting the numerous tiny used car dealerships (most have between 10 and 50 cars) on the road heading south out of town to find the best ‘deal’. After many test drives of cars 10-15 years old, and carrying thousands in cash in my backpack for 2 days, we finally made a decision and got it done after 20 minutes in the lawyer’s office (yes, a lawyer is required to purchase a vehicle in Costa Rica)!
Special shout-out to Café del Patio, an amazing restaurant just a block and a half off the parque central! This small and fairly new restaurant offers some seriously exquisite sandwiches and main dishes at very reasonable prices. Palmer and I both ordered the veggie sandwich made with their freshly baked bread which came with french fries and a delicious small salad topped with fresh bean sprouts and just the right amount of homemade citrus vinaigrette dressing. Of course, I always order the fresco natural de maracuyá (passion fruit juice) to go along with any meal here if they offer it. It’s seriously my favorite (nonalcoholic) beverage. Everything was FIRST RATE in quality, presentation and taste! At first we were a little confused wondering why the waiters seemed so somber and unfriendly, but we soon realized they take their food and service very serious. The chef (wearing a Cordon Bleu Paris shirt!) even came out of the open-air kitchen to ask how our meal was. We’ll definitely be back here! (Okay, I just reread this section and wow, can you tell I’ve been doing some side hustling as a travel blog writer? Think I might need to tone it down a bit. Ha!)
This little town is definitely more off the beaten path and the journey along the narrow road (north of Naranjo) with breathtaking valley views at every turn is half the fun. There are lots of little roadside stands selling honey and queso palmito (locally made fresh cheese) along the route and the area is well known for its organic farming. As for the town itself, it’s lovely blueish purplish Iglesia de San Rafael, overlooks the famed Parque Francisco Alvarado, a garden-like park with the bushes trimmed into huge animals and interesting designs. It’s fun to try to figure them all out, and the kids had a blast playing hide and seek.
Another charming town surrounded by mountains, we took a drive here one Sunday and enjoyed the playgrounds on the parque central which sits in front of the imposing Iglesias San Bartolomé and strolling with the locals. Café Britt (the most famous coffee producer in Costa Rica) and Finca Rosa Blanca offer coffee plantation tours which we haven’t yet done, but it’s on the list. We did visit the Museo de Cultura Popular which is just outside of the downtown. It’s a really neat little museum housed in an old farmhouse and its surrounding gardens that is operated by the Universidad Nacional. There are little exhibits dotting the property that highlight different aspects of Costa Rican culture…from kids games to local festivals to coffee production to what a typical 19th century farmhouse looked like. It’s free on Sundays and also has an onsite restaurant that looked very nice.
This is just a taste of what we’ve discovered so far in the Central Valley and there is still more on the list – Orosí Valley and Turrialba to name a few.
It’s also a great base from which to explore the rest of the country which is a good thing as we have lots of fun trips to other areas coming up in the next two months (Guanacaste border run, Puerto Viejo and Cahuita on the Southern Caribbean coast and Tortuguero to see wildlife). Stay tuned my friends!