This northwest central valley town is sometime referred to as Costa Rica’s second city. Home of the country’s national Hero, Juan Santamaria, Alajuela has a busy downtown area and barely warmer climate than nearby San José. One kilometer from the International airport, the town is a convenient entry and exit stop and well worth a visit.
As with other provincial capitals, the central square in front of the large, red domed cathedral is impressive. The tall, dark green, tightly packed trees gives one an idea what the central valley must have looked like prior to colonization. During the heat of the afternoon the park is the perfect place to sit and hang out, as the thick shade and cool breezes tend to draws a lot of locals. It is the best time and place in the city to go people watching. Two hundred meters west of central park is the town’s central market. Taking up an entire city block the market is much less crowed than that of San José’s and the prices are better. Alajuela is famous for its cattle ranches to the north and its production of sugar.
Every year on April 11 the town celebrates Juan Santamaria day with a large parade through town and a public carnival and dance in and around the central park. One block north of the town center is the Museo Juan Santamaria that is housed in a former jail. The townspeople are famous for their calm demeanor and infectious humor, except in connection with their soccer team, La Liga. Costa Ricans in general take their football seriously but year in and year out Alajuela’s team is at or near the top.
Just outside of town are a number of interesting and fun places to visit. Zoo Ave and the Butterfly Farm. Zoo Ave is in the town of La Garita and is a park with dozens of different native species of rare birds with a couple of other animals thrown in for good measure. Their captive breading program, which is involved in the breading and re-introduction of endangered species, is extremely important to the local environment. The Butterfly farm in La Guacima de Alajuela is exactly that, a farm where they breed and grow dozens of different species of multicolored butterflies. Tours are available year round and show visitors every step in the butterfly’s complex and interesting life cycle. If you have children, this is the perfect place to take them as it is interesting, educational and fun.
Bus service to and from San José is available 24 hours a day in large comfortable buses. Service between the town and the airport is equally convenient, with most hotels offering free pick-up and drop-off service. With its slightly higher temperature and close proximity to the international airport, Alajuela is an attractive central valley alternative for travelers.