9 Best Things to Do in the Central Valley

Don't miss whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River and Finca Rosa Blanca’s coffee plantation tour.

Considered to be the heart of Costa Rica, the Central Valley includes the capital city of San Jose and the surrounding suburbs including towns like Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago. It’s a great base for exploring due to the variety of day excursions accessible from the area. Options include world-class whitewater rafting, coffee plantations, cultural excursions, volcanic craters, and lagoons. At its center, San Jose has a ‘big city’ feel but is easily ventured outside of for day trips to other parts of the country. The area boasts small, intimate lodging facilities to complete luxury resorts in the city and surrounding countryside.

Central Valley Coffee Plantations

The Central Valley is home to Costa Rica’s coffee plantations. If you’re a fan of java, you don’t want to miss a tour from one of the world’s leaders in coffee production. Tour a local coffee farm and discover the secrets of Costa Rican coffee from seed to cup. You may even have the opportunity to go coffee picking at harvest time. Don’t miss a tasting session to discover the nuances of Costa Rican coffee. For a unique experience, ask our Costa Rica Experts about staying at the working coffee plantation, Finca Rosa Blanca. The inn incorporates local art, top-notch gastronomy, and charming coffee culture into the guest experience. An exciting new face on the Central Valley coffee scene is the Hacienda Alsacia Starbucks Coffee Farm, the first and only Starbucks coffee farm. Located on the slopes of Poas Volcano, the farm is less than an hour from downtown San Jose. Take a 1 1/2 hour tour of the farm’s tree nursery, wet mill, drying patio, and roaster.

Sarchi Artisan Town

Sarchi Artisan Town Central Valley

Sarchi Oxcart

One of the main artisan towns in Costa Rica is Sarchi. This charming little village is known for the colorfully painted oxcarts that were once used to carry coffee beans to the market. The oxcarts that are crafted there today are purely for decoration. Don’t forget to check out the world’s largest oxcart in Sarchi Norte, the heart of town!

Poas Volcano

Best Things to Do in the Central Valley

Poas Volcano

Poas volcano has both the largest geyser in the world and second largest crater in the world. The park also has two little extinct craters. From San Jose, a paved road will bring you right up to Poas Volcano. At the end of the road, you’ll need to hike only a 1/2 mile to reach the crater. Get to the park as early as possible to avoid the veil of clouds that set in around 10 am.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Central Valley La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The main attraction of the La Paz Waterfall Gardens is the series of trails alongside the La Paz River connecting its waterfalls. The gardens also have a variety of wildlife exhibits for all ages. There is a hummingbird garden, butterfly garden, serpentarium, and wildlife like toucans, wild cats, sloths, and more. Peace Lodge is the luxury lodge located on the property for travelers interested in exploring the gardens as well as the sights of the surrounding Central Valley.

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Irazu Volcano

Best Things to Do in the Central Valley

Irazu Volcano

Considered one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes, Irazu has not erupted since 1963 – the same day President John F. Kennedy flew into Costa Rica. A paved road will bring you directly to the summit. The volcano has two main craters.  Diego de la Haya is the smaller crater with an interior lake with minerals that often change its hue from jade green to red. On a clear day, it’s possible to see both the Pacific and Caribbean Ocean. Remember to wear a light jacket as it’s a bit colder at this higher elevation!

Whitewater Rafting

Best Things to Do in the Central Valley, Costa Rica

Pacuare River Rafting

From the town of Turrialba, the Pacuare River is a popular destination for whitewater rafting around the Central Valley area. The Pacuare River has stunning canyons and dense rainforest destinations on all sides for some of the most scenic whitewater rafting in Central America. The Pacuare River is divided into the lower Pacuare with Class II-IV rapids and the Upper Pacuare with Class II-IV rapids. The water on the Pacuare River is the highest October – December and the lowest (but still challenging) March – April.

Orosi Valley

Things to Do in the Central Valley, Costa Rica

Orosi Valley Colonial Church

Many consider the Orosi Valley the beautiful valley in Costa Rica. The Reventazon River runs through the picturesque countryside and a number of attractions make great stopping off points on a drive through the valley. Stop off at scenic points for gorgeous outlooks over the valley. Discover the ruins of Ujarras, the oldest church in Costa Rica built in 1693. Visit Orosi Church & Religious Art, the oldest still functioning church in Costa Rica with an interesting collection of religious art.

Lankester Gardens

Of the 1,400 varietals of orchids found in Costa Rica, 800 can be found at Lankester Gardens. The gardens aim to preserve the local flora, particularly bromeliads and orchids. Enjoy meandering the gardens as a series of marked trails lead you through different floral environments.

Toucan Rescue Ranch

The Toucan Rescue Ranch is about 20 minutes outside the center of San Jose. The ranch focuses on the study and rehabilitation of Costa Rican toucans and other animals with the goal, when possible, of returning animals to their natural environment. Take a private ranch tour to learn about their rehabilitation efforts and rescued wildlife. This is a fantastic stop-off en route for guests traveling to Arenal Volcano and cloud forest destinations.

Central Valley FAQs:

The Central Valley is known for its volcanoes, culture, handicrafts, and coffee.
Coffee! Coffee farm tours and coffee plantation inns like Finca Rosa Blanca Inn are a popular way to experience Costa Rica's coffee culture.
Travelers can visit waterfalls, go birding, or discover the museums and city life of San Jose.